The Beetle deserves a deep dive into its history. From contentious origins to beloved family car, here’s a look at the iconic car that has been a familiar presence on roads all over the world.
1935: Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned by Adolf Hitler to build the People’s Car (or volks wagen in German). The concept behind the car was to create a small low-cost family car that could be massed produced. Hitler intended the car to rival the Ford Model T, and it was rumoured that he had a poster of Henry Ford in his office.
1938: The first Volkswagen car was produced in Wolfsburg, Germany. Porsche gave the car its iconic rounded roof- a shape that was to become an icon for generations to come.
1939: The onset of World War II saw resources diverted to military production, putting the Volkswagen on hold (although some cars were built for military officers, including Hermann Goering pictured above).
1945: The end of WWII saw the Wolfsburg factory come under the control of British Allied forces, who found Beetle prototypes tucked away in the back. Major Ivan Hirst was placed in charge of the factory, and was a firm believer in the car. Careful not to repeat the mistakes of the First World War, Hirst believed Volkswagen could bolster both national pride and the German economy. Initially branded as the Volkswagen Type 1, it went back to its original name of Volkswagen by 1946.
1955: The 1 millionth Volkswagen car rolls off the assembly line. To commemorate the event, Volkswagen created the gold-painted one millionth car with rhinestone encrusted bumpers (pictured above).
1968: Disney releases the movie, Herbie the Love Bug, based off the 1963 model of the Volkswagen. This kick-starts the Beetle-fever in America, and is also the start of the Herbie franchise for the production company. That same year, the Volkswagen Type 1 is given the name, ‘Beetle’.
1972: Some modifications to the car are made, and it now has a new suspension and more trunk space. On February 17, the 15,007,034th Beetle rolls off the assembly line- passing the record held by the Ford Model T after four decades as the best-selling car in the world.
1998: After 60 years, a modernised version of the Type 1 is rolled out – the New Beetle.
2018: Volkswagen announces that the Beetle has reached the end of the production line, and will release a “Final Edition”.
2019: Last Beetle rolls off the assembly line in Puebla, Mexico. The factory will now be used to manufacture the company’s new line of subcompact SUVs.
The Volkswagen Beetle has been through 3 generations of evolutionary change. Selling 21.5 million units of the first generation between 1938 and 2003, 1.16 million units of the second generation after 1998, and 530,000 units of its final 2011 form.
The legacy that the Volkswagen Beetle leaves behind lives on in us as pop culture references befitting every generation: as part of the distinctive iconography of the shaggy-haired 60’s, Austin Powers’ vehicle of choice “The Shag Mobile”, and also the anthropomorphic talking car that never fails to creep me out.