A Lush History of the Volkswagen Beetle (Warning: Contains Nazis)

Fun in the sun with a Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
Image Source: Animalia Life Club

 

When it comes to cars, you can’t get much more iconic than the Volkswagen Beetle. This oddly-shaped automobile that was originally designed for efficiency and economy stole the hearts of consumers everywhere became cemented in history as the automotive symbol of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, and is still going strong with a base of devoted fans across the globe. Call it quirky, call it adorable, call it a “slug bug” if you absolutely must- whatever attributes you attach to it, one thing is certain: the Volkswagen Beetle is a cherished and universally beloved entry into the automotive hall of fame, and it got there by being its own weird little self.

Wait…What’s This About Nazis?

Want to hear something ironic? The car that became synonymous with peace, love and hippies back in the 60s was originally dreamed up by an individual with a slightly…different set of principles. Sort of the opposite of peace and love, if you get my drift.

OK, OK, fine, it was Hitler. Yes, THAT Hitler.

In 1934, after coming to power in Germany, Adolf Hitler commissioned Ferdinand Porsche (yes, THAT Porsche) to design a “people’s car” (literal German translation: “Volkswagen”) that was cheap and simple enough to be mass-produced so average German Joes could afford to drive on the country’s newly-completed road network. From 1934 to 1938 Porsche worked on the Beetle, known officially as the Volkswagen Type 1, though production was put on hold until 1945 as a result of World War II. When the car finally began to be produced in significant numbers, it became an instant hit with citizens of Germany, followed shortly by the rest of the world.

Meet the Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle was produced as a rear-engine, two-door, four-cylinder compact car. Its original design objective was to maximize efficiency and economy for consumers around the world. One of the first rear-engine designed car since the Brass Era, Volkswagen stuck with roughly the same design from 1938 to 2003, when the last original Bug rolled off the production line.

Mark I of the VW Beetle had 25 horsepower and was designed for a top speed of 100 km/h, or 62 MPH.

The 40 hp configuration that lasted through 1966 became the model’s classic motor, though subsequent variants such as the Kharmann Ghia, Type 2 (the official “hippie bus”) and the Golf began rolling off the assembly line to compete with the original Beetle for dominance in the European small-car market. In over six decades, 21,529,464 VW Beetles were produced, making it the longest-running, most manufactured car ever made on a single platform.

In 1998, Volkswagen released the New Beetle, a VW that tugged at the nostalgia heartstrings of aging Baby Boomers with its lines that hearkened back to the original Volkswagen Type 1. Built on a Golf platform, the New Beetle became a huge hit instantly and remained in production until 2011, when it was replaced by the redesigned Beetle A5, which remains in production today.

A Bug by Any Other Name

This may seem like common sense, but Volkswagen markets Beetles under various names around the world. Much like the way McDonald’s calls a Quarter Pounder a “Royale with Cheese” in France, Volkswagen’s iconic car has many cute nicknames in various parts of the world. In its native Germany, the Beetle is called the Kafer (German for “beetle), and here in the United States, as well as other English-speaking parts of the globe, it is known affectionately as a Bug. Say you’re in Paris:

… you can drive your Coccinelle (“ladybug”) up to the window at McDonald’s and order a Royale with Cheese, tout de suite!

Let’s face it: VW Beetles are adorable! Their round little chassis and bug-eyed headlights give them an irresistible personality all their own. There is no car on the market that embodies friendliness and joy than a Beetle. That’s probably why they are one of pop culture’s favorite automobiles. Back in the 1960s, the family-friendly Disney movie The Love Bug introduced us to Herbie, the anthropomorphic little Bug that can drive and think for himself. Herbie went on to star in a series of films including a fairly recent reboot, Herbie: Fully Loaded, featuring Lindsey Lohan. That’s not all- the VW Beetle pops up constantly in the media: every time a movie or TV show wants to portray a character as quirky or unique, the Beetle is the go-to vehicle of choice.

The Volkswagen Beetle is a thriving piece of 20th century pop culture that continues to be revered and celebrated to this day. There is no car more instantly recognizable (and certainly no other car that gives you license to punch a friend on the arm during a road trip), than a loveable, huggable Bug. The feel-good car that sprung from unlikely beginnings has become the subject of countless festivals and conventions to celebrate its existence, and will continue to be a symbol of freedom, individuality and love for years to come.

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V8 VW Bug – How to Build One

Growing up, I always found it fascinating that no matter what vehicle was out there, somebody would find a way to shove a V8 in it. That would usually mean a Chevy motor stuff into something that could support it in the first place.

First: a confession, or rather a string of confessions. Over the years, I have been a willing wrenchman in this pursuit of upgrading horsepower. I once put a Chevy 350 in an early 70s Jaguar XJ6. The original engine was a piece of crap and the car was sturdy. Plus the parts to do it were readily available by mail (pre-internet days). I put a 350 in a Chevy Vega. This was popular at the time and all you had to do was change motor mounts, the transmission hump and if you were smart, you would upgrade the brakes so you could stop the suddenly heavier vehicle. The list goes on and on. I committed many atrocious acts of Frankenstein-level vehicle swap/transplants. It was fun, it was easy and there was nobody there to stop me. I could keep you here for days on this topic, but I thought it was appropriate to share given the subject.  

In all my years, I never imagined that I would see something like this. I had seen very complex sand rails and dune buggies that had VW roots but really didn’t look or act anything like a VW. I had heard of these many years ago, I read about a couple in a magazine sometime in the 80s, but here it is. A Volkswagen V8 Beetle Bug. For real.

VW PURISTS – This is your chance to look away.

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Here is the heresy and brilliant lunacy of this project in a nutshell. Gone is the original rear engine, air-cooled wonder of the VW motor. Gone is the original chassis. In is a front-mounted V8 powerhouse that is stroked out for more power. A full 2 x 3 steel tube chassis replaces the original, along with an integrated roll bar, a fabricated transmission tunnel, a relocated gas tank and all kinds of madness.

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Builder Dale Nelson goes over his entire plan and offers tips on how to build one yourself, if you want one that is. It looks like a really cool project.

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For my tastes, despite my past at having done things like this, I would prefer to restore a classic over going this far into modding something that will end up nothing like its intended design. But perhaps that is because I am getting older and it is getting harder to find these classics. I suppose if you find a nice donor, have some time, a welder and all kinds of tools, you can say you did it once the same way I butchered Jaguars that Brits probably pine for and wince at.

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Taking classic VWs and going Zelectric

There are many ways to take a timeless VW classic and bring it back into the shape it was once in from the factory. There are many ways to take that classic and make it into one person or another’s idea of what a custom classic vehicle should be. There are even ways of updating elements of a classic to make it more road-worthy than the original parts allow. Replacing the brakes, upgrading electrical, suspension upgrades are all part of this world of mildly modernizing classics. The Verge went in depth on a specialized shop that focuses on a decidedly modern spin on bring classics into the 21st century: electric power.

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Zelectric is the name of the Southern California company and it specializes in powertrain retrofitting classic Volkswagens from the Fifties and the Sixties. The company is doing incredible work installing e-motors into these classics, with buses, bugs, and a handful of other models. The conversion process comes with a hefty price tag, but that’s because of all the specialized work that goes into making the fit, finish, safety, and function a first class affair.

The hefty price is partly because of the intense work needed to safely install the electric powertrain, but also because the prices of well-maintained vintage VWs has exploded. Zelectric will even locate and convert that most quintessential of California vehicles, the Microbus — but prices for the iconic van are crazy these days, so a Zelectric starts around $130,000.

So if you like the smell of gasoline and oil, or you are drawn to that unmistakable Volkswagen motor sound, you may not be a great candidate for one of these conversions. The company claims that in a Beetle, these conversions have a range of 80 to 100 miles and are capable of up to 100 miles per hour. With an estimated horsepower equivalence of 85 hp and 120 lb. ft. of torque, that is far beyond the range of the original drive trains. If you want one, you have to head over to San Diego, throw down some bills and get on the list because Zelectric only builds about 10 each year.

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Video:

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A Gentler VW

Europe is home base for the worldwide car manufacturer Volkswagen AG. Doing well as a company is as important there as it is in any possible location. In the wake of the ongoing repercussions of last year’s emissions scandal, the company is focused on rebuilding consumers’ trust with a unique Europe-wide brand campaign.

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The initial commercial spot features a sort of life story where a young boy is sitting in the back seat of his father’s VW Beetle. It then follows that same kid along his life until ultimately, he starts a family of his own. From the young red headed child, to his first date, to racing his pregnant wife to the hospital, a different Volkswagen model can be seen at each life-stage.

The commercial ends with a voice over that discusses how a Volkswagen is more than a car, saying “it’s a lifelong companion.” That’s a pretty healthy dose of nostalgia.

The campaign certainly tugs at the VW heartstrings. Many of us have amazing first and early memories of that Beetle, that Notchback, that Bug that we built with our older brothers, our fathers, and so on. There is nothing like nostalgia and a million similar life stories with Volkswagens in them to create a renewed brand loyalty.

There is no word if such a campaign is coming to the States just yet, but if this campaign is successful, you can expect it.

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Porsche/VW 917 kit car

True, it’s not a real VW, nor a real Porsche, but have a look at this:

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That there is a 1972 Porsche model 917 – well it’s actually a 1972 VW beetle made to look like one. But it’s still very cool.

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The Porsche 917 was a special race car that was designed for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest, still active endurance racing even in the world. Known as one of the most prestigious races in the world, this model inspired many dreams and models since it was introduced.

What would a real one sound like?

AMAAZINGGG!!!!!

Of course, buying one of these originals is a bit out of reach for most of us, so we are left with tribute vehicles like this one. It sounds like a fun project –

Check out the original Craigslist ad :

This is a great kit car… A real head turner.
Everything with new parts, engine, transmission built to fast freeway speeds and new heavy duty clutch kit and parts, rebuilt engine modified to 1915 with dual carbs, nothing is used except for the pan but has been modified, all new parts. New disk brakes and brake lines, tires and rims, steering, race brake pedals, removable racing steering wheel, new easy wiring kit, new gauges, lots of parts, 85% completed. Body will be back on chassis in a few days. Brand new engine is broke in with about 45 minutes on it. Gull wing doors, just new paint about 30 days ago… needs to be wet sanded and buffed out. This is a fun and head turner car. It is based off the 1972 VW beetle chassis, everything has been modified. Clear title in Colorado

Now all I need is some space in the garage..

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The VW K70: Another VW that never got here

6025831973_0de7ffa840_bThe Volkswagen K70 is another model that never reached the shores of the United States. This was an influential model that was barely a VW in the first place. The vehicle was the product of the acquisition of NSU Motorenwerke, a German car manufacturer that Volkswagen spun off to form Audi. So if the style looks familiar and a lot like an Audi, that would be why.

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The NSU model was just about to hit the market when VW acquired the company in 1969. It features front wheel drive, a unique design, and a water-cooled 1.6L (74 hp) or 1.8L (99 hp) engine. Forward-looking safety features for the time included a fuel tank that was mounted ahead of the rear axle and the trunk.

What happened: 

The K70 came at a bad time. Buyers associated the model with the unreliable predecessor/sister car known as the Ro80. The car gained a reputation for body corrosion. Also, it didn’t exactly fit into VW’s lineup of vehicles, priced just below the Audi 100 and the Volkswagen 411.

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So, the vehicle never got much of a good start and never came to the US. However, aficionados keep these vehicles up and you can find one on the market today. They appreciate its influential, forward-looking exterior features and economical consumption. If you can find one, they are a true curiosity.

 

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Star Wars – The Force Awakens is Coming – A Look Back at Volkswagen’s Star Wars Super Bowl Ads

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The upcoming release of “Star Wars – The Force Awakens” has many movie lovers excited to see what plays out in the next chapter. People have waited for more than thirty years to see the continuation of the original trilogy play out on screen. There will be no shortage of hype and stories of incredible feats of fanhood ahead. The commercialism is everwhere. It was just about four years ago that Volkswagen launched one of the most memorable series of commercials in history to tie in the Star Wars franchise.

The commercials played during and after the 2012 NFL Super Bowl, which is incidentally another highly hyped advertising study. The upcoming 2012 Passat was featured in the most memorable of the commercial series. Featured in that ad was a tiny Darth Vader.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R55e-uHQna0

 

Named “The Force”, the ad remains the most shared ad of all-time with 63,000,000 views on YouTube. The young actor who played the Sith Lord in the commercial was one six-year-old Max Page. According to the producers and Tim Ellis, the vice president of marketing for Volkswagen, young Page was a consummate professional. It is said that during the shoot, it was obvious that the commercial would be a hit.

A quick search on YouTube will turn up a number of the original commercials. Star Wars – The Force Awakens opens this Friday and the hype will probably continue at full throttle for several months. It is unknown if the car company plans on another Star Wars-themed commercial effort, but if the team that put out the original is involved, it will probably once again be memorable.

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People We Will Miss 2015: George Barris, Creator of the Classic VW ‘Herbie’

It seems that at the end of each year, we look back at famous people that were lost and we look back at their careers. This past November, the car world lost one of its legends as we said goodbye to the one and only George Barris.

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He was known as the “King of the Kustomizers”, and if you had to pick from one of the many vehicle customization as his most famous, it would have to be the Batmobile. It is this Batmobile from the original 1960s television series that people remember most and it cemented his legacy for many vehicles that he produced since. From its wild fins, to red stripe-on-black finish, to its jet turbine engine, this two-seater got the dynamic duo (Batman and Robin) to and from the bat cave to take one the villains in Gotham City.

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Barris put together some of the most famous movie and television cars in history, including “Herbie”, the anthropomorphic star of the eponymous movies of the 1960s, 1970s, and every decade since. The car had a personality, could drive itself, and the movies showed its adventures with that classic Disney touch. The beloved VW bug was based on a L87 Pearl White 1963 Model 117 Volkswagen Type 1 Deluxe Sunroof model. It was distinguished by its unique red, white and blue racing stripes that ran from the front to back bumper, a racing-style number “53” on the front luggage compartment lid, doors, and engine lid, and a yellow-on-black ’63 California license plate with the lettering “OFP 857”.

  63_VW_Bug_Herbie_DV-06_Volo-01Despite the fact that the car first debuted on film in 1969, it is still very popular today. Earlier this year, an original sold for $126,500 at auction. There are also countless replicas and tributes that roll out of garages each spring.

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Barris’ work will be missed, but his spirit lives on in the love that is displayed for this classic and his many other movie cars.  He was not only responsible for Herbie, he inspired a passion for many classic Volkswagens that continues to this day.

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