Munich Germany, 1932. Inspired by Henry Ford, Adolf Hitler sits in a restaurant and sketches the outline of what would become a very familiar vehicle. That familiar sketch is of what would become the Volkswagen Beetle. According to the precise specifications of Hitler, This vehicle would have a top speed of 62 miles per hour, seat five, average 40 miles to the gallon, have an air cooled engine and be affordable to the average German citizen. In June of 1934, Porsche is given a contract from Hitler to produce and design "A People's Car" based off Zundapp's 1931 Type 12 Car.
(The first drawing of the Beetle, allegedly sketched by Adolf Hitler)
(Zundapp's 1931 Type 12 Car. Designed in cooperation with Ferdinand Porsche. 3 prototypes were produced, all of which were destroyed in the war.)
This is where Josef Ganz, a Jewish engineer and journalist comes into the picture. In 1933, a "Vehicle for the masses" was officially unveiled to the public by Ganz. Hitler attended the car show where the prototype was being exhibited and provided the sketches he made of the Volkswagen Beetle to Ferdinand Porsche in 1935. Days after the meeting between Adolf Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche discussing the plans, Josef Ganz was forced to leave Germany by the Gestapo.
(The creation of Joseph Ganz)
By July of 1935, The V1 prototype of the Beetle had been produced and shown to the RDA Technical Commission. Soon after in December, the V2 prototype had been produced and by February the more advanced V3 prototype came along. Later that year, the highly esteemed flat four engine was produced by an Austrian Engineer by the name of Franz Reimspiess. Making 25 horsepower and being very simple to maintain. A two-stroke vertical twin and a pair of horizontal twins, all of which were air cooled were also tested.
(The V2 Prototype of the Beetle.)
An air cooled, flat four engine and a streamlined design. It's 1936, and the "Peoples Car" is starting to resemble the Tatra 97, both mechanically and sharing loose physical qualities. Hitler had openly told Ferdinand Porsche that the Tatra was "The kind of car I want for my highways" and Tatra quickly opened a lawsuit against the willing to settle Porsche. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Nazi forces, the lawsuit dropped and promptly reopened after the war to be finally put to rest in 1967.
(The Tatra 97)
Come 1938 and the design of the "People's car" was finalized. The prototypes of the Beetle were quickly turning into what would soon be the production vehicle. Soon after, The Beetle was renamed the "KdF Wagen" (German for "Strength Through Joy") and was speculated to be made available to German workers through a savings plan which included a coupon booklet, That once filled out made you eligible for a new KdF Wagen. The cornerstone of the factory that would produce these vehicles was laid in 1938 by Adolf Hitler. Located in today what is the city of Wolfsburg, and the current headquarters of Volkswagen, The factory was capable of producing up to 150,000 cars annually. The early years of the factory were primarily spent producing military variants of the KDf Wagen such as the four wheel drive Schwimmwagen and the Kommandeurwagen. Few civilian examples were produced and those that were produced were mostly reserved for high ranking Nazi officials.
(Three original examples at the laying of the cornerstone ceremony)
1945 marked the end of World War II, and the Volkswagen factory had been captured by American Forces and was handed over to the British. Quoted as being "Unattractive to the car buyer" and "Not meeting the fundamental principles of a car." The factory was saved by a British Soldier, by the name of Major Ivan Hirst. He was tasked with the removal of an unexploded bomb that would have sealed the fate of the Beetle if it was to explode. War stricken Germany needed employment and the British needed military vehicles. The irreplaceable machinery was saved. By this point in History, It's officially known as the Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle and by 1946 the factory was producing up to 1,000 cars every month. A total of over 20 million cars had been produced by the end of spectacular 65 year model run of the Volkswagen beetle.
(Major Hirst next to a Beetle Cabrio.)
(The 1,000th Volkswagen built in March 1946.)'
And there you have it, The roots of the Volkswagen Beetle. Follow me on Twitter if you'd like here.