Timeline: Volkswagen Beetle
The Beetle dates back to 1930s Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler's desire that almost anybody should be able to afford a car fitted with a proposal by car designer Ferdinand Porsche, although Hitler himself played some role in the car's shape.
Dissatisfied with the initial design of the car's front end, Hitler penned a more rounded shape on a napkin and handed it to Porsche with the instructions, "it should look like a beetle, you only have to look to nature to find out what true streamlining is." The intention was that ordinary working Germans would buy the car by means of a savings scheme.
Prototypes of the car called the KdF-Wagen (German: Kraft durch Freude = strength through joy), appeared from 1935 onwards the first prototypes were produced by DaimlerBenz in Stuttgart. The car already had its distinctive round shape (designed by Erwin Komenda) and air-cooled, flat-four, rearmounted engine.
Deliberately designed to be as simple as possible mechanically, there was simply less that could go wrong; the radiator-less aircooled motors proved effective in action in North Africa's desert heat. A handful of civilian-spec Beetles were produced, primarily for the Nazi elite, in the years 19401945, but production figures were small. In response to gasoline shortages,
Much of the Beetle's design was inspired by the advanced Tatra cars of Hans Ledwinka. Tatra sued, but the lawsuit was stopped when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. The matter was re-opened after World War II and in 1961 Volkswagen paid Tatra 3,000,000 Deutsche Marks.
The Volkswagen Company owes its post war existence largely to one man, British army officer Major Ivan Hirst (1916-2000). Post-war, he was ordered to take control of the heavily bombed factory, which the Americans had captured. He persuaded the British military to order 20,000 of the cars, and by 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month. The car and its town changed their Nazi-era names, to Volkswagen (people's car) and Wolfsburg. The first 1,785 Beetles were made in a factory near Wolfsburg in 1945.
Faced with stiff competition from more modern designs, the US sales began dropping off in the mid-1970s. There had been several unsuccessful attempts to replace the Beetle throughout the 1960s; but the Type 3, Type 4 (411) and the NSU-based K70 were all failures.
At the 1994 North American International Auto Show, Volkswagen unveiled the J Mays-penned "Concept 1", a concept car with futuristic styling deliberately reminiscent of the original Beetle's rounded shape. Strong public reaction convinced the company to move the car into production and in 1998 Volkswagen launched
The New Beetle is related to the original only in name and appearance. Under the hood, it is a modern car in every way. In stark contrast to the original, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety gave the New Beetle among the best safety ratings in its class at the time of its launch.
Marketing campaigns have enhanced the continued goodwill towards the original, and helped the new model to inherit it. The Volkswagen New Beetle was Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1999.