The Volkswagen Beetle Came to America 75 Years Ago Today

Ben Pon, left, with one of the Beetles that accompanied him to New York. Volkswagen

If we were to ask Mr. Peabody to set the dial on his Wavelength Acceleration Bidirectional Asynchronous Controller, or WABAC Machine, to January 17, 1949, we’d bear witness to a most curious sight. What’s that rolling off the enormous ship docked in New York, Mr. Peabody?

Why, it’s a Volkswagen Type 1, Sherman! In fact, there’s a pair of them!

Mr. Peabody and Sherman WABAC Machine
YouTube/Jay Ward Productions

Thanks to the marvel of cartoon time travel, Hagerty can indeed confirm that on this day, exactly 75 years ago, the first two Beetles spun their wheels on American soil. Accompanying them was Ben Pon, the Dutch car dealer (and father of the Type 2 Microbus) who two years earlier had introduced VW to the Netherlands, the marque’s first export market.

Heb ik een deal voor je! Pon probably said to a small crowd of onlookers that wintry New York day, who were as confused by his Dutch as they were by the weird little car before them. He did indeed have a deal for us, but he had little luck finding a partner to import and sell the cars here, so we didn’t take him up on it.

It’s unclear where those two Beetles ended up, in fact, but the following year, New Yorker Max Hoffman took the idea and ran with it, adding Beetles to the growing roster of European cars he would become famous for peddling to American drivers. To provide parts and support to the exploding U.S. market, Volkswagen of America was set up in 1955, and by 1960, more than half a million Beetles were traveling our roads and parking themselves in American culture.

To commemorate the occasion of their arrival on these shores, Volkswagen has launched a year-long campaign to spotlight “the people, products, and places that have defined one of America’s best-known brands,” to include a commercial during Super Bowl LVIII, which will be played between two teams that are not the Dallas Cowboys.

VW Beetle and VW ID. Buzz head on
Think small, think tall, the original Beetle and the ID.Buzz share a badge but couldn’t be technologically farther apart. James Lipman

“Over the past 75 years, Volkswagen has grown from a tale of two Beetles into a part of America’s cultural fabric,” said Rachael Zaluzec, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience & Brand Marketing for Volkswagen of America. “We carry people in our name and our heart. As we look forward to the next 75, we will celebrate the real people and real-life moments that have made Volkswagen brand the people’s love story it is today.”

Hagerty is eager to see how the next 75 years have gone for VW, but as yet Mr. Peabody hasn’t quite worked out the kinks in his WAFORWARD Machine, so details are still unclear.




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    If you’re younger than, say, 55, mention of Mr Peabody is likely to draw a blank stare. For the rest of us it’s hilarious.
    Imagine the automotive landscape if Max Hoffman had pulled a George Bailey but Clarence wasn’t there…

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