This "People's Car" model is a legend among automobiles. It conquered the silver screen as Herbie, and cropped up at several key junctures of music history. Production of the car ended on July 30, 2003.
They rolled on and on... until 2003, when the last one came off the conveyor belt. Not in its hometown of Wolfsburg, but far away in Mexico. It marked the end of the little semi-circle on four wheels - a car for the people true to its manufacturer's name, Volkswagen, which translates to "people's car."
The idea of calling the small and round vehicle a "Beetle" didn't come from Germany, though. Journalists at the New York Times coined the term in 1938 upon writing about the car, originally dubbed a KdF-Wagen in Nazi jargon. KdF was the acronym for "Kraft durch Freude," a propangastic phrase meaning "strength through joy." Part of the concept right from the beginning was that the automobile should be affordable for everyone.
During World War II, the Veetle found itself on the front lines, used as a mode of transportation for the German army. It wasn't until after the war, in the period marked by what's known as Germany's "economic miracle," that the car really caught on. Initially, it was just produced in German factories, but later it would be made around the world - although low-wage countries were favored manufacturing spots. Over 21 million Beetles went on to be sold.
In a Disney film, the Beetle - dubbed Herbie - became a film star in 1969. But the music world drew plenty of inspiration from the circular car, as well. It's a bit unforgivable that Janis Joplin wrote an ode to the luxurious Mercedes-Benz rather than the pop art icon among automobiles. She didn't drive a car bearing the famous Mercedes star - instead preferring a different German vehicle that could be a close relative of the Beetle: a Porsche convertible painted in an array of flower power colors.
Object of devotion
The Beatles liked to make a grand appearance in public with luxury British cars. John Lennon's Rolls Royce is legendary, and the millionaire musician had no trouble affording whatever he wanted to drive. But it's not a high-priced car that graces the band's most famous album cover, featuring perhaps the world's best-known cross walk. Instead, it's a white Beetle parked right where the Fab Four cross the road at Abbey Road Studios, and it bears the British license plate LMW 281 F. The fame that the photo brought to the car turned into an annoyance for the owner. Seeing the license plate as a precious Beatles memento, fans managed to make off with the car's identification badge.
The Beetle has been much more than just a backdrop in music history, though. Germany electronic pioneers Kraftwerk used its rear motor to set the scene on their famous 1974 track "Autobahn." The gentle sound of its ignition opens the band's 22-minute ode to driving on Germany's highways. A sharply shortened version of the song even made it into the British and US charts. In case that's not enough of a tribute for true Beetle believers, the musical group Welle: Erdball went so far as to record a true hymn to the automobile on their album "Die Wunderwelt der Technik" (The Wonderful World of Technology). Its title? VW Käfer - with "Käfer" being the German world for, you guessed it, "Beatle."