The iconic Volkswagen Beetle: how it all started

La Grande VW Beetle

The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most recognizable cars in the world. Sought after for its style and dependability, many people are unaware that Adolph Hitler is largely responsible for its development.

Early 20th Century Germany

In the early 1900s, Ferdinand Porsche had a dream for a prototype car with a rear engine that would be easy to obtain car parts for. He first approached two motorcycle manufacturers with his idea. However, partnerships with both of them proved unsuccessful. At the Berlin Motor Show in 1934, Adolph Hitler made a speech in which he promoted the idea of developing a similar car. As a result, the two men met together in an effort to develop what today is known as the Volkswagen Beetle.

Requirements

The car that Hitler had in mind would be capable of transporting two adults and three children at speeds of at least 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph), while also using very little fuel. It also had to be affordable for the average family to own and maintain, so its car parts had to be produced rather inexpensively as well. Prototypes of this car began being tested in 1935, with newer prototypes being developed and tested in 1936 and 1937 as well.

Factory Built

A brand new Volkswagen plant was established in 1938, as mass production of the Beetle became widely anticipated. Hitler himself laid the cornerstone for the first Volkswagen factory in Fallesleben in May 1938. In the beginning, only a handful of cars were produced, mostly for the Nazi elite. The factory sustained significant damage due to air raids by Allied Forces, so production was temporarily halted in 1945.

After the War

The Americans handed over control of the Volkswagen factory to the British in 1945. The plan was to dismantle the factory and ship it to Britain, but these plans were halted because no British carmaker was interested in making the Beetle. Those who were offered the opportunity claimed that the Beetle was “unattractive to the average buyer” and that building it for commercial purposes would be a “completely uneconomic enterprise.” Even so, the factory was soon up and running again, producing vehicles for the British Army.

Factory Saved

Shortly after the war, a British officer named Ivan Hirst is credited with removing an unexploded bomb in the roof of the Volkswagen factory. The removal of this bomb is what allowed production of the Volkswagen Beetle to continue. These cars also continued to become popular throughout the world, with the one-millionth one being produced in 1955. A number of changes were made in the 1950s and 1960s that made the car even more popular. By 1972, production of the Beetle had exceeded that of the previous record holder, which was the Model T Ford.

Although it has undergone a number of changes over the years, the Volkswagen Beetle has nonetheless remained popular amongst drivers of all ages. The fact that it is fuel-efficient, dependable, and has car parts that are readily available make it a sought after vehicle even today.


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