This week, the RedState Department of History was all about winter driving. Living in the Midwest as we do, the recent heavy snowfalls we’ve experienced has made it difficult for even the hardy natives of flyover country to get around on some days.
While in a staff meeting, we discussed how difficult it was to slip and slide to work every morning and our discussion quickly turned to what we thought were the best “winter cars” for survival on Midwest roads when the snow flies.
Today’s anniversary has nothing to do with good winter cars and everything to do with what may well be one of the worst winter cars of all time.
On this date in 1972, one of history’s most influential cars – the venerable old Volkswagen Beetle Type 1 – passed the equally legendary Ford Model T on the overall sales list. In all, over 21,000,000 “bugs” were produced from 1938-2013, making it one of the most iconic machines ever devised.
Contrary to popular urban legend, the Bug was not designed by Adolf Hitler. Though it is true that the Bug was first produced on Hitler’s orders, and the Nazi dictator was a keen automobile enthusiast, the first model was actually designed by none other than Ferdinand Porsche.
At the time, Hitler wanted a car that could travel on Germany’s new automotive system, now known as the Autobahn. It had to had to have an air-cooled engine, be affordable, be capable of carrying two adults and three children, and had to do 60 miles per hour on the open road. And in the finest tradition of totalitarians, Hitler demanded that it achieve a minimum of 32 miles per gallon in so doing, using seven liters of fuel over 100 kilometers.
Porsche responded with a four-seat vehicle with a rear engine, a concept that hadn’t been utilized in great numbers since what was known as the Brass Era in the United States, which ended during World War I.
Hitler’s insistence that the car be affordable resulted in a list price of approximately 990 Reichsmarks. At the standard exchange rate of the day of 2.89 RM/1 USD, that meant the car cost about $342 new. Since the average German worker at the time made 32 RM per month, they were made available for purchase on installment plans. They looked like this.
While the “people’s car” (the literal translation of “Volkswagen”) was necessarily derailed by the war, after World War II was over, the capacity still existed to make them.
The only problem was the much of German industry was being packed up in boxes and shipped to the victorious Allies. The Volkswagen factory in what is now known as Wolfsburg was supposed to be shipped to Britain, but the British didn’t want it, saying the Bug would never catch on. So the factory produced cars for the British Army until finally allowed to produce again for the general population.
The result was one of the most popular automobiles of all time. Sold around the world, the Bug Type I remained in more or less continuous production for 75 years in various incarnations, even after Volkswagen came out with newer models such as the Golf.
But finally in 2013, management decided that the market had run out for the car. The last Type I came off a production line in Mexico early that year, only to find demand for the car still existed.
Volkswagen knew this as well — beginning production of the New Beetle in 1997. That car actually didn’t last as long as the Type I, leaving production in 2011, two years before its illustrious predecessor. It’s still produced in Vietnam under license, though, where as many as 2.1 million Beetles were estimated to ply that nation’s roads as recently as 2014.
But wait, as they say, there’s more. A third version of the Beetle, known as the A5, hit production lines in 2011, but it was announced last year that the car would finally – this time we mean it – cease production in 2019.
As such, VW has now produced the Beetle Final Edition, which isn’t even the first Final Edition the company has had for the Beetle, since the New Beetle also had one. The last version of the car lists for about $24,000, quite an increase from 1938 — but it still meets the original fuel requirements, getting 33 MPG on the road.
The Beetle keeps coming back. Who knows – we may see it again sometime soon. The car has almost as many nicknames worldwide as variants, so it’s possible this great automobile not be dead yet.
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!