As we all know this Tuesday was the start of a new year, and so we decided to celebrate by taking this tech Tuesday to look back on some of Volkswagen’s proud history and answer a few of those questions you may have had about your beloved Bug. We understand that not everyone who owns a Volkswagen was born knowing what a semaphore, or a Zwitter is, so lets begin this year with some basics and go from A-Z with everything you may have not known about the history of your fine machine.
Q. Who designed and built the Beetle?
A. The history began as a dream of Ferdinand Porsche. He had a vision about building a car that everybody could afford. In the early 1920s, while working with Daimler-Benz, he tried to convince them of the idea of a small, affordable car, but Benz cancelled the prototype considering it too risky. After leaving Benz, in 1932 he approached Zündapp, in which a 3 cylinder water cooled prototype was designed and tested very briefly – so briefly that the because of severe cooling problems, the engine melted after only 10 minutes of testing! Zündapp promptly dropped the project and NSU subsequently partnered with Porsche to expand from their currently line of motorcycle production into automobiles. During this period, a crude, but more recognizable shape of the Beetle was coming into view along with the now common but then revolutionary design of torsion bar suspension, engine being mounted in the rear, mated directly to a transaxle design. Three prototypes called the “Type 32” were built and tested, but due to the economical climate of Germany at the time, NSU withdrew from the project. With the German government becoming interested in a “Peoples Car”, Porsche worked with them to deliver three more prototypes in 1936 called the “W1”. The next series of prototypes were built in 1937 and called the “VW 30”. By this time final form of the Beetle we know today came into being. A number of engines were also tested before the decision was taken to go ahead with the flat four air cooled engine designed by Franz Reimspeiss. That engine was more or less to be unchanged until this day. Although a small number of Beetles and Cabriolets were built for German government officials and because of wartime conditions during World War II, actually production of the Beetle for mass consumption did not commence until after the war in 1945. Despite the fact that 2/3 of the factory was destroyed by the allied bombing the workers managed to assemble 58 cars during the remaining of 1945, mainly from spare parts found in the remains. Starting in 1946, the factory was ordered to produce 1000 cars a month. By 1955, Volkswagen was producing 1000 cars a day. From humble beginnings, the rest is history
Q. How many Beetles were produced?
A. On February 17, 1972, Volkswagen overtook the Ford Model T as the most produced single model car with over 15 million made. On May 15, 1981, the 20 millionth Beetle rolled off the assembly line in South America. When production ceased in July 2003 in Mexico, over 22 million Beetles had been made.
Q. When was the Beetle first sold in the United States?
A. In 1949, Max Hoffman was granted an exclusive right to distribute and sell the Volkswagen Beetle in the eastern half of the United States. A whopping total of 2 Beetles were sold. In 1950, that figure increased to 157 Beetles. By 1953 Hoffman had sold 1,139 Beetles in the United States at which point Volkswagen decided to distribute them through their own established distributorship and dealer network.