Throwback Thursday: Volkswagen Beetle (Part 1) – The Bug’s rough beginnings

Recently, it was announced that the Volkswagen Beetle will be discontinued indefinitely. Coincidentally, 2018 also marked the 80th anniversary since the Beetle was introduced. Be it the Bumblebee, Herbie, or even the Dune Buggy, it’s amazing to see how a two-door, rear-engined compact car revolutionised the motoring scene and the world around it. In this two-part special of our Throwback Thursday series, we’ll look back at the car that started it all, the original Volkswagen Beetle. It began in Germany circa 1934. While Adolf Hilter’s legacy of atrocities have stretched beyond his existence, so has his “noble deed” towards his fellow Germans. He orchestrated the production of the Beetle – a car that needed to be practical and affordable. The Fuhrer tasked Ferdinand Porsche with the creation of the people’s car that need to meet certain criterias: fit five passengers, frugal and is capable of speeds in excess of 100 km/h.

It took a few years before Porsche and his team of engineers came up with the first batch of the Type 1 Beetle. It was informally known as the “Käfer” (Beetle in German) amongst Germans. At the heart of the Beetle lied an air-cooled engine with drive sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual transmission. It costs 990 Reich Marks then, or the equivalent of 31 weeks pay for the average blue collar German. A special saving scheme was even created by KdF (Kraft durch Freude, or Strength through Joy) encourage ordinary Germans to buy one.

The Beetle reassembled the Tatra V570 from Czechoslovakia, where both Porsche and Hilter admittedly took influence from. It did not take long before Hans Ledwinka, the Austrian engineer behind the Tatra, to launch a lawsuit only to be halted by the invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia by Germany. Guess that’s the perks of having a dictator controlling a car company.

Unfortunately, the Beetle’s production halted after just 210 units built, with efforts focused on the unfortunate war. As history has dictated (pun intended), the Germans lost the war with Hilter committing suicide after American and Russian forces infiltrated Germany.

Thereafter, a certain British army officer and engineer, Major Ivan Hirst, discovered the heavily-damaged factory that was once the production line of the Beetle. He subsequently revived the Beetle in Wolfsburg, for the purpose of transporting Allied troops in occupied Germany. The Beetle was eventually sold around the rest of Europe in 1947, where a million Bugs were shipped eight years later. Thereon, an icon was born – an automotive shrine for the coming years.

NEXT: How the Beetle turned from a “Hilter-mobile” into the world’s most recognisable and revered vehicle.

Image Credit: Volkswagen


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