This vehicle has such an interesting history that it even surpasses its cousin – the VW Minibus. It is literally “the people’s car”. Before there were any VW models, this one was the Volkswagen itself. No model, no nothing. And yet 80 years later we are about to say goodbye to this tiny beast. Well, at least we can send it out properly!
Let’s take a deep breath and dive deep into the notable parts of the Beetle’s story. We will learn how it all started, where it ended up, and why people have lost interest in it with time. Together we can bid farewell to the car, though you know – used models will always be around for the car collectors out there.
How the VW Beetle came to be
If we want to find out the origins of this car, we will have to go all the way back to Nazi Germany. It all started in the 1930s when the Germans began to improve their road network. However, what good are roads if there is no one to use them? This was exactly what Hitler thought at the time. So he commissioned Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to design “a people’s car”.
That being said, designing the car was not an easy task. It turns out you have to work hard to create a usable vehicle that is also cheap and easy to mass produce. That is why Porsche and his team took a good few years to come up with a viable concept. They finally did it in 1938.
Just so you know, the VW Beetle may have originated in Nazi Germany, but the idea for such a car goes way back. Germany desperately needed an affordable auto, since at the time there were mostly luxury vehicles. If anyone deserves the credit here, it has to go to Henry Ford and the Model T. That car proved the masses could indeed have a vehicle made for them.
Additionally, when Porsche was commissioned to design the Beetle, he had already been working on something like it for 3 years. We will not be far off if we say that such a car was just bound to happen.
The ins and outs of the People’s Car
There are quite a few things that characterize the little bug. Affordability is obvious, but certain technical details were also requested. For example, the car had to be fuel-efficient with the ability to easily reach 60 mph with 2 adults and 3 children in it. It also needed to have a modular design. That meant you could change its parts easily and cheaply.
You would think that all of this would require a serious engine. Yet Porsche managed to get it done with a simple 25 hp motor. In comparison, the average car nowadays has 5 times that at 120 horsepower. On top of that, the Beetle’s engine was simple and repairs were a breeze. As a bonus fun addition, the little bug was designed to be airtight and float for a short while.
When it became available to the public the VW Beetle had the same cost as a small motorcycle or about half the average yearly income. One could purchase it through a special savings scheme. However, it did not become an immediate success. Want to know why?
The Beetle’s journey through the years
The production of the VW Beetle began in 1938. It was small scale though and only 210 vehicles were produced before the operation was halted due to the war effort. At that point, several cars were built on the Beetle’s platform, but they were used for military purposes.
From then on the fate of the car was rather bumpy. When the war ended, the Americans decided they should hand the burden of the factory to their British allies. They had to dismantle it and transport it back to Britain to begin production under a British brand. Ironically though, the UK did not want it either. They considered the design ugly, something that no one would buy.
Nevertheless, in order to give jobs to Germans and help themselves, the British ordered 20,000 vehicles to be produced at the factory. These were the VW Type 1, which later gained the nickname Beetle. They were again meant as military cars and not something that would be sold to the public.
It was not until 1949 when things started to change. The former manager of Opel (another vehicle company) was appointed the head of the factory and under him, production was increased greatly. In just 6 years the Beetle hit its first major milestone – 1,000,000 vehicles manufactured.
With time the success of the car only grew. It went through several designs and engineering evolutions, although the main aesthetic remained the same. People seemed to love it and in 1972 it took the world record with 15,000,000 cars produced. Thus the Model T was dethroned. But then came the decline…
The slow death of the little bug
While most of us remember the Beetle fondly, the truth is that it did not fare that well after the 70’s. The hippy culture went by, people began looking at Japanese vehicles like Datsun 510 and all of a sudden the Bug was no longer so appealing. It failed to evolve.
The sadder news is that VW itself stagnated. They had put all their eggs in one basket with the Beetle. The Minibus also declined in demand and the company found itself in a financial crisis. One thing was apparent – something needed to change. And so the VW Golf was born.
Even though the manufacturer focused on the new car, they still tried to market the Beetle as well. Maybe it was too hard to let go. But the reality was that the car just was not selling well. So VW had to face to it – the Beetle was done. For how long though?
The future of the Beetle – or the lack thereof
We may be talking about the Beetle’s end in the near future, but actually, VW killed its production way back. The year 2003 marked the final nail in the coffin of the model. Interestingly enough, VW had an entire campaign around ending its production. The last unit even has its own place in the VW museum in Wolfsburg.
So why are we today talking about its death today? Should we not have done that 15 years ago? Well, yes, but Volkswagen decided to throw us a curveball. They have been coming up with redesigns ever since “the final Beetle”. Funny enough, there was another final Beetle in 1985 as well, when production was stopped then. 2003 was the end for the production line that was restarted in 1998 with a redesigned model.
We have seen several modern versions since then though, with the last being the 2013 one. It was heavily influenced by Porsche’s design, and most people do not even consider it a worthy successor to the original. That being said, we will be seeing another end to the Beetle in 2019. Though maybe you should take it with a grain of salt, considering VW’s history with the model.
Volkswagen is currently implementing their electrification strategy. With it in mind they will be ceasing production of the Beetle. Unlike the Minibus, which will be coming soon as an EV, the Beetle is not getting the update.
The 2019 models will be the last. They will receive some visual updates and special versions will also be available. You would be able to buy them in a coupé or cabriolet bodies. If you truly want to bid the model farewell, getting one of these will be a good way to do it.
How will you remember the little bug?
I have fond memories of the car. It has always been one of the models that I can distinguish anywhere. Sadly, I see it less and less. That should say something though. As an auto transport company that ships plenty of classic vehicles, you may expect that we encounter the Beetle on a regular basis. However, this is not the case.
Perhaps it is the fact that the vehicle is still somewhat new. Considering there are constant redesigns, maybe it keeps fresh in people’s mind. I guess the modern models will never leave quite the mark, but I still hope that the old ones are properly cared for.
What about you? Do you like the model or do you think it is nothing special? Would you even consider getting one? Even if you do not like where the current design has gone, you can still enjoy the nice curvy shapes of the classic VW Type 1, or as we all love to call it – the Beetle!