The Volkswagen Beetle’s timeless design and notable profitability made the bug one of the most memorable vehicles to ever grace the roads of Germany. The beetle has transcended generations with its unfading styling cues and its abounding efficiency. As I’m confident you know, the VW Beetle was also wildly popular across North and South America.
The history of the beetle hales back to before World War II when Ferdinand Porsche (Yes, that “Porsche”) had a vision of a mass produced car that could be cost efficient and could be easily accessible to the average German. This is how the Bug became dubbed “The Peoples Car”. This idea resounded with Porsche’s friend Adolf Hitler. Although Hitler could not drive, as he was still in his youth, cars intrigued the young Hitler and the Beetle became Hitler and Porsche’s brainchild. During Hitler’s time in prison in 1923, he extensively researched Henry Ford’s production lines and this laid the foundation for the future of the Volkswagen Beetle. Meanwhile, Porsche had been producing a number of prototypes that featured air-cooled rear-engined four cylinders with torsion bar style suspension.
By 1933 Hitler became Chancellor and declared his intentions for Germany’s automotive future. He highlighted his interest in bringing vehicular mobility to Germany and doing so at a cost a working man could afford. One year later, in 1934, Hitler announced that the German government would support the production and development of a car that could accommodate 2 adults and one child while achieving 33mpg and 60mph. Hitler also promised a cost of not much more than the cost of a new motorcycle at the time. Porsche was not confident that this thriftiness could be achieved, but considered the undertaking a challenge.
By 1935 the initial prototypes were on the road undergoing extensive quality and drivability testing. By 1937 Porsche recruited coachbuilders, by the name of Reutter, to produce 30 vehicles as models to be showcased across Germany at festivals and fairs. These models were intended to incite enthusiasm about Volkswagens new Beetle. Hitler also showcased a savings scheme in which Germans could compile stamps that could eventually go towards the payment on their car. This would enable Germans with limited incomes to swing the payments.
In September of 1938, production of Volkswagen’s new Beetle began. However, this was also the same month World War II was declared. In light of the change of focus for the German government, the beetle’s production was postponed and military vehicles were produced in its place. This made it so that the thousands of people who had collected multitudes of stamps never received their Beetle. During the war a number of military vehicles were produced in the factory intended for the Beetle’s production and soon produced bombs in the mid-40’s. In service as a bomb production site, American troops bombed the building extensively and damaged much of the equipment.
After the war was over, the Beetle began production once again and soon the factory was producing 1000 cars a month. By 1948, production of the Beetle was in full force and the Beetle line was expanding. Not only was there a hardtop, but a four-seater convertible and “roadster” version entered production. Soon after the introduction of the convertible and roadster models came a factory fire that strained the financials of the Volkswagen Corporation. Production halted for only four weeks and then re-accelerated quickly.
By 1971, the Beetle had been in production for a number of years and had a near cult-like following. Thousands of models had been produced but improvements were still being made. In 1971 the production of the “Super Beetle” was initiated. These Beetles showcased Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) and a McPherson strut front suspension that replaced Porsche’s outdated torsion style set-up. These alterations allowed the spare tire and gas tank to be relocated allowing for more luggage capacity. The “Super Beetle” was also equipped with a 1600cc engine that made a whopping 50hp.
On February 17th of 1972 the Beetle overtook the Ford Model T as the most successful production vehicle ever made. These allegations were aggressively disputed by Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen made it their goal to insure that there was no confusion. The last German made hard top Beetle rolled off the production line in 1978 while the convertible stayed in production for U.S. consumption until 1980. The 20,000,000th Beetle was produced in a Volkswagen factory in Puebla, Mexico in 1985. The original body-style Beetle is no longer in production but will be forever remembered for its innovative design, timeless bodylines, and abounding efficiency.
Credits: Emmett Vick