25 January 2013

Secrets of the original Volkswagen Beetle

The original air-cooled VW Beetle lasted an incredible 58 years in production, during which time it was fundamentally unchanged. It’s a record that will likely never be approached, let alone broken. Although nearly everyone of a certain age has at least one Beetle story or fond memory, there are a few things still not generally known about the beloved car. Here are five of our favorites:

 

  1. The original classic Beetle didn’t leave production until 2003: Although it was last sold in the U.S. in 1979 (by which time the water-cooled Rabbit had replaced it), the original air-cooled Beetle was produced in Puebla, Mexico, until 2003. It’s essentially identical to the cars produced in Germany for export to the U.S. in the 1970s, but it is illegal to try to import a Mexican Beetle into the U.S. because they don’t comply with recent emissions and safety laws.
  2. It was conceived by an infamous dictator: The original Beetle was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler. Keen to put ordinary Germans on the newly constructed autobahn superhighways in their own cars, a subsidized savings plan involving a coupon booklet was devised. When a family filled their booklet, they were supposed to get their car. WWII intervened and all pre-war Beetle deliveries were limited to Nazi party officials. Private owners didn’t get their hands on a Beetle until after the war.
  3. Germans don’t remember it as fondly as we do: The connection with the dictator who brought ruin to their country as well as the fact that it serves as a reminder of the lean times before the West German economic miracle took hold means that post-war Germans don’t have the same warm and fuzzy feelings about the Beetle that American ex-hippies do. 
  4. The Beetle will float: The Beetle may have been inexpensive, but it was never cheap. Gaps were tight and doors sealed well. Additionally, it was a unibody car with a very flat floor with few openings. All of this meant that the car would actually float for at least several minutes after hitting the water before turning into a small U-boat.
  5. Subject of groundbreaking ad campaign: The Beetle was the subject of one of the most influential ad campaigns of the 20th century. Most recently lampooned on the TV show “Mad Men,” it was among the first national campaigns to utilize irony and self-deprecating wit. A tiny black-and-white photo of a Beetle in a sea of white space with only the headline “Think Small” was the first of the ads introduced in 1959 by the agency Doyle Dane Bernbach.

 

Click here for more classic car stories from Hagerty, or here to sign up for our Classic Car Newsletter

5 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Marylou Devery Lafayette, Indiana August 15, 2013 at 16:57
    I am buying a 1970 Beetle with a Porshe Engine. She drives excellent. Looks excellent. I would appreciate ANY feedback.
  • 2
    Liz Trevino Valley Springs,ca August 30, 2013 at 15:55
    Could this be a little known secret or fact about the vw bug?, not sure but here goes... Could the vw bug be the record taker for having appeared in more movies than any other car? I have rarely if ever seen a movie that does not have a vw bug in the background somewhere. So the next time you watch a movie, look out for the beloved vw bug!
  • 3
    HappyDayze United States October 4, 2013 at 14:53
    I purchased a '61 Beetle in 1965, for $300.00. Then a '65 bus. A '70 Square Back. Finally a '73 Beetle. All were good cars. But i remember how frustrating it was on a long up hill run, how gutless that they were! How you had to be careful cornering or they could flip. How the engine just kept on running after you shut it off, because the gas octane was too low, so you put it into gear, and popped the clutch, to stop it running. But all those draw backs were nothing, because i remember that VW sold them ALL! Now, i'm an old man, retired. Good memories of fine cars, that i would buy in a heart beat today. Not these plastic replicars, that no one can work on. i know they get terrific gas mileage, and go forever between tuneups, but they got no spirit. No pizzaz. Also, i don't have 20 grand for a car that really isn't worth a plug nickle! What a brave new world we have.....Maybe someone could start rebuilding, the old ......No that's just an old mans dream........
  • 4
    catherine zwart los osos, ca 93402 January 17, 2014 at 16:19
    bought first bug in '72 or so. blv it was a '63. my brother recently had it all fixed up. another brother still has his---red with blue and white hubcaps---the stars are white. my dad had a '70 which I have. it NEEDS WORK, but I keep it registered and insured!
  • 5
    Julio mendez Miramar Fl. July 20, 2016 at 23:31
    The only reason they stopped production of original beetles is becouse they never broke down. They cudn't make money on repairs and services

Join the Discussion