The Volkswagen Type 1, more commonly known as the Beetle, Fusca, Coccinelle, Vocho, Bug, Volky or Käfer (German), is a compact car, produced by Volkswagen from 1938 until 2003. Although the names "Beetle" and "Bug" were quickly adopted by the public, it was not until August of 1967 that VW began using the name in marketing materials. It had previously been known only as either the "Type I" or as the 1200 (twelve-hundred), 1300 (thirteen-hundred) or 1500 (fifteen-hundred), which had been the names under which the vehicle was marketed in Europe prior to 1967; the numbers denoted the vehicle's engine size in cubic centimetres. In 1998, many years after the original model had been dropped from the lineup in most of the world (it continued in Mexico and a handful of other countries until 2003) VW introduced a "New Beetle" (built on a Volkswagen Golf platform), bearing a strong resemblance to the original.
In the international poll for the award of the world's most influential car of the twentieth century the Beetle came fourth after the Ford Model T, the Mini and the Citroën DS.
"The People's Car"
The origins of the car date back to 1925, when Béla Barényi submitted his concepts to the Maschinenbauanstant Wien. Further influences came from the 1931 Tatra T97, and the 1931 Porsche Typ 12.
In 1933 Adolf Hitler met with Ferdinand Porsche to discuss the development of a "Volks-Wagen" ("People Car"), a basic vehicle that should be capable of transporting two adults and three children at a speed of 100 km/h (62 mph), and which should cost no more than a 990 reichsmark (at an average income of 32RM/week).
2003 Volkswagen Beetle Last Edition
Advertisement from ca. 1936 says "Five mark a week you must put aside - If in your own car you want to ride!"
Ferdinand Porsche formulated the original parameters of the Beetle several years before it was commissioned. However its production only became financially viable when it was backed by the Third Reich.
The Type 1's mechanics and chassis were shared with several German military vehicles of the period, including the Kübelwagen ("bucket car", later adapted for civil use as the Type 181 or "Thing"), used by both the German military and the SS, and the amphibious Schwimmwagen, built in small numbers
Ferdinand's career continued on to designing an iconic supercar of the 21st century - Porsche.
The military Beetle
Prototypes of the Kdf-Wagen appeared from 1935 onwards — the first prototypes were produced by Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart, Germany. The car already had its distinctive round shape and its air-cooled, flat-four, rear-mounted engine. However, the factory had only produced a handful of cars by the time war started in 1939. Consequently, the first volume-produced versions of the car's chassis were military vehicles, the Jeep-like Kübelwagen Typ 82 (approx. 52,000 built) and the amphibious Schwimmwagen Typ 166 (approx. 14,000 built).
The car was designed to be as simple as possible mechanically, so that there was less to go wrong; the aircooled 985 cc 25 hp (19 kW) motors proved especially effective in actions of the German Afrika Korps in North Africa's desert heat. This was due to the built-in fan-cooling and the superior performance of the flat-four engine configuration. The innovative suspension design used compact torsion beams instead of coil or leaf springs.
A handful of civilian-specific Beetles were produced, primarily for the Nazi elite, in the years 1940–1945, but production figures were small. In response to gasoline shortages, a few wartime "Holzbrenner" Beetles were fueled by wood pyrolysis gas producers under the hood. In addition to the Kübelwagen, Schwimmwagen, and a handful of others, the factory managed another wartime vehicle:
the Kommandeurwagen; a Beetle body mounted on the 4WD Kübelwagen chassis. A total of 669 Kommandeurwagens were produced until 1945, when all production was halted due to heavy damage sustained in Allied air raids on the factory. Much of the essential equipment had already been moved to underground bunkers for protection, allowing production to resume quickly once hostilities had ended.
Much of the Beetle's design was inspired by the advanced Tatra cars of Hans Ledwinka, particularly the T97. This also had a streamlined body and a rear-mounted 4 cylinder horizontally-opposed air-cooled engine. Tatra launched a lawsuit, but this was stopped when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. The matter was re-opened after WW2 and in 1961 Volkswagen paid Tatra 3,000,000 Deutsche Marks in compensation. These damages meant that Volkswagen had little money for the development of new models and the Beetle's production life was necessarily extended.
The Volkswagen company owes its postwar existence largely to British army officer Major Ivan Hirst (1916–2000). After the war, Hirst was ordered to take control of the heavily bombed factory, which the Americans had captured. His first task was to remove the unexploded bomb which had fallen through the roof and lodged itself between some pieces of irreplaceable production equipment; if the bomb had exploded, the Beetle's fate would have been sealed. Hirst persuaded the British military to order 20,000 of the cars, and by 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month. The car and its town changed their Nazi-era names to Volkswagen (people's car) and Wolfsburg, respectively. The first 1,785 Beetles were made in a factory near Wolfsburg, Germany in 1945.
Production of the Type 1 grew dramatically over the years, with the one-millionth car coming off the assembly line by 1954. The Beetle had superior performance in its category with a top speed of 115km/h (72mph) and 0-100km/h (0-60mph) in 27.5 seconds on 31mpg for the standard 25kW (34hp) engine. This was far superior to the Renault 4CV and Morris Minor and even competitive with more modern small cars like the Mini. The engine fired up immediately without a choke and could only be heard in the car when idling. It had excellent road-handling for a small car. It was economical to maintain and, for many, a joy to drive. However, the opinion of some in the United States was not as flattering. Henry Ford II once described the car as 'A little shit box' out of frustration that it was the top-selling foreign car in the US market. During the 1960s and early 1970s, innovative advertising campaigns and a glowing reputation for reliability and sturdiness helped production figures to surpass the levels of the previous record holder, the Ford Model T, when Beetle No. 15,007,034 was produced on February 17, 1972. By 1973 total production was over 16 million, and by 2002 there had been over 21 million produced.
While production of the standard Beetle continued, a Type 1 variant called the Super Beetle, produced from model year 1971 to 1979, offered MacPherson strut front suspension, better turning radius, and more space in the front luggage compartment. The Super Beetle was improved in 1973 to include a padded dashboard and a curved windshield.
The Super Beetle (VW 1302 and 1303 series, also called Type 113) is not the only Type 1 variant; other VWs under the Type 1 nomenclature include the Karmann Ghia and the VW 181 utility vehicle, not to mention the Brasilia and the Australian Country Buggy (locally produced in Australia using VW parts).Small fractions of people now call it the weevil.
Faced with stiff competition from more modern designs — in particular Japanese economy cars in the North American market and superminis in Europe — sales began dropping off in the mid 1970s. There had been several unsuccessful attempts to replace the Beetle throughout the 1960s; the Type 3, Type 4, and the NSU-based K70 were all failures. Finally, production lines at Wolfsburg switched to the new watercooled, front-engined, front wheel drive Golf in 1974 (sold in North America as the Rabbit), a car unlike its predecessor in most significant ways.
Beetle production continued in smaller numbers at other German factories until 1978, but mainstream production shifted to Brazil and Mexico. The last Beetle was produced in Puebla, Mexico, in mid-2003. The final batch of 3,000 Beetles were sold as 2004 models and badged as the Última Edición, with whitewall tires, a host of previously-discontinued chrome trim, and the choice of two special paint colors taken from the New Beetle. Production in Brazil ended in 1986, then restarted in 1993 and continued until 1996. Volkswagen sold Beetles in the United States until 1978 (the Beetle convertible a.k.a. Cabriolet was sold until January 1980) and in Europe until 1985.
Like its competitors the Mini and the Citroën 2CV, the Beetle has been regarded as something of a "cult" car since its 1960s association with the hippie movement; and the obvious attributes of its unique and quirky design. Much like their Type 2 counterparts, Beetles were psychedelically painted and considered an art car ancestor. One of the logos used by the Houston Art Car Klub incorporated a Beetle with a cowboy hat.
From 1968 to 2005, a pearl white 1963 fabric sunroof Beetle with racing number "53" and red, white, and blue stripes named "Herbie" played a starring role in The Love Bug series of Disney comedy films. A yellow Wunderkäfer, called DuDu, appeared in a series of German films for children. Also made famous is the Autobot Bumblebee, a canary yellow Beetle in the toy, comic and cartoon line The Transformers. The Throttlebot, Legends and Generation 2 toy line versions of Bumblebee also transformed from robot to VW Beetle, though the Throttlebot-type was called Goldbug as it was a golden 1975 Super Beetle. (Note, too, that the G2 toy was painted anodized gold in colour.) In other countries, 'Bumblebee the Beetle' has been released in various colours.
The Beetle has appeared in Hollywood in many other instances, albeit brief. For instance, the opening shot of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) featured a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. The sci-fi thriller The Arrival (1996) featured a few Mexican Beetles in the film — one scene in the film features Charlie Sheen hiding in the notorioulsy tight trunk.
During the early 1970s, the Beetle was used for advertisements where graphic art ads were decaled on newly-sold Volkswagens. A marketing consultant (Charlie E. Bird) in the Los Angeles area came up with the "Beetleboard" concept. Both standard and Super Beetles were used, until the original Beetle ceased production in Europe in 1978. This trend was resurrected after the New Beetle entered production (source — The Beetle Book).The Volkswagen Beetle has built a large fan base among off-road types in the form of the Baja Bug. Today, there are many online clubs and communities that keep Beetle aficionadoes on touch. Even the sighting of a Volkswagen Beetle is cause for violent fun in the car-sighting game known as "Slug-Bug" or Punch Buggy.