Friday, 14 September 2018

The VW Beetle has died twice before

Volkswagen should be honest: the car model which they plan to kill off bears as much relation to Ferdinand Porsche's "people's car" of 1938 as the current Fiat 500 bears to the original Topolino. The Beetle which we are now saying "leb' wohl" to is actually a relaunch of a relaunch.

Production of the original Beetle ceased in Germany in 1978, though it continued in several other plants round the world.

Even Hitler and Porsche's dream car had to be shelved shortly after its well-publicised entry as Nazi Germany geared up for war. Instead, the factory switched to churning out the German equivalent of the jeep. (As a child in Benghazi in the 1950s, I saw dozens of these "field cars", as we called them, clearly having been abandoned by Rommel's retreating forces and commandeered by locals and Allied servicemen and sold on.)   It would be interesting to know how many genuine workers were able to get their hands on a Beetle before the end of the war. The factory was brought back into production in 1945. Allied bombing had crippled the plant in Saxony and it was the engineering corps (Royal Engineers and REME) of the occupying British forces who brought it back to life as an aid to German recovery. In one of the great misjudgements of economic history, both the British Rootes Group and the multinational Ford, among others, turned down the virtual free gift of the factory and its product as part of war reparations.

[Updated slightly in the wake of James May's BBC4 series on people's cars]

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