1948 Volkswagen Beetle
2dr Split-Window Sedan
4-cyl. 1131cc/25hp 1bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
The Volkswagen Beetle is undoubtedly one of the most important cars of the 20th century. The company sold 21.5 million from about 1938 to 2003, when the last one rolled off a Mexican production line. Surprisingly, it only placed fourth in the 1999 Car of The Century competition, behind the Model T Ford (14.6 million) BMC Mini (5.4 million) and Citroen DS (1.4 million).
But the Beetle was a remarkable achievement. Ferdinand Porsche’s 1931 prototypes led to Hitler’s demand in 1934 for a “people’s car”, and Porsche’s design paralleled Hans Ledwinka’s Czechoslovakian Tatras. The basic platform endured (with improvements), for almost 60 years. A simple flat-floor platform featured torsion bar suspension, with swing axles at the rear.
A handful of pre-production models were built in 1937-39. The 25 bhp, 131cc rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat-four engine was simple and unburstable, and was attached to a four-speed transaxle “crash box”.
True Beetle production finally began in West Germany in 1945. The British Army initially dismissed the car as “quite unattractive to the average buyer”, but needed vehicles to help rebuild the country, whose residents also needed jobs. By 1946, the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month. Early cars had no chrome trim and a tiny split back window.
Ben Pon in Holland became VW’s first export dealer in 1947, buying 51 Beetles, and in 1948, Heinz Nordoff took over the factory in the new town of Wolfsburg. New Export Sedans and Cabriolets were launched in 1949 and 46,149 cars were built that year. The wheelbase was 94.5 inches, width 60.5 inches, and weight 1,600 lbs.
Max Hoffman took over U.S. distribution in 1950, and launched the U.S. program with only 150 cars. Hoffman would sell 157 of the 270 VWs in the U.S. that year, while the rest of the world bought 81,979 units. The 100,000th Beetle was built on March 4 1950, about the same time hydraulic brakes were introduced.
The Beetle’s arrival in the U.S. coincided with a number of “running changes” which would characterize the model’s next 50 years. The single-action lever shocks became double-acting, a seven-digit VIN was adopted, the starting crank handle was eliminated, the clutch was beefed up, moulded rubber mats were fitted, and the driver’s seat was raised. The exhaust pipe was enlarged and the side windows featured a cut-out on the leading edge to improve airflow.
The Export Sedans featured chrome bumpers, hubcaps, headlight rims and door handles and a sunroof was optional. The Cabriolet had a lined top, which was insulated and well-fitted, but extremely bulky when folded.
German coachbuilder Hebmüller constructed 2+2 cabriolets for Volkswagen using the same hood at both ends. Just 696 of the cabriolets were built, however, as Hebmüller never recovered from a massive fire at the factory.