How The Beetle Began

In the early 1930's, Ferdinand Porsche (famous for designing the Porsche Sports Car) and his company Dr.-Ing. h.c. Ferdinand Porsche GmbH designed a prototype of the Beetle Car. It was a streamlined sedan with a rear engine so that the driveshaft would be shorter, whilst the weight of the engine would still be distributed safely. This prototype was built by a motorcycle producer called Zundapp and test driven in 1932. It did not go into production though because Zundapp decided to keep making motorcycles as they were in high demand.

Adolf Hitler at this time had a vision of his countrymen being able to own a cheap car and had plans on creating great networks of roads called autobahns. Hitler invited Porsche to submit to him a design for this peoples car, it had to be cheap, economical, fast (all of 60 miles per hour) and to accommodate two adults and three children comfortably. So, in January 1934 Porsche gave Hitler a proposal for his car and by June that year work had begun. Some funding was given by the RDA (Reichsverband der Automobilindustrie - the German Auto Dealers Association), to help pay the bills!

The three 1936 prototypes didn't even have rear windows but this soon changed. By 1937 30 prototypes had come out of the factory and were tested for faults. In May 1938 Hitler laid the foundation stone of the Volkswagen Beetle GmbH factory at Fallersleben, near Hanover and he also had a town called Kraft durch Freude Stadt (this name comes from Hitler's motto "Joy through Strength") built for the factory workers. Hitler also decided that this new car of the people was also to be known as the KdF-wagen, (short for the "Joy through Strength" car).

Finally, in April 1939 production started on the KdF-wagen but only 210 were made before World War 2 (1939-1945) disrupted the Western World and bombing ruined the factory. During the War production ceased but by 1946, the 1000th Beetle Car had rolled out of the factory and the town of KdF had been renamed to Wolfsburg after Werner von Schulenberg of Wolfsburg who had been forced to give up his land for the building of the town and factory. This was a much simpler car than those we jump into today. Cars produced during 1946-1948 had a rear window with a split down the middle, so it was really two windows and indicators popped out from a space between the front and back doors. There was a rear brake light that looked suspiciously like a nose and the petrol tank was hidden under the hood - there wasn't even a petrol gauge, but there was a speedometer!

From 1945-1947 the British Military ran the factory before handing it back to Germany in 1948. By the end of that year nearly a quarter of the Beetles produced were exported, mainly to Europe. This was just the beginning for the Beetle Car's international trip to fame.