Was the VW Beetle the most important object of the 20th century?The Volkswagen Beetle was a car that came close to never seeing the light of day, but on its way from fascist project to hippie icon it became one of the pillars of the automotive world. XCAR goes back to the start of the story and finds out whether the...
Ever wish you didn't have radiator problems? Ever wish you didn't have a radiator? Ever wish you could sail through mud or snow? [NOISE] Ever wish your car didn't guzzle so much gas? [NOISE] [MUSIC] The VW group are one of the largest manufactures of cars in the entire world. But they all had very, very humble beginnings. In fact, it all started with one car, the type 1, better known to you and me as the beetle. [MUSIC] So to tell the history of the Volkswagen Beetle, is to tell the history of Volkswagen. In it's entirety. Post-war Germany, that's the first World War, was a very dismal place. After Germany's defeat, the Treaty of Versailles, I think, painted huge war reparations to be paid. These payments have pretty much crippled the country financially. And poverty was wide spread. Most people couldn't afford a car, even though Germany had car manufacturing. But Germans just couldn't afford them. The best they could do was a motorcycle most of the time. In 1933, the National Socialists came to power and with them Hitler assumed control of Germany. One of the things he set out to do was to give the. Citizens of the Third Reich the same kind of access to cars as Americans had. The so-called people's car, or in German, Volkswagen, would have to be cheap, reliable, and easy to build. It had to be able to travel at 100 kilometers per hour, and transport two adults and three children. It had to be as affordable as the motorcycle, and easy to drive. Many companies submitted proposals, but it was Ferdinand Porsche, with his aerodynamic rear engines, rear wheel drive design that was chosen. Now the work claims that his design had been borrowed from Czechoslovakian manufacturer Tatra. A matter that was never fully resolved before Germany's invasion of the country a few years later. But copyright now withstanding the design met the requirements and preparations were made to put the car into production. To fund it and to make sure people could afford to pay for the cars when they're ready. The German government sets up a savings scheme. Anyone who wanted to, could put aside five reichsmarks of their salary per week. And within time, save up the 990 reichsmarks it would take to buy the car. 336,000 people signed up for this scheme. Unfortunately, for those people, the majority of the funds were seized by the Soviet Army when they invaded Germany in 1945. And none of the people who had diligently saved for their cars received their vehicle. [MUSIC] By the end of the war, the factory found itself in British occupied Germany. The original plan was to dismantle the factory, ship it back to the U.K. and use it for car manufacturing in Great Brittain. But no one wanted it. Not one company wanted to take on the factory. The story of Volkswagen could've ended right there. But thanks to some intervention from the British military, the factories stayed open, manufacturing Type 1's for the British Armed Forces in Germany. The popularity of the Type 1 grew and soon Beetles were being shipped around the globe. The Beetle became one of the most popular cars across the world. And, by 1955, one million had been produced. It would go on to sell over 60 million, breaking the previously held record of the Model T. The Beetle is the most manufactured [UNKNOWN] car in history. Manufacturing in the German factory went on until 1977. And in fact continued in the Pueblo factory in Mexico until 2003. What's so remarkable about the Beetle is not necessarily how long it was manufactured for. It's how little it changed over that time. [MUSIC] A Volkswagen is never changed to make it look different, only to make it work better. [MUSIC] There are other cars that try to be cars for the populous. Cheap, reliable cars that could do the job you needed them to do. The 2CV, the Mini, the Fiat 500. And all of them have lasting legacies. All of them new versions, all of them have a place in our hearts. But none of them were manufactured for as long as this car was. Parts. This 1977 Volkswagen Beetle features a 1.2 liter strain-four engine in the back, of course. Drum brakes, which are an adventure to use, and a four-speed manual gearbox, which does the trick. The zero to 62 mile an hour mark in this Volkswagen Beetle from 1977 is 35 seconds. That's one more than it has horsepower. It's really, really easy to fall in love with classic cars when you go out and drive them. You're not just filled with the enjoyment of being behind the wheel of a great car. It's a wave of nostalgia, even for a time that you didn't live through. There's something about a car that just radiates the time its from. this car however doesn't just radiate the year its from or even the decade, it's an entire century wrapped up in metal. If you had to pick a single object to sum up the 20th century there's only a few things you could really think of and the Beetle is definitely one of them. Something that was transformed from a fascist ideal to a hippie icon to a fashion object. [MUSIC] There's nothing quite like it. [MUSIC] In 1997, while the original Beetle was still in production in some parts of the world. Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle. This bubble bodied teeny bopper of a car may have been wildly popular, but a true Beetle it was not. The engine was in the front, as were the driven wheels, both of which could have been forgiven if it just hadn't been so cutesy. Now, though, there is a new New Beetle, and the benefit this Beetle has over the previous one is that it's a really, really good looking. King Kong. [MUSIC] But really, does it deserve to be in the Beetle name. Well, let's think about that, the original Beetle was a practical car, designed purely to get you from a to b. This. In a luxury car. It's based on the Golf platform but it's really only ever going to be marketed as a, as a fun alternative to the Golf. Someone who wants something a bit more design driven. Something a bit more fun. Driving a Beetle is meant to be about getting from A to B. Simply, efficiently, no fuss. It just happened to happen in a car that was beautiful. This, on the other hand, is designed to be good looking. It's designed to be fun and quirky. And that's a bit of a shame, really. We've lost that practical nature, that Bare bones driving experience. There are other cars offered now, even within the Volkswagen range. You could say the Up is more of a spiritual successor to the Beetle than the new Beetle is. But I'm just glad they've dropped the old design and given us what might be the best looking car Volkswagen make. Right now. You could argue for or against whether or not the spirits of the original Beetle is dead, you can discuss until you're blue in the face whether or not this car is worthy of having the Beetle name printed on its back. But if the name is going to continue, if Volkswagen are going to keep the Beetle alive, I'm glad it's on something as good looking as this. From pre-war Nazi Germany to post-war European recovery. From Brazil, Mexico, United States and Japan and everywhere in between, the Volkswagen Beetle has been one of the key cars of the 20th century. Even with a new face in the 21st century, when people look back and ask, what was a motor car, they can do far worse than be described one of these. [FOREIGN]