The VW Beetle

The History of the Volkswagen Beetle.
In 1932, Ferdinand Porsche had developed three prototypes running of what he called “the car for everybody” for Zündapp a motorcycle company.

Diecast VW Beetle
Diecast VW Beetle


Then In April 1934, The German Government gathered his idea and gave the order to Ferdinand Porsche to develop a Volkswagen (literally, “people’s car” in German, and provided Porsche with specifications, insisting on a basic vehicle, capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph) while not using more than 7 litres of fuel per 100 km. The engine had to be powerful enough for rapid sustained cruising on Germany’s new Autobahnen. Everything had to be designed to ensure worn out parts could be quickly and inexpensively exchanged. The engine had to be air-cooled  The “People’s Car” would be available to citizens of the Third Reich through a savings scheme, for 990 Reichsmark, then about the price of a small motorcycle.

In October 1935 the first two Type 60 prototypes, known as the V1 and V2 were ready. In 1936, testing began of three further V3 prototypes, built in Porsche’s Stuttgart shop. A batch of thirty W30 development models, that were produced for Porsche by Daimler-Benz, underwent (2,900,000 km) of further testing in 1937.
All these cars already had the distinctive round shape and the air-cooled, rear-mounted engine. Included in this batch was a rollback soft top called the Cabrio Limousine.

A further batch of 44 VW38 pre-production cars produced in 1938 introduced split rear windows; both the split window and the dash were retained on production Type 1s until 1953. The VW38 cars were followed by another batch of 50 VW39 cars, completed in July 1939.

1960 VW Beetle Cabriolet
1960 VW Beetle Cabriolet

The car was designed to be as simple as possible mechanically, so that there was less to go wrong. The air-cooled 25 hp 995 cc  motors proved especially effective in actions of the German Afrika Korps in Africa’s desert heat. This was due to the built-in oil cooler and the superior performance of the flat-four engine configuration. The suspension design used compact torsion bars instead of coil or leaf springs. Additionally the Beetle was nearly airtight and will float for a few minutes in the water.

The Volkswagen factory opened in May 1938 and had only produced a handful of cars by the start of the war in 1939. The first volume-produced versions of the car’s chassis were military vehicles, the Type 82 Kübelwagen (approximately 52,000 built) and the amphibious Type 166 Schwimmwagen (about 14,000 built).

1935 Split Rear Window VW Beetle
1935 Split Rear Window VW Beetle

The first Beetles were produced on a small scale in 1941. A handful of Beetles were produced specifically for civilians, primarily for the Nazi elite, in the years 1941 to 1945, but production figures were small.

Mass production of civilian VW cars did not start until post-war occupation. The Volkswagen factory was handed over by the Americans to British control in 1945. It was to be dismantled and shipped to Britain however no British car manufacturer was interested

The factory survived by producing cars for the British Army instead. The re-opening of the factory is largely accredited to British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst. Hirst was ordered to take control of the heavily bombed factory, which the Americans had captured. His first task was to remove an unexploded bomb that had fallen through the roof and lodged itself between some pieces of irreplaceable production equipment. If the bomb had exploded, the Beetle’s fate would have been sealed.

Knowing Germany needed jobs and the British Army needed vehicles, Hirst persuaded the British military to order 20,000 cars,

Type 1 VW Beetle
Type 1 VW Beetle

and by March 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month (in Army khaki, under the name Volkswagen Type 1), which Hirst said “was the limit set by the availability of materials”. During this period, the car reverted to its original name of Volkswagen and the town was renamed Wolfsburg. The first 1,785 Type 1s were made in 1945.

After World War II, it was officially designated the Volkswagen Type 1, but was more commonly known as the Beetle, with the one-millionth car coming off the assembly line by 1955.

During the 1950s, the car was modified progressively: the obvious visual changes mostly concerned the rear windows. In March 1953, the small oval two-piece rear window was replaced by a slightly larger single-piece window. More dramatically, in August 1957 a much larger full width rear window replaced the oval one.

The same body appeared during 1966, with a 1,300 cc engine in place of the 1,200 cc.

In 1972, with over 15 million produced, Beetle production surpassed the previous record holder, the Ford Model T. By June 1992, over 21 million had been produced.
(This article is an abbreviated extract from Wikipedia. For full details see Volkswagen Beetle History here. )