Who would of thought that an ugly duckling car would go on to become a much loved Disney movie hero in the form of Herby the 4 cylinder Volkswagen VW Beetle of most determined and passionate vehicle on the race and rally tracks .
The Beetle project was started in 1933 by Adolf Hitler when he became the German Chancellor. Once the design was finalized, the site for the factory was chosen near the village of Fallersleben. The foundation stone was ceremonially laid by Adolf Hitler in May 1938. He then announced that the car would be called the KdF-Wagen or the Strength through joy car. By 1939, the first part of the plant was finished. Due to the outbreak of World War II, only 630 Volkswagen were produced during this period. However, over 50,435 Kubelwagen’s, the Volkswagen’s military version, were produced. Hitler turned to Ferdinand Porsche, one of Germany’s most renowned car designers at that time for the project.
Work resumed and up to 7677 cars were built in 1946. The plant was able to sustain this output even though it was very difficult. In 1948, Heinz Nordhoof was made General Manager. He instantly set out to make the Beetle go global. In July 1947 he launched a highly enhanced export model which sold very well in Holland. He saw that the great potential of the American market and in 1955 instituted Volkswagen of America. When the war ended, the town came under British control and was renamed Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg then received visitors from the British Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. They were doing research on the German motor industry during the war and were obviously impressed by both the Volkswagen and the factory. Its simplicity allowed it to be produced even cheaper than the engine then being developed. With its air cooled ( as opposed to the standard water cooled radiator designs), engines Beetles engines were ultra reliable and always started in cold winter climates without being garaged. Canadians especially those in northern Manitoba,Ontario , Alberta and BC British Columbia loved them for that.
Yet the failing – of the reverse of having no radiator meant no hot water and antifreeze for the in car heater. This was remedied in cold climates ( important for safety concerns for the windshield defroster and frosted icy windows ) with a gas heater. Still gas heaters used a lot of gasoline and were not cheap to operate.
In 1937, the VW was made a government-funded project. Hitler said that the car should look like a beetle to be streamlined. Early VWs were well known to their drivers having the auto battery under the driver’s seat. Often the stench of the hydrogen sulfide gasses emanating from under the seat – from the charging battery would almost overcome the driver themselves. Once the car’s design was settled, the German government started work on the factory. After the Second World War the VW plant was offered to both GM General Motors and even Ford as war reparations . The comment that always came back as a biting insult to the marketing intelligence and insight of the Ford Motor Company’s patriarch Henry Ford was that an adviser had noted to him regarding the Volkswagen Beetle product “I would not give you a plugged nickle for it”. Sadly ( for him and Ford” Henry Ford listened, agreed and payed heed to the consultant’s sage advice. The first phase of the plant was finished in 1939. Manufacturing was however interrupted due to World War II.
It had an air-cooled rear-mounted boxer engine and used Porsche’s torsion bar suspension. This design became the basis for the Volkswagen, designated in 1934 as Type 60 in the Porsche design registry. Production resumed and at least 7677 cars were built in 1946. Heinz Nordhoof became the General Manager in 1948. After the WW2 – a major earner of foreign currency to the West German economy was from the sale of Beetles overseas to North America – including Canada as well as the USA. Long before Toyota became a household name in the US and Canada the Beetle had made its record as the best ranking import car model and brand. By 1968, sales were highest at 423,008 cars sold. Plants were created from 1951 to 1964 in South Africa, Brazil, Australia and Mexico.
In 1950, the 100,000th car was built, and in 1965 Wolfsburg produced its first millionth Beetle. Unfortunately, Heinz Nordoff died in 1968. The German government took over VW project in 1937, injecting. RM 50,000 (₤42,918) into the project. Hitler commented that the car should look like a beetle, to make it streamlined. Exhaustive tests were conducted and changes like introduction of a divided back window, increased output of the engine cooling fans, adding of running boards and one piece bonnet instead of two were made.
In 1972, the Beetle overtook the Model T Ford as the best-selling car in history. But VW made the same mistake as Ford by keeping the Beetle in production far too long. In 1974, Volkswagen recorded its first loss. Thus, the Beetle was replaced and the last Wolfsburg Beetle was produced in July 1974.
This rugged little car’s charm has won the hearts of many, making it an all-time top-seller. Even with its aged design, it’s still being manufactured after more than forty years. More than twenty million Beetles have been made and more continue to be produced in Mexico and Brazil.