FDR promised the American people: “A chicken in
every pot!” Hitler made plans for the production
of a low cost automobile for the German people.
He found Ferdinand Porsche, an experienced car designer,
who was enthused by this idea, to undertake the
project of producing an automobile in accordance
with Hitler’s pipedream. Besides being powered by
an efficient air-cooled engine, the car should be
able to achieve 30 MPH and carry a machine gun,
all for the price of 1,000 RM, about $250.00.
A number of prototypes were built and evaluated
to achieve an optimum design for eventual mass production.
Hitler ordered a factory to be built for this purpose
at Wolfsburg, which began to produce some demonstration
models in early 1939. People were encouraged by
the government to make down payments and save up
for later delivery. But WW II broke out in September
1939 and many lost their money. During the war the
factory produced military vehicles only as well
as munitions for the war effort.
Due to Allied bombing the factory suffered heavy
damage, but the British, realizing the demand for
small inexpensive cars, rebuilt the plant after
the war and produced a limited number of VWs under
the direction of major Ivan Hirst. Following the
currency reform in 1948, the company was handed
over to the German government who appointed Heinrich
Business flourished. Based on the original design,
“der Käfer” (Beetle) delighted buyers all over the
world, because of its low price tag, economy and
reliability. And as its popularity grew, assembly
plants sprang up outside the borders of Germany
to meet the growing demand. Even in the US, considered
the automobile capitol of the world, the Beetle
made its presence known with countless buyers joining
in on the “Fahrvergnügen” the catchy phrase
with which VW tried to attract customers in the
But while the Beetle spearheaded VW’s entry into
world markets, the company produced a variety of
additional models as well to remain competitive.
The boxy VW bus hit the show rooms in 1951, also
powered by the well-tested air-cooled engine. Dubbed
the “Hippie Van” of the 70s or the “Kraut Can” in
the jargon of the era, it nevertheless served as
a family transporter, a forerunner of today’s SUV.
Other models from Wolfsburg arrived at the scene.
Carman Ghia and Sirocco competed in the world of
sports cars, while Golf, Passat and Jetta demonstrated
VW’s intent to keep competitors on their toes in
the area of family sedans.
Recently at the LA Automotive Exhibition in January,
the all new Jetta was introduced. Features
such as a 150 hp, 2.5 liter, five cylinder engine,
a four-wheel independent suspension system, a larger
trunk and more leg room than the previous model,
demonstrate that VW has not lost its innovative
spirit in car design. The new Jetta will be produced
at the VW facility in Puebla, Mexico. The Mexican
Plant is also the only one producing the new and
improved Beetle, maintaining the “buggy” appearance
of its forerunner. To date, an impressive number
of 22 million “bugs” rolled off the production line,
with no end in sight.
Seventy years ago, a pipedream became reality in
a way that staggered the imagination of carmakers
and buyers alike.