75 years ago, the beloved VW Beetle entered production
The VW Beetle enjoyed a storied production run that saw a total of 21,529,464 vehicles manufactured over nearly 60 years, as Beetles continued to roll off the assembly line in Mexico until 2003. Although the Beetle was a smash sales success and continues to be a collector favorite, it all got off to a very shaky start.
Development of the people’s car began before WWII, but wartime production in Germany focused on the military, including at VW’s now-famous Wolfsburg plant. The British military took over Volkswagenwerk GmbH in June 1945 during Britain’s occupation of German and began working on getting the Type 1 into production to provide transportation and kickstart the post-war economy. It wasn’t easy.
Allied bombing during the war had damaged the plant and surrounding infrastructure in order to hamper military production and movement. Those same supply lines would be necessary to get civilian car production up and running. The Wolfsburg plant itself was under threat of demolition, but British Major Ivan Hirst saw the facility’s potential and it was his determination that helped spearhead the transformation from wartime to civilian production in the latter half of 1945.
The British military ordered 20,000 vehicles in August of 1945, spurring Hirst and the Volkswagenwerk employees to get an assembly line up and running. They delivered. Wolfsburg began Type 1 Beetle production on December 27, 1945, despite an uncertain supply of production materials and a shaky power grid. Even getting food and housing for the workers was a struggle. Those early employees managed to turn out 55 Beetles by year’s end and soon improved to churning out 1000 vehicles per month through 1946, even with prolonged rationing of materials.
Supply lines smoothed out, Germany and the rest of Europe sprang back from WWII, and demand for vehicles grew. By 1947 VW was exporting Type 1 Beetles and eventually, Beetles would catch on all over the globe. All told, German production of the Type 1 Beetle totaled around 15.8 million units. It remains one of the most beloved collector cars because of its simple, robust construction, cheerful design, and ease of ownership. It owes a lot of its early success to Major Ivan Hirst and those Volkswagenwerk employees that saw Wolfburg’s potential.