Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers

Friday, February 17, 2017

Talking about the Famous VW Bug, aka the Other Beetles


On February 17, 1972, automotive history was made as the Volkswagen Beetle overtook the Ford Model T as the best-selling car in world history. How did this little car overtake the mighty Ford? See if you can answer these questions about the Beetle.

The Beetle has an unpleasant historical association. In 1934, Ferdinand Porsche, the German automaker, was ordered by Adolf Hitler to build a "people's car," or a Volkswagen in German. It had to be able to transport two adults and three children at 62 miles per hour, the Beetle's original top speed, and had to get 32 miles to the gallon. The parts had to be quickly and easily swapped out and the engine had to be air-cooled. 

The original Beetle had only 25 horsepower, and the war derailed attempts to put it into production. While a small number were made in 1941, mostly the Beetle factory Hitler had built put out military vehicles.


The Beetle nearly wound up a British car. After World War II, the factory was to be disassembled and sent to Britain, but it couldn't find a buyer. Nobody wanted to make the strange little car Hitler had demanded. A British officer named Ivan Hirst saved the factory, figuratively and literally; he had an unexploded bomb that would have destroyed irreplaceable equipment defused. He also put the Beetle to work making cars for the British Army. In January 1949, the Beetle crossed the Atlantic when one was imported to New York City. 

Between 1949 and 1955, demand was so high, and production increased so much, that by 1955, the millionth Beetle had rolled off the line. It was simply the most versatile, and best-engineered, car on the market. It was dirt cheap, under $2000, it sipped gas, and its far-from-stylish looks earned it affectionate nicknames like Turtle, Flea, and Mouse. 

And in 1960, the famous ad campaign from Doyle Dane Bernbach encouraged drivers to "think small," called it a lemon, and made fun of the pompous ad campaigns for cars at the time. The Beetle quickly found a market among teenagers, hippies, and people who just hated Detroit's aesthetic of bigger, louder, and with more chrome. They even got Wilt Chamberlain to endorse it... because at his height, he couldn't fit in the tiny car.

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