The Air-Cooled Volkswagen--History, Specifications, and Pictures
are quite a few photos on this page. I hope you find them worth the wait.
BEETLE AND DR. PORSCHE
Volkswagen Beetle is regarded as one of the most remarkable and best-engineered
cars of the century. The car has its origins in the 1930s as it was designed
mainly by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche during that decade. Porsche had dreams of
creating an economical car for the masses in Germany since he was a young man.
was born in Maffersdorf, Austria Hungary in 1875. His first car design was an
electric car designed in 1900 for Ludwig Lohner, called the Porsche-Lohner
Chaise. After this, he moved on to work for Daimler-Benz where he first struck
upon the idea of a small car for the masses. The first "peoples' car"
was a prototype called the Type 130. Unfortunately, Daimler-Benz was not
enthusiastic about the design and the project was scrapped. After working there,
he moved on to a short stint at a company called Steyr. They too, were not
enthusiastic about the project as Germany was in the midst of a depression. Then
a company called Zündapp, which primarily built motorcycles became interested
in a small automobile for the lower and middle classes of Germany. They built
the next prototype, a rear engined automobile called the Type 12. Again, the
project was ruined when Zuendapp entered into a deal with NSU to only produce
motorcycles. Ironically, the next company to approach Porsche about his dreams
was the same NSU. They built a prototype called the NSU Type 32. The car had
many features of the early Beetles, but once again the project came to a
screeching halt as NSU didn't have the funding to put the car into production.
testing by the RDA revealed flaws in front wheel bearings, valves, brakes, and
camshafts. A series of 30 prototypes, called the VW30's were given the go-ahead
and tested for over 50,000 miles each by merciless SS officers. Another 44
cars--VW38's--were build in 1937 and shared most of the characteristics of the
first production Beetles. The glaring flaws had been worked out by this point.
The factory cornerstone in Wolfsburg was laid on 26 May 1938. Most Beetle
production, however would have to wait as a little conflict called World War II
got in the way.
Ivan Hirst is the gentleman who was responsible for starting up the heavily
bombed VW factory after the war (the factory was bombed because of its
production of German war vehicles). The earliest Beetles built from 1938-39,
43-45 were called "KdF Wagens," or Kraft durch Freude Wagens,
which means strength through joy cars, a movement meant to give the German
people a sense of purpose. A plan was set up to pay for your new KdF-Wagen by
purchasing RM5 stamps every week. After four books of 50 stamps were filled, you
could get your new car. The problem is, this never happened. Only a very limited
amount of KdF Wagens were built, and they all went to government officials. Not
one person from the 336,638 that signed up for the stamp program ever received
was the year in which a most influencial man named Heinz Nordhoff acquired a job
at Volkswagen. Nordhoff was the genius who took it's lowly position and
transformed it to the most popular car of the twentieth century. From 1948
onwards, things at Volkswagen got more productive and positive. In 1948, a
couchbuilding company called Hebmüller began producing a beautiful converted 2
seat convertible Beetle. Unfortunately, the Hebmüller factory burned severly in
1950 and only about 750 of these cars were built through 1953. Today, about 200
are known to exist, and are very desirable and expensive.
were many other companies who tried to use their custom designed bodies on a VW
chassis. These include Rometsch, Drews, and Dannenhauer & Stauss. The best
had only modest success. Another very important event in VW history occured in
1949. The first two Volkswagens were imported into the United States of America.
These were imported by dutchman Ben Pon. At first, the cars did not cach on in
the US, but would prove very popular by the mid 1950s. A big reason for this was
that Max Hoffman, the Jaguar importer required a VW be purchased if a Jaguar
was. Soon, dealers were calling back and just requesting VWs. The first regular,
4 seat cabriolet version of the Beetle appeared in 1950. A completed Beetle
would be sent to the Karmann factory in Osnabrueck, and essentially, the top
would be chopped off and a convertible made. These cars proved very popular, as
the model was produced in Germany up until 1979.
Super Beetle Convertible
8 March, 1953, the well knowm "split" rear window (photo above) was
enlarged and changed to an oval. The dashboard was rearranged the same year and
the engine capacity grew the next--to 1192cc from 1131cc. (photo below) The oval
window cars would remain until 1957, after which the rear window would be again
enlarged to a rectangular shape. Minor changes were made to the Beetle every
year for better operation and more safety. By 1955, 30,928 registered Beetles
were in the US. That number grew to 191,372 by just 1960. The car gained so much
favor in the US because of its endearing attributes. Unlike most Detroit-built
American fuel guzzlers, the Beetle was very economical and cheap to maintain.
Instead of radically redesigning the car every year for newness appeal, it
stayed very similar and only minor refinements were made. The Beetle performed
wonderfully in the snow because of the rear engine. They were reliable and
trusty little cars.
advertising was undoubtedly some of the best in the world during the 60s. An
agency named Doyle, Dane & Bernbach did their ads. They were clever and
witty. Unlike glamorous American car ads, they were usually in black and white
and were honest and truthful. Each and every one evoked a sense of humor in it
that you cannot help but respect. Several ads have become classics, such as the
"Think Small" campaign, which told of the economical nature of every
Volkswagen, and the "Lemon" ad of 1960, which spoke of their stringent
quality control system. Every DDB ad helped create an image of reliability,
individuality, and value for money that set them apart from Detroit's
marked the year in which one million or more VW's were manufactured in Wolfsburg.
One was coming off the line every three second, and yet the world called for
more. It seemed like everyone had one during the 1960s. The hippies adopted the
VW as their unofficial icon, and "beetle stuffing" hit college
campuses. The point was to cram as many people as you could inside the car.
Disney only emphasized the charisma in 1969 when it released "The Love
Bug," an adorable movie who's main character is a '63 Beetle, Herbie, who
has a mind of his own.
marked an important year for the Beetle evolution. Many, many changes were made
that year including upright sealed beam headlights, new taillights, new bumpers,
new seats, and much more. New emission laws caused anti-emission systems and
catalytic converters to be added. Many people believe the car lost a lot of its
character that endeared it to the millions of people. During the late 70s the
Beetle's popularity ebbed severely. VW attempted to issue several special
edition Beetles, but the reign of the German-built Beetles was nearly over. The
last German-built one was a 1980 convertible, which rolled off the line in
Osnabrück on January 10th.
however, the original Beetle is still produced in Mexico. It remains a very
popular car in that country, but the new (old) ones do not meet US emission laws
and cannot be legally imported here. The Beetle now holds the world record for
production; nearing 23 million units produced. It is a car, which had its humble
beginnings in turmoiled Europe, and evolved into the most lovable and popular
car of the century.
VOLKSWAGEN AT WAR
early as late January of 1938, there were moves afoot to produce a military
version of the Beetle for the war that lie ominously ahead. There were many,
many prototypes, but eventually two main vehicles emerged as the wartime
KdF-Wagens. They were the Kübelwagen (literally, "bucketcar", but
actually an abbreviated version of Kübelsitzewagen, "bucket seated
car") and the Schwimmwagen ("swim car"). The latter was an
amphibious vehicle with a rear-mounted propeller for water navigation. Only
14,283 were produced. The Kübelwagen was much more plentiful and practical than
the Schwimmwagen. It is an extremely austere, rugged automobile built simply for
war-use. About 50,000 were made. Survivng examples of both cars are scarce and
very collectible. Production was from 1940-44 for the Kübel and 42-44 for the
war car was the Type 82E; a KdF-Wagen (Beetle) on a more rugged, Kübelwagen
drive chassis. This gave the car a humorous and unnatural high stance, but
allowed for good ground clearance for off-road terrain. A type 877, also called
the Kommandeurwagen was built in very small amounts. This was basically an 82E
with a even more rugged, four wheel drive chassis. They proved almost impossible
to drive. There are many other prototype or altered versions of these cars. For
example, a pickup truck Kuebelwagen was made. There was even a wood/gas
generator conversion to power certain cars because of the acute fuel shortages.
By 1945, the production of most of these were cars had halted; sights were set
at the civilian Beetles.
Pon, the same person who first imported Beetles to the USA, was the man
responsible for convincing the Volkswagen factory that a commercial VW
mechanically based on the Beetle was in order, circa 1949. He drew up sketches
of his idea of a "box on wheels." The Type 2 Volkswagen, or
"bus" was born in 1950. It was designed as a spartan vehicle for new
businesses starting up after the Second World War. The earliest buses didn't
even have a rear window or bumper. Originally, the bus was to be built on the
Beetle chassis, but it proved too weak for the larger bus. A new chassis was
designed specifically for it. The buses built before 1956 are called "barndoors"
because of their large rear engine lid. Soon after its introduction, there
seemed to be a market for a more luxurious, passenger-friendly Type 2, and so
the variations began. The base-model, no frills bus was the panel van, made for
businesses. It had no windows down the sides of it, and no upholstery was
available for the cargo area. The next bus on the hierarchy was the
"Kombi." This was a bus with three windows down each side. It was
designed to carry people and/or cargo, hence the name. Removable, crude rear
seats were optional for the back. The next bus was the Microbus. It usually had
the same window configuration as the Kombi, but was a step higher in comforts.
It was not designed for cargo transport; nicely upholstered seats went
throughout the vehicle and matching interior panels and a cloth or vinyl
headliner were standard. It also came from the factory with chromed hubcaps and
two-tone paint. The most lucullan bus offered was the Deluxe Microbus. Here, the
amout of windows just takes off. You could get the three windows down each side,
four windows down each side, or even five which was a curved Plexiglas corner
window. Four "skylight" windows on each side above the regular ones
were a popular option. The Deluxes usually had sunroofs; infact, it is extremely
rare to find one without one. These automobiles also had a fancy chrome strip
between the upper and lower sections. The Type 2, or Transporter line was not
limited to these busses. A single cab and double cab pickup were made. A special
highroof panel van was made for cumbersome loads. There were many ambulance and
firetruck conversions as well. There was a double door bus, with dual loading
doors on both sides. All of these variations, plus the differences in window
configurations makes for a seemingly infinite number of different busses.
should be noted that a company called Binz began making double cab Type 2s in
1953, a few years before VW did. Apparently, a single cab didn't fit a certain
customer's needs, so he took it to this coach building company to convert it for
him. They thought this was a good idea to market, and thus Binz began producing
them. They would do the conversion, upholster their own rear seat, and paint the
car (as they got them from VW primed) and sell it for about US$1800, $300 more
than a standard single cab.
THE KARMANN GHIA
Karmann was a man of great ambition, much like that Dr. Porsche. His company,
Karmann began talks of a joint VW/Karmann project with Volkswagen in the early
1950s. The idea was to produce a sporty vehicle based on the Beetle's mechanical
components. Karmann turned to the Ghia styling studio in 1954 to design the
body. The result was a gorgeous two-seat body in a coupe and cabriolet version.
Finally, in 1955, Herr Nordhoff agreed to produce this car and the result was
the Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia. Many enthusiasts find it the epitome of its genre
in cars- styled in Italy and engineered in Germany. They were produced until
1974. 361,401 coupes and 80,899 cabriolets were produced.
unusual, poorly recieved version of the Karmann-Ghia, the Type 3 Karmann Ghia,
or Type 34 Ghia, to which it is sometimes referred, was introduced in the 1962
and never made it out of that decade. It was based on the Type 3 Volkswagen (see
below) as opposed to the original Karmann Ghia being based on the Type 1
(Beetle). Though the factory produced 31 (2 are known to survive today)
prototype convertible versions, the idea did not make it to production. Unlike
the Type 1 Ghia, a sunroof could be ordered for the cars. From the back, one
could see how it is easily mistaken for a BMW 2002. Otherwise, the car somewhat
resembled a Corvair--the styling was much more US oriented. For that reason,
many find it an incredible mystery as to why VW didn't officially market the car
in America. Either 42,498 or 45,562 were built. Only 1,500-2,000 are believed to
THE TYPE 3
September of 1961, Volkswagen announced that they would be producing a new car--labeled
the VW 1500. The car would share very little in common with the Beetle. The
engine was to be rear-engined, air-cooled 1498cc unit, which would be configured
to take up less space than that of the Beetles'. The resultant car was one,
which was radically different than the Volkswagen's primary car. It was more
conventional for the time--a "three box" design, one that was actually
pleasing to the eye. The first model of this new line was a standard looking
sedan. It would eventually earn the nickname "Notchback." Released
around the same time as the Notchback, another Type 3 variety was called the
"Squareback." As one might fathom, it was the model of the line, which
we in America would refer to as the station wagon. The Germans, however, called
the Type 2, Bus, the station wagon. The squareback was called the Variant--it
would prove to be the longest running model of the Type 3 line.
August of 1965, a third Type 3 joined the other two. It was aptly named the
"Fastback" because of its sports car fastback style. The cars were all
tastefully designed and well proportioned. They were produced until 1973.
the Karmann-Ghia represented the sporty, elegant side of the Beetle family,
another member, the Type 181 diametrically opposed it. A strictly utilitarian
vehicle, the 181's design echoed that of the wartime Kübelwagen. It went into
production at the Hanover factory in 1970, and though initially 1500 powered,
the engine was soon replaced by the 1600cc unit. The Type 181 became known as
the Trekker in Europe, as the Thing in the US, and as the Safari in Mexico. In
1973, production transferred to Mexico, and the car officially was imported into
the US. Because of its military-like appearance and high ground clearance, 2000
were actually built for the German army in 1970. Some also went to the Belgian
and Dutch armed forces.
THE TYPE 4
will soon have a Type 4 section up. These cars are really stretching my
interests in VW, but they are air-cooled, and certainly worthy of mention and
summary. Please check back soon.
THE GLASS-FIBRE-BODIED VW'S
companies have built their own bodies to be built upon shortened VW chassis. The
most notable is the Meyers Manx, created by Bruce Meyers in 1961. Other
look-alikes have followed the "dune buggy" craze.
companies have built fiberglass kits for the VW as well, for example, the
sporty-looking Bradley GT, and the odd Brubaker Box.
is the case with many facets of the automobile hobby, there are always those few
cars that don't quite fit in with the rest; usually because of their rarity,
and/or peculiarities. The VW scene is no exception to this, and these are a few
that some enthusiasts might not even know about.
Type 147 Microvan, "Fridolin," is an automobile that could be
described as the vehicle between the Beetle and the Bus; it was a van developed
for postal delivery that was based on the Beetle and bore a great resemblance to
the bus in the back. The body was designed by Westfaliawerk, the company better
known for converting many Type 2's into campers. It had sliding, not hinging
rear doors and was in production from 1964 through 1973. 6,139 were produced for
sale in Germany with about 85% of those going to the DBP (German Post Office). A
further 1,201 were sold to the PTT (Swiss Post Office). The only difference
between the German ones and Swiss ones is a lack of rear corner windows in the
attractive sports car was built in Brazil, and was largely sold to the domestic
market. A few examples did make their way to the rest of the world in the hands
of private owners. The car featured a large-displacement Type 4 engine.
was another Brazilian-exclusive car. It resembled a cross between a 412 (Type 4)
and square back Type 3. It was very successful in Brazil. Production commenced
have to admit that this is a car that I had no idea existed until I picked up
the April 2001 issue of Total VW, a great UK-based VW magazine. The featured car
resides in an exclusive and wonderful collection in Belgium. The car is another
Brazilian model. It is the only 4-door, air-cooled sedan that VW ever built, and
is billed as a "prototype, experimenal Type 3," though they were build
for two years, '68 and '69, making them the first of the Type 3-like cars to
leave Brazil. What is really odd about this model is that the engine is an
upright Type 1, 1600cc, not the "pancake" Type 3 engine I was
expecting to see. The car also carries a steering wheel, which I believe is
unique to this model.
I have never seen or heard of it.
This is an example of a car not built by VW, but one using VW components. One is known in Belgium in a private collection.
More oddities to come: The Dannenhauer & Stauss, the Drews, and the many varieties of the Rometsch. (and hopefully pictures for the ones that don't have them)
Beetle Locations and Years of Production
I got this information from another site which I cannot remember it's name, but
if I remember it I will make sure to write it here because it was very
I got this information from another site which I cannot remember it's name, but if I remember it I will make sure to write it here because it was very informative.
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