A Brief History of the Beetle - VW Type 1

A Brief History of the Beetle

The idea for the Beetle came from Adolf Hitler, who while in prison in 1924 following the unsuccessful putsch on the Federal German capital. Hitler conceived of an idea to solve Germany's unemployment problem, the Government would build special roads (autobahns) for motor vehicles. He would also mass-produce a car (the peoples car, the Volkswagen) which the average man in the street would be able buy. 9 Years later (February 1933) the Nazi party swept to power, and at the very first cabinet meeting Hitler raised the issue of the special roads. Work began on these roads in September 1933. The design's for the Volkswagen were not finalized until 1938 and the Volkswagen finally saw the light of day in 1939, unfortunately the Second World War ceased production of the Volkswagen.

A Stuttgart based design company, owned and run by Ferdinand Porsche, in April 1934 was given the important task of
designing this special car within 10 months.
Hitler specified certain criteria the car must meet.
The car must have a top speed of 62 mph, achieve 42 miles per gallon, must have an air-cooled engine (?) and be able
to transport 2 adults and 3 children.
And most importantly it should market at no more than £86.
It was for the latter reason that Ferdinand Porsche decided on a rear engined car, the car was then known as the Type 60.
He experimented with various engine designs; flat four, vertical four cylinder, two cylinder but none of them proved

In 1935 an Austrian engineer, who had been working for the company for less than a year, came up with a design for a flat
four engine within two days of working on the project. After the accountants had checked it it proved to be the most
finacially viable option.
The same engine design has driven the Volkswagen Beetle for the last 60 years.

Ferdinand Porsche had been working on various other cars for other manufacturers before the Volkswagen and incorporated
some older designs within this new project.
Other vehicle designs were utilized for this project, the backbone chassis and the idea of independent front and rear
suspension came from one and the torsion bar front suspension patented by Porsche back in 1931.

The body styling dates back to 1931, to a car called the Wanderer which never reached production and the only prototype
built was used by Ferdinand Porsche for his personal transport.

Hitler also had plans for the styling of the Volkswagen, he is reputed to have said "It should look like a Beetle, you have
to look to nature to find out what streamlining is.", hence the name Beetle.

He also sketched his own design for the Beetle.
The designs were completed by 1938, now a factory was needed to build it.
An area was selected and building commenced early 1938.

Hitler announced the Volkswagen's new name the KdF-Wagen (Kraft durch Freude-strength
through joy car) and the town being built for the factory workers would be called KdF-Stadt
(strength through joy town) named after the leisure section of the Nazi party.

In August 1938 it was announced by the head of the German Labour Front that the basic KdF-Wagen
would cost £85 while one fitted with a cloth sunroof would cost another £5 and the only way to buy one
was through instalments.
But instead of receiving the car upon the first instalment you received it after the final one.

By early 1939 the factory was the largest motor factory in Europe capable of producing 150,000 cars
per year, with plans for expansion by 1942 the production rate potential was 1.5 million cars per year.

Then war broke out and the factory was handed over to the German Air Force.
By this time 630 cars had been built with most of them going to Nazi officers and Adolf Hitler.

Sinisterly when Porsche was given the contract to design and build the Volkswagen one other stipulation
was made; it must be capable of carrying 3 men, a machine-gun and ammunition.
In 1937 one of the prototype cars was adapted to meet this specification and this car became the Type
62, a doorless Kubelwagen.
After more modification which included doors and squarer bodywork the Kubelwagen saw military action but had to be
further modified to slow the vehicle down to a speed less than 5 mph. This was achieved by Ferdinand Porsche's son,
Ferry, who came up with a brilliant technical design of fitting reduction gears to each rear hub.
This also had a beneficial side effect of raising the ground clearance and making it ideal for off-road use.

The Kubelwagen was further developed and coded Type 82 and total production of the Kubelwagen reached 50,435.

In 1940 another vehicle prototype evolved from the KdF-Wagen this was a road and water going
machine coded the Type 128, the Schwimmwagen.
It's top speed on land was 50 mph and in the water was 6 mph.
The Schwimmwagen was further developed into a smaller, faster machine the Type 166 and was produced
for 3 years and total production reached 14,283.

In 1942 yet another derivative of the KdF-Wagen appeared.
This time it was an amalgamation of the Kubelwagen chassis and the KdF-Wagen body with four-wheel
drive (that's right a 4x4 Beetle, this is my favourite).
Total Kommandeurwagen production reached 669 including 2 built out of spare parts at the end of the war.

After the war KdF-Stadt was renamed Wolfsburg by the Allies and the factory came under the
jurisdiction of the British Military.
British motor manufacturers were given the opportunity to produce and market the Beetle but laughed it
off as a joke (which might explain why our Car Industry is thriving and the German Car Industry is
virtually non-existent ;-)).
In the summer of 1945 production restarted of the Kubelwagen which was being built out of spares that were lying around.
The KdF-Wagen was also renamed the Volkswagen and production restarted in December.

The British Army ordered 10,000 Volkswagens for use and this kept the factory busy.
In 1946 a total of 7,677 Volkswagens had been built and in 1947 this figure rose to 8,987.
Then in the latter part of 1947 a Heinz Nordhoff was appointed as General Manager of the Volkswagen
In the year 1948 production had staggeringly increased to 19,244.

Heinz Nordhoff made two major decisions when he took over the ownership of the factory.
The first was to have a one model policy to ensure improvements and the other was to retain the
Volkswagen's (which was now codenamed Type 1) unique shape.
Heinz Nordhoff also realised the importance of exportation for the survival of the Volkswagen and
subsequently in 1949 the much improved export model appeared.
The export model had better paintwork, chrome trim and better interior upholstery.

Karmann & Hebmuller
Also availble for export at that time were two factory approved convertible cars; the four seater Karmann convertible
built by Karmann of Osnabruck and the two seater Hebmuller convertible built by Hebmuller of Wulfrath.

The Hebmuller proved to be less successful than the Karmann and Hebmuller went into bankruptcy in
1952, with Karmann finishing off the last few by 1953.
Total Hebmuller production is approxiamately 750 making it a sought after collectors car.

Various changes were made to the beetle over the years including the removal of the split window to a small oval shape in
1953 and engine size was increased.

In August 1955 Beetle production reached 1 Million.
1958 saw the oval window disappear and be replaced by a larger one which was later increased again.

New Models
Despite his one model policy, Heinz Nordhoff saw the production of the Type 2 (Transporter) in 1950
and the Type 3 in 1961 (although the model shown never actually reached the general public,
unfortunately) which used a flat four engine but of a slightly different design to the Beetle.
Production of the Type 3 ceased in 1973 by which time 2.3 Million had been produced.

Karmann Ghia
In 1953 saw the conception of what has to be one of the most beautiful cars ever made, the Type 1
Karmann Ghia.
Yes the styling was carried out by that now world famous Italian styling house Carrozzeria Ghia (before they started styling
those awful Escorts and Cortinas).
The design was actually inspired by a car they built for Chrysler in 1952, the front end was redesigned.
And so in 1955 the beautiful Karmann Ghia was built by Karmann available only in left hand drive form until 1960.

In 1958 an even prettier convertible was launched.

Over the years larger engines were fitted to Beetles and slightly interior and exterior specifications were available.
Front headlights changed from sloping to upright.
The basic 1200 Beetle with minimum headlining and single bladed bumpers going through the front valance which later
changed to european bumpers going through the wings.
The 1300 with increased headlining and european bumpers.
The 1500 with front disc brakes.
Many changes occured over the years, far too many too list here.

The 1302
Then in 1970 saw the birth of a radically new Beetle.
The 1302 Beetle was designed to overcome criticism of the Beetle's small under bonnet capacity.
The changes made were a slightly curved windscreen, a bulbous bonnet and the MacPherson strut front suspension layout
which dramatically increased under bonnet capacity.
There were two versions the 1302 & 1302s.

The 1303
1973 saw the introduction of the radically different styled and final model the 1303.
The changes made for this model were a increased curved windscreen, shorter bonnet, plastic padded
dashboard, wider rear wings to accomodate the (hideous) new football rear lights.
There were two versions of this model the 1303 & 1303s.
The 1303s had front disc brakes and a fast 1600cc engine.
The 1303 ceased production only two years later in 1975.

The Type 4
The Beetle reached it's highest ever production total in 1969 when it reached 1,076,897 for that year.
But after 1971 each year production fell.
The rear suspension was also treated to a rework to improve roadholding.

Heinz Nordhoff died in 1968 and his replacement Kurt Lotz saw a new model produced the Type 4.
This was a four door model and production lasted 6 years until 1974 when production had reached
It has to be said that the Type 4 is not the world's prettiest car.

The Record Breaker
On the 17th February 1972 the 15,007,034th Beetle left the assembly line at Wolfsburg beating the
record held by the Model T Ford as the most popular car in the world.
Ford true to form decided that it previous figure for the Model T was wrong and they actually had
produced 16.5 Million.
In 1973 the production of Beetles passed 16.5 Million and officially became the world's most popular car (yes even more
popular than that car in front - the Toyota Corolla).
Then in 1992 the Beetle set a new world automobile production record by producing the 21st Million vehicle.

The beginning of the end for the Beetle
In 1974 Volkswagen made an unbelievable announcement they had recorded a loss of £142.5 Million, the first loss in the
entire history of Volkswagen.

In May 1974 Volkswagen made another announcement they had designed a new car which would start production in July the
front-wheel, front-engined, water-cooled Golf.

The end of an era
Beetle manufacture ceased at Wolfsburg in July 1974 and the Golf commenced.

Beetle manufacture continued at Emden until noon on the 19th January 1978.

Karmann continued manufacturing the convertible until the 10th January 1980 when German production of the
world's most popular car ceased.

VW factories and assembly plants around the World
Back in 1953 Volkswagen opened the first of quite a few factories outside of Germany, in Brazil.
This factory actually being the second largest VW factory second only to Wolfsburg.
Brazil continued to produce the Beetle until 1986 when production finally ceased.

1951 saw the first Beetle produced in South Africa which continued until 18th January 1979.
Nigeria, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries assembled Beetles from kits supplied by other
VW factories, primarily Brazil.

Mexico saw first production of the Beetle in 1964 and continued to supply the european market until 1986.

Old cars never die
On the 15th May 1981 the 20 Millionth Beetle was produced in Mexico.
Today Mexico is the only country in the world which still manufactures the Beetle.

The Car of The Century
In 1991 the Volkswagen Beetle was acclaimed Car of the Century, an accolade awarded by a panel of 100 motoring
journalists from 37 different countries including Britain.
Unlike the Model T Ford, which came second, the Beetle refuses to die, still being produced in increasing quantity in Mexico.

It's hardly surprising it was voted Car of the Century.
What other car can boast such huge sales, over 21 million, what other car can boast such a long production period, 52 years
and still going strong.
What other car had such an unusual and controversial conception.
The brainchild of, regardless of your political persuasion, possibly the most evil man in history, Adolf Hitler and then being
designed by one of the now most famous, admired and respected car designers, Porsche.
Although most Porsche drivers would prefer not to be reminded of the latter.

More amazingly, the design has not changed that much in 50 years.

The Future?
I'm sure you have all heard about and seen pictures of the 'new Beetle', if not here's two more.

The new Beetle made its debut at the Detroit Motor Show on January 1994, with the hard top prototype
and 2 months later at Geneva the soft top prototype was unveiled.
After the sudden upsurge in positive press and media publicity and a dramatic increase in general
Volkswagen sales after the Detroit Motor Show, Volkswagen declared that not only would they be
producing the Concept 1 type car, they would produce it as a proper series production model and not a
short run limited edition special.
3 years on and the car, Concept 1, has reached production point, but as yet has not been given a production date.

Obviously the designers drew enormous inspiration from the Beetle, and it is nice to know that although Volkswagen appear
to try there hardest to forget about their origins they cannot.
The similarity to the Beetle is certainly only skin deep (and what a nice skin it is to) it is front wheel drive, transversley
mounted, water cooled engine, it has twin air-bags and is based on the Polo floorpan.   Also featured is power assisted
steering, MacPherson strut-type front suspension and a Golf style compound crank rear axle.
The wheels are quite large as can be seen, 18in instead of the usual 13 or 14in.
Inlcuded in the specification is automatic transmission, side impact door beams, front and rear crumple zones and

Prospective engine specifications
There is likely to be 3 engine choices.
The top of the range powerplant is likely to be the 1.9L 4 cylinder direct injection TDI turbo diesel from the Golf TDI using
Ecomatic-intelligent management system which switches the engine off when it is not actually doing any work to move the car.
Projected top speed is said to be 111mph and a fuel consumption of 55mpg (US urban consumption).

The next choice is a hybrid engine.
A 1.4L, 3 cylinder TDI turbo diesel engine being used for open-road driving and a 18kw electric motor for driving.
Projected top speed is over 100mph with fuel consumption at 155mpg (US urban consumption).
Both engines with semi-automatic 5 speed transmission.

The final choice is an all electric power plant.
A 50bhp Siemens AC induction motor, linked to a 248v AEG sodium nickel chloride battery pack at one end, and a 2 speed
automatic transmission at the other gives a projected top speed of 80mph and a range of almost 100 miles under urban
conditions and 155 miles when driven at an unrealistic constant of 30mph.

Finally a word from Dr Ferdinand Piech, Volkswagen AG Chairman (also Dr Ferdinand Porsche's grandson):
  "We at Volkswagen do not intend visions to remain visions, we want them to become reality.
  This is equally true of the Concept 1 and the Concept 1 cabriolet."


The New To Go Into Production