• Engine(s) 1500 cc OHV H4, 40 kilowatts (54 hp) @ 4200 rpm, 105 N·m (77 lb·ft) @ 2600,
    bore 83 mm,
    stroke 69 mm,
    comp ratio 7.5:1
  • Transmission(s) 4-speed manual
  • Length 4079 mm (160.6 in)
  • Width 1539 mm (60.6 in)
  • Wheelbase 2400 mm (94.5 in)

The history of the Volkswagen Beetle


The Volkswagen Beetle, also known as the Volkswagen Type 1, was an economy car produced by the German auto maker Volkswagen (VW) from 1938 until 2003. It used an air cooled rear engined rear wheel drive (RR layout). Over 21 million Beetles were produced in all.
In the 1950s, it was more comfortable and powerful than most European small cars, having been designed for sustained high speed on the Autobahn, and ultimately became the longest-running and most-produced automobile of a single design. It remained a top seller in the US, even as rear-wheel drive conventional subcompacts were refined, and eventually replaced by front-wheel drive models. Its success owed much to its extremely high build quality, and innovative, eye-catching advertising. The Beetle car was the benchmark for both generations of American compact cars such as the Chevrolet Corvair, and subcompact cars such as the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto. It was the German equivalent and counterpart to the Morris Minor, Renault 4CV, Citroen 2CV, Fiat 600, Saab 92, and Volvo PV444 immediate post-war European economy cars. The 1948 Citroen 2CV was the beginning of a switch to front wheel drive by European manufacturers in the 1960s and 1970s. Volkswagen were among the last to change with the Golf. The Beetle was 13 ft (4.0 m) long and the Mini was only 10 ft (3.0 m), but they had similar interior space.
The car was originally known as Kfer, the German word for "beetle", from which the popular English nickname originates. It was not until August 1967 that the Volkswagen corporation itself began using the name "Beetle" in marketing materials in the US. Previously, it had only been known as either the "Type 1" or as the VW 1100, 1200, 1300, 1500, or 1600 which had been the names under which the vehicle was marketed in Europe; the numbers denoted the vehicle's approximate engine size in cubic centimetres. In 1998, many years after the original model had been dropped from the lineup in most of the world (production continued in Mexico until discontinued, officially on 9 July 2003), VW introduced the "New Beetle" (built on a Volkswagen Golf Mk4 platform) which bore a visual resemblance to the original.
In an international poll for the award of the world's most influential car of the twentieth century the Beetle came fourth after the Ford Model T, the Mini, and the Citron DS.
Advertisement from c.1939 says "Five marks a week you must put aside - If in your own car you want to ride!"  Starting in 1931, Ferdinand Porsche and Zndapp developed the Porsche Type 12, or "Auto fr Jedermann" (car for everybody). Porsche already preferred the flat-4 cylinder engine, and selected a swing axle rear suspension (invented by Edmund Rumpler), while Zndapp used a water-cooled 5-cylinder radial engine. In 1932, three prototypes were running. All of those cars were lost during the war, the last in a bombing raid in Stuttgart in 1945.
The Zndapp prototypes were followed by the Porsche Type 32, built in 1933 by NSU Motorenwerke AG, another motorcycle company.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler gave the order to Ferdinand Porsche to develop a "Volks-Wagen" (literally, "people's car" in German). Hitler required a basic vehicle capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph). The "People's Car" would be available to citizens of the Third Reich through a savings scheme, or Sparkarte (savings booklet), at 990 Reichsmark, about the price of a small motorcycle (an average income being around 32RM a week).
Erwin Komenda, Porsche's chief designer, was responsible for the design and style of the car. But production only became worthwhile when finance was backed by the Third Reich. War started before large-scale production of the Volkswagen started, and manufacturing shifted to producing military vehicles. Production of civilian VW automobiles did not start until post-war occupation.
Initially called the Porsche Type 60 by Ferdinand Porsche, the car was officially named the KdF-Wagen by Hitler when the project was launched. The name refers to Kraft durch Freude ('Strength Through Joy'), the official leisure organization in the Third Reich. It was later known as the Volkswagen Type 1, but became more commonly known as the Beetle after World War II.
In October 1935 the first Type 60 prototype, known as the "V1", was ready. In 1936, testing of the first three "V3" prototypes, built in Porsche's Stuttgart shop, began. Thirty "W30" pre-production models, produced by Daimler-Benz, underwent 1,800,000 mi (2,900,000 km) of further testing in 1937. All cars already had the distinctive round shape and the air-cooled, rear-mounted engine. Also available was a rollback soft top called the Cabrio Limousine. Early production "VW38" cars had split windows; both the split window and the dash were retained on production Type 1s until 1952.
The factory had only produced a handful of cars by start of the war in 1939. Consequently, the first volume-produced versions of the car's chassis were military vehicles, the Type 82 Kbelwagen (approximately 52,000 built) and the amphibious Type 166 Schwimmwagen (about 14,000 built).
The car was designed to be as simple as possible mechanically, so that there was less to go wrong; the aircooled 25 hp (19 kW) 995 cc (60.7 cu in) motors proved especially effective in actions of the German Afrika Korps in Africa's desert heat. This was due to the built-in oil cooler and the superior performance of the flat-4 engine configuration. The innovative suspension design used compact torsion bars instead of coil or leaf springs. The Beetle is more or less airtight and will float on water; indeed, it is hard to slam the door on one since the difference in air pressure pushes it back before it shuts.
A handful of Beetles were produced specifically for civilians, primarily for the Nazi elite, in the years 19401945, but production figures were small. Because of gasoline shortages, a few wartime "Holzbrenner" Beetles were fueled by wood pyrolysis gas producers under the hood. In addition to the Kbelwagen, Schwimmwagen, and a handful of others, the factory managed another wartime vehicle: the Kommandeurwagen; a Beetle body mounted on the Kbelwagen chassis.
669 Kommandeurwagens were produced up to 1945, when all production was halted because of heavy damage to the factory by Allied air raids. Much of the essential equipment had already been moved to underground bunkers for protection, which let production resume quickly after hostilities ended.
Much of the Beetles design was inspired by the advanced Czech Tatra cars, designed under chief engineer Hans Ledwinka. In particular, Tatras T97 and T77a models show striking similarities with the later Volkswagen from many angles.
Tatras of the 1930s used streamlined bodies with rear-mounted engines. The T97, which is widely held to be the closest Tatra model to Porsches Volkswagen, had a four-cylinder horizontally-opposed (flat four) air-cooled engine. On a smaller scale, the companys V570, a prototype for a smaller car, also shows quite a resemblance to the later German car.
But it wasnt just Tatras aerodynamic styling that influenced Porsche. Tatra had pioneered the use of air-cooling in road vehicle engines with the original T77 in 1934. Air-cooling was demanding technologically, but desirable: there was no anti-freeze in the 1930s, so a vehicle could not be left parked for long in cold weather with its coolant in situ. Tatras wealthy customers could afford to pay for advanced technology, but Ferdinand Porsche was out on a limb in specifying air-cooling for his peoples car. In the end, it was subsidies from the Nazi government that paid for Porsches engineering good taste and brought the convenience of air-cooling to a mass audience albeit only after World War II.
According to the book Car Wars, Adolf Hitler called the Tatra "the kind of car I want for my highways". In the same book, it is said that Ferdinand Porsche admitted "to have looked over Ledwinkas shoulder" while designing the Volkswagen. Tatra launched a lawsuit, but this was stopped when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. At the same time, Tatra was forced to stop producing the T97. The matter was re-opened after World War II and in 1961 Volkswagen paid Tatra 3,000,000 Deutsche Marks in compensation. These damages meant that Volkswagen had little money for the development of new models and the Beetle's production life was necessarily extended. Tatra ceased producing passenger cars in 1950, then resumed again in 1954 as a manufacturer of large luxurious cars and limousines under various Communist governments in Czechoslovakia. Even the companys last limousines were rear-engined and air cooled.
In occupied Germany, the Allies followed the Morgenthau plan to remove all German war potential by complete or partial pastoralization. As part of this, in the Industrial plans for Germany, the rules for which industry Germany was to be allowed to retain were set out. German car production was set at a maximum of 10% of the 1936 car production numbers.
The Volkswagen factory was handed over by the Americans to British control in 1945; it was to be dismantled and shipped to Britain. Thankfully for Volkswagen, no British car manufacturer was interested in the factory; "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car ... it is quite unattractive to the average buyer ... To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." The factory survived by producing cars for the British Army instead. Allied dismantling policy changed in late 1946 to mid 1947, although heavy industry continued to be dismantled until 1951.
The re-opening of the factory is largely accredited to British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst (19162000). Hirst was ordered to take control of the heavily-bombed factory, which the Americans had captured. His first task was to remove an unexploded bomb which had fallen through the roof and lodged itself between some pieces of irreplaceable production equipment; if the bomb had exploded, the Beetle's fate would have been sealed. Hirst persuaded the British military to order 20,000 of the cars, and by 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month. During this period, the car reverted to its original name of Volkswagen and the town was renamed Wolfsburg. The first 1,785 Beetles were made in 1945.
Following the British Army-led restart of production, former Opel manager (and formerly a detractor of the Volkswagen) Heinz Nordhoff was appointed director of the Volkswagen factory. Under Nordhoff, production increased dramatically over the following decade, with the one-millionth car coming off the assembly line by 1955. During this post-war period, the Beetle had superior performance in its category with a top speed of 115 km/h (71 mph) and 0100 km/h (0-60 mph) in 27.5 seconds on 36 mpg (15 km/l) for the standard 25 kW (34 hp) engine. This was far superior to the Citron 2CV and Morris Minor, and even competitive with more complex and fragile small cars like the Austin Mini.
The engine fires up immediately without a choke. It has tolerable road-handling and is economical to maintain. Although a small car, the engine has great elasticity and gave the feeling of better output than its small nominal size.
Opinion in the United States was not flattering, however, perhaps because of the characteristic differences between the American and European car markets. Henry Ford II once described the car as "a little box." The Ford company was offered the entire VW works after the war for free. Ford's right-hand man Ernest Breech was asked what he thought, and told Henry II, "What we're being offered here, Mr. Ford, isn't worth a damn!" With that, the Ford Motor Company lost out on the chance to build the world's most popular car since their own Model T.
During the 1950s, the car was modified progressively: the obvious visual changes mostly concerned the rear windows. In March 1953, the small oval two-piece rear window was replaced by a slightly larger single-piece window. More dramatically, in August 1957 a much larger full width rear window replaced the oval one. 1964 saw the introduction of a widened cover for the light over the rear licence plate. Towards the end of 1964, the height of the side windows and windscreen grew slightly, giving the cabin a less pinched look: this coincided with the introduction of a very slightly curved ("panoramic") windscreen, though the curve was barely noticeable. The same body appeared during 1966, with a 1300 cc engine in place of the 1200 cc engine: it was only in the 1973 model Super Beetle that the Beetle acquired an obviously curved windscreen. The flat windscreen remained on the standard Beetle.
There were also changes under the bonnet. In 1954, Volkswagen added 2 mm to the cylinder bore, increasing the displacement from 1,131 cc to 1,192 cc. This coincided with upgrades to various key components including a redesign of the crankshaft. This increased power from 33 bhp to a claimed 40 bhp and improved the engine's free revving abilities without compromising torque at lower engine speeds. At the same time, compression ratios were progressively raised as, little by little, the octane ratings of available fuel was raised in major markets during the 1950s and 1960s.
There were other, less-numerous models, as well. The Hebmller cabriolet (officially Type 14A), a sporty two-seater, was built between 1949 and 1953; it numbered 696. The Type 18A, a fixed-top cabriolet, was produced by Austro-Tatra as a police and fire unit; 203 were assembled between January 1950 and March 1953.
Beetle sales boomed in the 1960s, thanks to clever advertising campaigns, and the Beetle's reputation for reliability and sturdiness. On 17 February 1972, when Beetle No. 15,007,034 was produced, Beetle production surpassed that of the previous record holder, the Ford Model T. By 1973, total production was over 16 million, and by 23 June 1992, over 21 million had been produced.
As of 2009, the Beetle is arguably the world's best-selling car design. More units of the Toyota Corolla brand have been sold, but there have been total redesigns of the Corolla, each amounting to a new car design with the same name.
In 1951, Volkswagen prototyped a 1.3 L diesel engine. Volkswagen made only 2 air-cooled boxer diesel engines that were not turbocharged, and installed one engine in a Type 1 and another in a Type 2. The diesel Beetle was time tested on the Nrburgring and achieved 0100 km/h (0-60 mph) in 60 seconds.
The Volkswagen Beetle underwent significant changes for the 1967 model. While the car appeared similar to earlier models, much of the drivetrain was noticeably upgraded. Some of the changes to the Beetle included a bigger engine for the second year in a row. Horsepower had been increased to 37 kW (50 hp) the previous year, and for 1967 it was increased even more, to 40 kW (54 hp).
For 1968, in accord with the newly-enacted U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108, the clear glass headlamp covers were deleted; the headlamps were brought forward to the leading edge of the front fenders, and the sealed-beam units were exposed and surrounded by chrome bezels. At the same time, Beetles sold outside North America received the same more upright and forward headlamp placement, but with replaceable-bulb headlamps compliant with ECE regulations rather than the U.S. sealed beams.
In 1971, while production of the "standard" Beetle continued, a Type 1 variant called the Super Beetle (also known as the VW 1302 from 19711972, and VW 1303 from 1973 onwards), introduced MacPherson strut front suspension, which required a significant redesign of the front end. This resulted not only in a better turning radius (despite having a 20 mm longer wheelbase), but because of the replacement of the bulky dual parallel torsion bar beams which had intruded upward into a large area within the trunk, and the stretched "nose" of the vehicle which permitted the relocation of the spare tire from a near vertical to a low horizontal position, this opened up approximately double the usable luggage space in the front compartment. Air pressure was used from the spare tyre to pressurize the windshield washer canister, as an electric pump was not used.
1972 Super Beetles had a slightly larger rear window, larger front brakes, and four rows of vents (versus two rows previously) on the engine deck lid. The tail lights now incorporated reversing lights. The "four spoke" steering wheel and steering column were re-engineered to the "energy absorbing" design for better crash safety. A socket for the VW Dealer Diagnosis was fitted inside the engine compartment.
In 1973, the VW 1303 introduced a more aerodynamically curved windscreen, pushed forward and away from the passengers, purportedly due to US Department of Transportation safety requirements. This allowed for a redesigned, "padded" dashboard (all pre-73 Beetles had virtually no horizontal dash area). A 2-speed heater fan, higher rear mudguards, and larger tail lights (nicknamed 'elephant's feet') were added. The changes to the heater/windshield wiper housing and curved windshield resulted in slight redesign of the front bonnet making the 1971 and 1972 Super Beetle bonnets unique.
For 1974, the previous flat steel bumper mounting brackets were replaced with tubular "self restoring energy absorbing" attachments, effectively shock absorbers for the bumpers. The steering knuckle and consequently the lower attach point of the strut was redesigned to improve handling and stability in the event of a tyre blowout. This makes the struts from pre-74 Supers not interchangeable with 1974-79 makes.
In 1976, the hardtop Super Beetle and 1300 were discontinued (though convertibles remained Super Beetles through 1979) and replaced with an 'improved' standard Beetle with 1600 cc engine, independent rear suspension, front disc brakes, blinkers in the front bumpers, elephant's foot tail lights and rubber inserts in the bumper bars. The "Auto-stick" transmission was eventually dropped. 1976-on Super Beetles saw no significant engineering changes, only a few cosmetic touches and new paint options, including the "Champagne Edition" models (white on white was one example) to the final 1979 "Epilogue Edition" black on black, in salute to the first Beetles produced in the 1930s.
The Beetle Cabriolet began production in 1949 by Karmann in Osnabrck. It was in 1948 when Wilhelm Karmann bought a VW Beetle limousine and converted it into a four-seated convertible. After successfully presenting it at VW in Wolfsburg, production started in 1949. After a number of stylistic and technical alterations made to the Karmann Cabriolet (corresponding to the many changes VW made to the Beetle throughout its history), the last of 331,847 cabriolets came off the conveyor belt on 10 January 1980.
Though extremely successful in the 1960s, the Beetle was faced with stiff competition from more modern designs. The Japanese had refined rear-wheel-drive, water-cooled, front-engine small cars to where they sold well in the North American market, and Americans introduced their own similarly sized rear-wheel-drive Chevrolet Vega, Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin in the 1970s. The superminis in Europe adopted even more efficient transverse-engine front-wheel-drive layouts, and sales began dropping off in the mid 1970s. There had been several unsuccessful attempts to replace or supplement the Beetle in the VW product line throughout the 1960s; the Type 3, Type 4, and the NSU-based K70 were all less successful than the Beetle, though aimed at more upscale markets for which VW lacked credibility. The over-reliance on the Beetle meant that Volkswagen was in financial crisis by 1974. It needed German government funding to produce the Beetle's replacement. Only when production lines at Wolfsburg switched to the new watercooled, front-engined, front-wheel drive Golf designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro in 1974, (sold in North America as the "Rabbit") did Volkswagen produce a car as successful as the Beetle. The Golf would be periodically redesigned over its lifetime - entering its sixth generation in 2008 - with only a few components carried over between generations, while the Beetle used only minor refinements of its original design.
The Golf did not kill Beetle production, which continued in smaller numbers at other German factories until 19 January 1978, when mainstream production shifted to Brazil and Mexico, markets where low operating cost was more important. It is important to note that the Beetle Cabriolet was still produced for the North American market in Germany until 10 January 1980. The last Beetle was produced in Puebla, Mexico, in July 2003. The final batch of 3,000 Beetles were sold as 2004 models and badged as the ltima Edicin, with whitewall tires, a host of previously-discontinued chrome trim, and the choice of two special paint colors taken from the New Beetle. Production in Brazil ended in 1986, then started again in 1993 and continued until 1996. Volkswagen sold Beetle sedans in the United States until August 1977 (the Beetle convertible a.k.a. Cabriolet was sold until January 1980) and in Europe until 1985, with private companies continuing to import cars produced in Mexico even after production of the Beetle had ended.
The Beetle outlasted most other automobiles which had copied the rear air-cooled engine layout such as those by Subaru, Fiat, Renault and General Motors. Porsche's sport coupes which were originally based on Volkswagen parts and platforms continue to use the classic rear engine layout (but water-cooled and moved forwards) in the Porsche 911 series, which remains competitive in the 2000s.
The Beetle is popular with customizers throughout the world, not only because it is cheap and easy to work on, but because its iconic looks can be personalised and the flat four motor is so tunable. Its very ubiquity makes even subtle changes noticeable.
Many Beetle owners try to keep their Beetle interior stock. Others will fit a sound system, which usually consists of a head unit and possibly some speakers and a subwoofer (usually mounted in the front of the car). Aftermarket steering wheels can be added along with auxiliary gauges. For a true race look, the interior can be stripped and a full roll cage installed, along with bucket seats and race harnesses although bucket seating is already the default seating for a Beetle.
The VW Type 1 chassis, being easily separated from its original body without removal of engine, transmission, or suspension, has provided the basis for countless custom re-bodyings, usually of fibreglass and usually replicating other, less humble vehicles. Mercedes, MG and Porsche replicas are among the popular choices. The more successful being the Sterling sports car in the 70's Fibreglass body kits with its all original body styling. These "kit cars", although derided by many for their lack of authenticity, provide to their owners a much cheaper, often more-reliable means of enjoying a dream vehicle.
Because most parts of the flat-4 engine other than the crankcase are bolted on, they are easily exchanged with larger or more high-performance items. The standard VW engine has been modified from 1600 cc (the largest factory-produced Type 1 engine) to configurations well over 2400 cc using larger piston/cylinder kits. Various performance-enhancing parts, from cylinder heads to superchargers (such as that offered by Judson for the Type 1 as early as 1952) to turbochargers, are available. A variety of other powerplants, including the VW Type 4 (also used in the 914) 2 L flat four, Chevy Corvair and Porsche 911 flat sixes have been used; some hot rodders even occasionally fitted Chevy V8s. Turbocharged flat 4s from Subaru or Alfa Romeo have been used as well. Kits for installing Rover V8 engines have also been available. These variants tend to be mated to the stronger Type 2 (Bus, Combi) transmission. Dual carb setups are very common on Beetles (especially the 1600 cc dual port engine) as well as EFI. Also a wide range of exhaust systems are available. 4-into-1 headers are very popular, and are often used with a stinger, glasspack, or more modern "quiet pack" mufflers.
At the 1994 North American International Auto Show, Volkswagen unveiled the J Mays-penned "Concept 1", a concept car with futuristic styling deliberately reminiscent of the original Beetle's rounded shape. Strong public reaction convinced the company to move the car into production, and in 1998, close to 20 years after the last original Beetle was sold in the United States, Volkswagen Passenger Cars launched the New Beetle, designed by Mays and Freeman Thomas at the company's California design studio.
New Beetles are manufactured at Volkswagen Group's Puebla, Mexico assembly plant where the last line of factory-built air-cooled Beetles were removed from production.
The New Beetle, with its (water-cooled) engine at the front of the car driving the front wheels, is related to the original only in name, general shape and some styling cues.
In an attempt to stem a trade in grey market imports into the UK, in 1998 VW made available a limited number of New Beetles to those who had signed up to a web campaign a few years earlier. These, officially the first New Beetles in the UK, were available in full UK spec (albeit only in left-hand drive), and started to arrive in the UK in April 1999. Right-hand drive versions arrived at the beginning of 2000, and have sold fairly well.
By 2003, Beetle annual production had fallen to 30,000 from a peak of 1.3 million in 1971. On 30 July 2003, the final original VW Beetle (No. 21,529,464) was produced at Puebla, Mexico, some 65 years after its original launch, and an unprecedented 58-year production run since 1945, the year VW recognizes as the first year of non-Nazi funded production. VW announced this step in June, citing decreasing demand. The last car was immediately shipped off to the company's museum in Wolfsburg, Germany. In true Mexican fashion, a mariachi band serenaded the last car. In Mexico, there was also an advertising campaign as a goodbye for the Beetle. For example, in one of the ads was a very small parking space on the street, and many big cars tried to park in it, but could not. After a while, a sign appears in that parking space saying: "Es increble que un auto tan pequeo deje un vaco tan grande" (It is incredible that a car so small can leave such a large void). Another depicted the rear end of a 1954 Beetle (year in which Volkswagen first established in Mexico) in the left side of the ad, reading "Haba una vez..." (Once upon a time...) and the last 2003 Beetle in the right side, reading "Fin" (The end).

Type 1950s 1960s 1970s
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Economy car . . . Beetle (Type 1) . . .
Supermini       Polo I . . .
      Derby I . . .
family car
      Golf I . . .
    Type 3  
family car
    Type 4  
    K70 (NSU) Passat I . . .
Coupé   Karmann Ghia Scirocco I . . .
    Type 34 Karmann Ghia VW-Porsche 914  
Utility vehicle     Type 181 Kurierwagen/Trekker . . .
Type 1950s 1960s 1970s
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Economy Beetle (Type 1)  
Compact     Fastback / Squareback (Type 3)   Rabbit I
Mid-size     Type 4  
    K70 (NSU)  
Coupé   Karmann Ghia Scirocco I
Convertible Beetle Convertible
  Karmann Ghia Convertible  
Van Microbus (Type 2 - T1) Microbus (Type 2 - T2)
Utility       181 Thing / Safari  

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