For all the talk about Volkswagens being inexpensive Porsches—or Porsches being expensive Volkswagens—there’s no arguing the VW 39 prototype’s direct connection to Ferdinand and Ferry. The VW 39 is, indeed, a Porsche. Period. Fourteen prototypes left Porsche’s Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen plant in 1939. Only one still exists: chassis number 1-00003.
According to Porsche, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche designed the car as a high-speed variant of the Beetle. For testing, he and his son Ferry equipped it with a souped-up Type 64 986-cc engine from the Berlin-Rome car—a sports car intended to drive to victory in the first long-distance race from Berlin to Rome—which proved 32 horsepower instead of the usual 23.5 hp. Coupled with the 39’s relatively light weight of 695 kilograms (1,532 pounds), the car could reach 145 km/h (90 mph).
Also unique to the VW 39: for the first time, machine tools were used to create some of the car’s components in a body press, a practice that eventually became commonplace.
Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche frequently drove the VW 39—nicknamed Pretzel Beetle due to the split rear window’s resemblance to the popular snack—between the production location in Zuffenhausen, Volkswagen’s under-construction plant in Wolfsburg, and the German capital of Berlin.
Originally, Porsche planned to build 50 of the cars, but production was halted shortly after the start of World War II and military production became a priority.
After chassis number 1-00003 left the Porsche production line, it traveled to German Labour Front headquarters in Berlin. “Little is known about its use there,” Porsche wrote. “It was probably put on show to generate enthusiasm among customers.”
What is known is that a severely damaged 1-00003 was discovered underneath war rubble and eventually sold to a collector in 1948. The Hamburg enthusiast kept the car alive with modern spare parts and also painted it gray.
Approximately five years ago, the VW 39 was purchased by Thomas König and Oliver Schmidt, founders of the Hamburg Prototype Museum. After more than three years of work, the Nitro Black 1-00003 has been completely restored to better-than-original condition.
The Beetle might be among the most popular cars ever sold, but this VW 39 hot rod prototype is truly one of a kind.