Bitten By The Bug

Cast-iron proof that Germans do have a sense of humour, the Volkswagen Beetle is truly greater than the sum of its parts. After all, the parts in question initially comprised little more than an air-cooled, 24-horsepower engine (maximum speed 100km/h) chucked in the back of a comically half-egg-shaped chassis. Yet somehow this rudimentary mechanical assembly added up to a global icon – a symbol of Germany’s postwar Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) that owners the world over fondly thought of as one of the family.

Indeed, it’s a testament to the vehicle’s ability to run on the smell of an oily rag while rarely breaking down that few would even begrudge its Nazi provenance. In 1934 Adolf Hitler asked Ferdinand Porsche to design a ‘Volkswagen’ (people’s car), affordable for every German household and, yes, the Käfer (bug) was the result. However, Beetle production only really began in the new Wolfsburg factory under British occupation in 1946.

Did the company realise then what a hit it had on its hands? By the early 1960s, the chugging, spluttering sound of VW engines could be heard across 145 nations. Long after VW withdrew its bucket-of-bolts old Beetle (essentially the same beast despite improvements) from Western markets, the car remained a best-seller in the developing world. Only on 31 July 2003 did the last one roll off the assembly line in Mexico, the 21,529,464th of its breed.