Beetle Races to Another Milestone | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 04.07.2005
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Beetle Races to Another Milestone

Seventy years ago, the Nazis unveiled a "people's car" that would make driving affordable for the masses. The Volkswagen Beetle managed to shed its dark childhood and went on to become the world's best-selling car.

Born in 1935, first built in 1938

Born in 1935, first built in 1938

Nearly 22 million Beetles were produced between 1945 and 2003, making it a global icon of affordable mobility after World War II.

But the story of the the car with the hump, the divided rear window and the characteristic sound of its air-cooled engine began much earlier: The first prototype of the "Volkswagen" or "People's Car" was unveiled on July 3, 1935.

26. Kunstbiennale in Sao Paolo Brasilien VW Käfer

The Beetle suspended as part of an art exhibition in Sao Paolo

It became more than just a car: born during the Nazi period in Germany, later a symbol of the German economic miracle, a cult object of the hippie generation, a star in Hollywood films and above all: the foundation stone for the VW company -- today Europe's biggest carmaker.

Hitler's car for the masses

The story began in 1934, a year after Adolf Hitler came to power, when the Association of the German Automobile Industry commissioned car designer Ferdinand Porsche to construct a car for the masses.

Hitler eröffnet VW-Werke Volkswagen

Hitler spoke at the opening ceremony of the Volkswagen car factory on May 26, 1938.

It was meant to be a car that was simple to build, cheap to buy and economical to maintain. On July 3, 1935, after a year of development work, Porsche presented the first prototype.

"Porsche has constructed a saloon car, an open car and a convertible that uses six to seven liters of fuel every 100 kilometers (60 miles) at a speed of 100 kph and costs only 990 marks," the weekly news show at the movie theater reported at the time.

Another three years passed before the car was ready for production. Then, on May 28, 1938, near the town of Fallersleben, Adolf Hitler laid the foundation stone for the Volkswagen factory and with it for the town of Wolfsburg.

"Today we are standing on the huge site of the Volkswagen works," a radio reporter said. Here, in accordance with the Führer's will, a gigantic factory that the world will talk about one day is to be built."

Saved by the Allies

Herbie Nachbildung, VW Käfer, der letzte geht in Puebla, Mexiko vom Band

The replica of Herbie the Love Bug, the star of the wacky 1970s movie of the same name

But it was not Volkswagen cars but small military vehicles for Hitler's campaign of destruction that were assembled in the highly modern factory. At the end of the war, the Volkswagen factory, like most other German factories, was in ruins. But it was saved from the fate of dismantlement by the Allies. On the contrary -- the Britons developed a soft spot for the Beetle.

"At the former Volkswagen plant at Fallersleben, cars are again being mass-produced," went a news report. "Some 18,000 workers are in the factory and its subsidiary plants. Orders and raw materials have been secured for a long time. The cars will at first be distributed by the military authorities to the departments of the occupying powers and to vital German companies."

A global icon

Der Weltbürger. Weltauto: Käfer am Sandstrand VW Käfer wird 70

Beetle at the beach

Only then did the success story of the VW Beetle begin in earnest. In a matter of 10 years --between 1945 and 1955 -- one million vehicles were produced. In 1972, the 15-million mark was reached, making the VW Beetle the world's biggest-selling car.

Der letzte Käfer für das Volkswagen Automuseum Wolfsburg

The very last VW beetle is decorated with a wreath of roses and a message on its windscreen which reads "Volkswagen of Mexico last Sedan in the World, July 30, 2003" as it rolls off the production line at VW's Puebla plant.

But just a few years later, the beginning of the end had started for the global icon of affordable mobility after World War II. No more Beetles were manufactured in Germany after 1978 and VW gradually also halted production in factories abroad. Everywhere except Puebla in Mexico, where the cars rolled off the production line until the year 2003.

Der neue Beetle Cabriolet von Volkswagen

The New Beetle: less noisy, more stylish

The last 2,000 Beetles paid tribute to their ancestors: They again had chrome parts, white-walled tyres and were painted light blue or cream-white – just like the successful models of the 1950s. Today, the iconic car lives on in its successor model, the New Beetle.

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