The People’s Car – or the Folks Wagon – is reputed to have been the brainchild of Adolf Hitler. The concept was to create the perfectly ordinary car for the masses. While Hitler wasn’t a great man with a spanner himself, he was cute enough to engage a man who was. He called up Ferdinand Porsche and asked him to become lead engineer in the design process. In fairness, it would have been a brave Ferdinand indeed to refuse Hitler’s request, at this time.
In its native Germany, the innovative little car soon became known as the “Kafer” – the German word for “beetle”. The name stuck and soon the car was being marketed as the Volkswagen (VW) Beetle. While production commenced in 1938, it wasn’t until after World War II that the car was manufactured in large numbers.
One story about the car, in particular, tells us quite a bit about it’s design
The Beetle soon became popular all over the world and sales boomed right up to the 1960s. One story about the car, in particular, tells us quite a bit about it’s design. A man, driving along a country road in his VW Beetle, broke down and (knowing nothing about mechanics) asked a passer by for help. The helper opened the bonnet and reported to the driver that, in fact, he had no engine at all in his car. On opening the boot; however, the assistant was able to reassure the hapless driver that everything was OK – there was a spare engine in the boot!
The car became very popular in Ireland. It’s economy seemed to suit us
One of the unique things about the Beetle was that it’s engine was in the rear of the car. The luggage compartment was under the bonnet. Not that it held much baggage; unlike Hitler himself!
The car became very popular in Ireland. It’s economy seemed to suit us and its clever idiosyncrasies made it all the more endearing. It didn’t pack much power, but for a small car it was spacious. Many a proud man purchased the Beetle as his first family car and, subsequently, piled in every member of his large family for their weekly trips to mass and their annual trip to Salthill. Fully loaded and laying low in the rocky road from Dublin; the purr of the engine was easily distinguishable from all other engines. The sound could be easily mimicked by simply forcing air against the inside of your cheek and allowing it to leak out (accompanied with a little spittle) through the side of your mouth.
In harsher winters, while many early morning motorists struggled with frozen radiators, the owner of a VW Beetle simply leaped into their driving seat, turned their key and was well on their way to work while others were back in the house, busily boiling kettles.
It was probably this same simplicity and economy that eventually caused the Beetle to lose its popularity
How could this be? Well, the little VW engine was air cooled – much the same way as a motorbike engine is cooled. With no water-cooling system there was no ice to split your water jacket! Obviously, Hitler was thinking of us all those years earlier when he said to Porsche: “...and factor in the Irish winter!”
It was probably this same simplicity and economy that eventually caused the Beetle to lose its popularity. The introduction of other cars, by other manufacturers, such as the Ford Escort and the Opel Kadett, began to show up the Beetle as a poor relation. The rust buckets that were Toyota and Datsun in the early 1970s served only to completely squash the Beetle.
Germany stopped producing the Beetle in the late 1970s, but in 1998 Volkswagen hatched a new Beetle
Volkswagen did fight back and managed to produced yet another masterpiece – this time in the form of the VW Golf. This car proudly wore its engine up front and the hatchback boot could cope with all sorts of baggage.
Germany stopped producing the Beetle in the late 1970s, but in 1998 Volkswagen hatched a new Beetle. This car was meant to be a visual reflection to the original design but it was essentially a Golf in the Beetle’s clothing!