VW Beetle history and dr. Porsche: the story behind the greatest car ever built

February 27, 2016

The VW Beetle history is unique. The Volkswagen Beetle is regarded as one of the most remarkable and best engineered cars of the century. The car, also called the VW Bug, has its origins in the 1930s as it was designed mainly by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche during that decade. Porsche had had dreams of creating an economical Beetle for the masses in Germany since he was a young man. Most known Beetle models are the Split window Beetle, the Oval window Beetle and the Sedan.These models evolved slightly during the years.

VW Beetle history: creator Ferdinand Porsche

Ferdinand Porsche VW Beetle history creator
Ferdinand Porsche VW Beetle creator

Ferdinand Porsche was a brilliant man. He’s the founding father for the rich VW Beetle history. Porsche was born in Maffersdorf, Austria Hungary in 1875. His first car design was an electric car designed in 1900 for Ludwig Lohner, called the Porsche-Lohner Chaise. After this, he moved on to work for Daimler-Benz where he first struck upon the idea of a small car for the masses. The first “peoples’ car” was a prototype called the Type 130. Unfortunately, Daimler-Benz was not enthusiastic about the design and the project was scrapped. Probably, they had no taste. After working there, he moved on to a new company called Steyr. They too, were not enthusiastic about the project as Germany was in the midst of a depression. Then a company called Zündapp, which primarily built motorcycles became interested in a small automobile for the lower and middle classes of Germany. They built the next prototype, a rear engined automobile called the Type 12. Again, the project was ruined when Zuendapp entered into a deal with NSU to only produce motorcycles. Ironically, the next company to approach Porsche about his dreams was the same NSU. They built a prototype called the NSU Type 32. The car had many features of the early VW Beetles, but once again the project came to a screeching halt as NSU didn’t have the funding to put the car into production.

VW Beetle history: the early years

In January of 1933, Porsche met with Adolf Hitler to discuss the matter of a peoples’ car. They set guidelines for how large, how expensive, and what type of engine the car should have. Hitler had relatively little to do with the car’s actual design and development, and nothing to do with the production of the car in its first post-prototype form, for he was dead by that point. Unfortunately, Porsche was made to work under the RDA (Reichsverband der Deutschen Automobilindustrie, or German motor industry association. The RDA gave him only 10 months to build three prototypes for under RM900, whereas Porsche thought he could build a car to the other specifications in about a year for under RM1,550. He began to wonder if his dream would ever come true. Two prototypes were completed in no less than two years, the V1 sedan and V2 convertible–a third variation being the VW3 sedan with a steel instead of aluminum body.
Rigorous testing by the RDA revealed flaws in front wheel bearings, valves, brakes, and camshafts. A series of 30 prototypes, called the VW30’s were given the go-ahead and tested for over 50,000 miles each by merciless SS officers. Another 44 cars–VW38’s–were build in 1937 and shared most of the characteristics of the first production VW Beetles. The glaring flaws had been worked out by this point. The factory cornerstone in Wolfsburg was laid on 26 May 1938. Most VW Beetle production, however would have to wait as a little conflict called World War II got in the way.
Major Ivan Hirst is the gentleman who was responsible for starting up the heavily bombed VW factory after the war (the factory was bombed because of its production of German war vehicles). The earliest Beetles built from 1938-39, 43-45 were called “KdF Wagens,” or Kraft durch Freude Wagens, which means strength through joy cars, a movement meant to give the German people a sense of purpose. A plan was set up to pay for your new KdF-Wagen by purchasing RM5 stamps every week. After four books of 50 stamps were filled, you could get your new car. The problem is, this never happened. Only a very limited amount of KdF Wagens were built, and they all went to government officials. Not one person from the 336,638 that signed up for the stamp program ever received one.

VW Hebmüller
VW Hebmüller

1948 was the year in which a most influencial man named Heinz Nordhoff acquired a job at Volkswagen. Nordhoff was the genius who took it’s lowly position and transformed it to the most popular car of the twentieth century. From 1948 onwards, things at Volkswagen got more productive and positive. In 1948, a couchbuilding company called Hebmüller began producing a beautiful converted 2 seat convertible Beetle. Unfortunately, the Hebmüller factory burned down in 1950 and only about 750 of these cars were built through 1953. Today, about 200 are known to exist, and are very desirable and expensive.
There were many other companies who tried to use their custom designed bodies on a VW chassis. These include Rometsch, Drews, and Dannenhauer & Stauss. The best had only modest success. Another very important event in VW Beetle history occured in 1949. For the first time, 2 Vokswagens were imported into the United States of America. These were imported by Dutchman Ben Pon. At first, the cars did not cach on in the US, but would prove to be very popular by the mid 1950s. A big reason for this was that Max Hoffman, the Jaguar importer required a VW be purchased if a Jaguar was. Soon, dealers were calling back and just requesting VWs. The first regular, 4 seat cabriolet version of the VW Beetle appeared in 1950. A completed Beetle would be sent to the Karmann factory in Osnabrueck, and essentially, the top would be chopped off and a Beetle convertible made. These cars proved very popular, as the model was produced in Germany up until 1979.
On 8 March, 1953, the well known split window Beetle was enlarged and changed to an oval window Beetle. The dashboard was rearranged the same year and the engine capacity grew the next, to 1192cc from 1131cc. The oval window Beetle would remain until 1957, after which the rear window would be again enlarged to a rectangular shape. Minor changes were made to the VW Beetle every year for better operation and more safety. By 1955, 30,928 registered Beetles were in the US. That number grew to 191,372 by just 1960. The car gained so much favor in the US because of its endearing attributes. Unlike most Detroit-built American fuel guzzlers, the Beetle was very economical and cheap to maintain. Instead of radically redesigning the car every year for newness appeal, it stayed very similar and only minor refinements were made. The Beetle performed wonderfully in the snow because of the rear engine. They were reliable and trusty little cars.

VW Beetle history: Beetle advertising was a moneymaker

Beetle advertising was undoubtedly some of the best in the world during the 60s. An agency named Doyle, Dane & Bernbach did their ads. They were clever and witty. Unlike glamorous American muscle car ads, they were usually in black and white and were honest and truthful. Each and every one evoked a sense of humor in it that you cannot help but respect. Several ads have become classics, such as the “Think Small” campaign which told of the economical nature of every Volkswagen, and the “Lemon” ad of 1960, which spoke of their stringent quality control system. Every DDB ad helped create an image of reliability, individuality, and value for money that set them apart from Detroit’s mainstream.

VW Beetle history: golden years

1965 marked the year in which one million or more VW’s were manufactured in Wolfsburg. One was coming off the line every three second, and yet the world called for more. It seemed like everyone had one during the 1960s. The hippies adopted the VW as their unofficial icon, and “VW Beetle stuffing” hit college campuses. The point was to cram as many people as you could inside the car. Walt Disney only emphasized the charisma in 1969 when it released “The Love Bug,” an adorable movie who’s main character is a ’63 Beetle, Herbie, who has a mind of his own.
1968 marked an important year for the Beetle evolution. Many, many changes were made that year including upright sealed beam headlights, new taillights, new bumpers, new seats, and much more. New emission laws caused anti-emission systems and catalytic converters to be added. Many people believe the car lost a lot of its character that endeared it to the millions of people. During the late 70s the Beetle’s popularity ebbed severely. VW attempted to issue several special edition Beetles, but the reign of the German-built VW Beetles was nearly over. The last German-built one was a 1980 covertible which rolled off the line in Osnabrück on January 10th.
Today, however, the original Beetle is still produced in Mexico. It remains a very popular car in that country, but the new (old) ones do not meet US emission laws and can not be legally imported here. The Beetle now holds the world record for production; nearing 23 million units produced. It is a car which had its humble beginnings in turmoiled Europe, and evolved into the most lovable and popular car of the century. The VW Beetle history proves that the Beetle is by far the most popular car ever made.
VW Beetle history: click here to discover all Beetle models.