Volkswagen Beetle History

Announcer: Go behind the wheel, under the hood and beyond on everything automotive with Car Stuff from Scott: Hey Ben, how are you doing?

Ben: I am doing pretty well, Mr. B, Scott Benjamin, how are you doing?

Scott: I'm doing all right, thank you. I've got a couple things I want to get off my chest before we start this one.

Ben: All right.

Scott: Totally catching you by surprise here, but just a couple things.

Ben: I will absolve you.

Scott: And I promise you that it eventually leads into what we are talking about today.

Ben: That's fine, either way.

Scott: All right. Things I saw today.

Ben: Stuff Scott sees?

Scott: Yeah, and I guess not all of them are today, but stuff Scott sees, yeah.

Ben: All right, let's do it.

Scott: All right, this morning on the way in, I rounded a corner here in Georgia, and I saw a Can Am spider, you know the three-wheeled motorcycle?

Ben: Yeah, yes.

Scott: The one with the two in the front and supposedly real easy to ride thing - Bright yellow, really cool. I rarely see these. I've seen maybe two or three in all of Atlanta, and I saw one this morning. I thought that was pretty interesting.

Ben: That's nuts. Were they driving or was it parked?

Scott: You know what, I was going right, and they were turning left onto the road that I had just came from, so I didn't get to see it really at all. I didn't get to look at it, but I don't know, it is just kind of interesting. I never really get to see that stuff. You know another thing I saw today?

Ben: What's that?

Scott: This is not very interesting, I don't think to too many people.

Ben: I don't know, the spider was a pretty good one.

Scott: I pulled into the gas station. I am not getting fuel, but I had just pulled in, and there is a white car that is next to me. It's a Chevy, what are those, HHR, I think. One looks kind of like the PT Cruiser, kind of looking thing, similar anyway.

Ben: Oh, yes, yes.

Scott: A white car, covered with mud, right, on the whole side, the passenger's side. It was just where I am. So I thought, well that's kind of weird that they were you know - You just don't see that very often in our parts.

Ben: Maybe, I guess they got splashed.

Scott: We're in the city.

Ben: Yeah, we don't see that.

Scott: And it's covered with mud, a real dark, dark mud, so get out of the car, and I quickly realize that this is manure.

Ben: What, what?

Scott: Manure, and it's a white car - it is covering the side of the car. I mean it was horrible to smell.

Ben: The size of that cow, Scott.

Scott: I don't know.

Ben: The size of that cow must be -Scott: I thought it was odd.

Ben: It's a gigantic cow.

Scott: Yeah, and like I said, this has nothing to do with what we are talking about today, but I figured I would mention them.

Ben: Are you kidding? This is a public service - we warn people to look out for that cow.

Scott: Now here's a couple of things that I've seen in the past, and these do lead into what we're talking about.

Ben: I do love a Segway.

Scott: All right, I have seen, recently, a Volkswagen bug that was red, a beetle, it was dragging its horn on the road in front of it as it was driving down the road, which I thought was a little strange.

Ben: That is strange.

Scott: Yeah, and the person gets up to the traffic light, or whatever, because I see this thing hanging in front with just two wires or whatever, one wire, whatever it was, it's dangling on the ground, so it's bumping along in front of it. The person gets up to the light, and the person uses the horn that is hanging down below to honk at the person when the light turns green. You know how I mentioned that this is one of my peeves, so I'm already looking at this red - It's a brand new bug, for whatever reason, the horn is hanging off of this thing on the ground, and it's operational.

Ben: Weird.

Scott: I know. It was strange.

Ben: That is strange, but usually people - I will say, I do have a stereotype about people driving bugs and beetles. In my experience, they tend to be pretty nice people.

Scott: Agreed. You know, I can't honestly - I know this sounds terribly boring to anybody else, but I just thought these were some unusual things that I spotted this morning, and maybe in the last couple of days, and this last one ties into exactly what we're gonna talk about today.

Ben: Here we go.

Scott: Volkswagen Beetle History - That's it. Simple as that.

Ben: That's what we're talking about.

Scott: Because we've got a couple of - Man, this just isn't quite going right.

Ben: Ar e you serious?

Scott: Yeah, I don't know, it's just that -

Ben: I think you're doing a great job. I'm happy with it. I'm having a fun time.

Scott: Okay, I don't know, just seems like a quiet room, a tough room today.

Ben: Well, it's a tough room huh? You're doing that Mel Brooks thing?

Scott: Yeah, I guess so. So we've got a couple pieces of Listener Mail that have been interested in the Volkswagen Beetle, in particular.

Ben: Yes.

Scott: And I know we're gonna make one guy stand up and cheer here, but the other one just kind of mentioned it in passing, so I'll mention him first.

Ben: He might cheer, too.

Scott: His name is Clinton. Clint is from the internet.

Ben: Clint from the internet.

Scott: Yeah that's right. He didn't tell us where he's from, so he's from the internet. He wanted to hear a podcast about the VW West Folia or the History of the VW Beetle, and we're taking the beetle road today. The next one, now this is a guy that's really into the Volkswagen beetle, I can tell, and I've got the photos to prove it here. He sent a lot of images along with this, but - He sent me a lengthy E-mail, which I like of course, and he sent - His name is Gary, and I'll give you his nickname here - Gary Skiprat Higgins.

Ben: Skiprat.

Scott: That's right.

Ben: Nice one Gary.

Scott: He's from the UK, and he also had a couple of suggestions for our nicknames based on today's topic.

Ben: Oh yeah?

Scott: Yeah. So here we go - Ben Baha Bowlin.

Ben: Baha, nice.

Scott: Baha, yup, like the Baha bug, and Scott The Thing Benjamin.

Ben: The Thing.

Scott: Yeah, Scott the thing Benjamin.

Ben: What do you think about that?

Scott: He calls himself Skiprat. So Baha, the thing, and Skiprat. Anyway, he sent a lot of good photos, but he says he noticed something about our podcasts, and particularly I guess the way he views our podcasts, or listens to them. He says that no matter what our topic is, he can somehow relate it to his favorite topic. His favorite 'species' of autos he calls it. The air cooled VW. So he gives me a bunch of examples here. He says low-tech farm equipment, he saw a farmer one time that was plowing a field with something that looked like it used to be a VW bug - kind of strange. Alternate engines - He's talking about like the Porsche Flat 6, a V8, super engines that you can put into Volkswagen beetles that we've talked about. Jay Leno has a VW bus in his collection, his massive collection, the Gumball Rally that we talked about, that's been done in a bug. There's also movie cars. You know, of course there's Herbie and a Volkswagen bus in that Little Miss Sunshi ne movie that he mentions. Also he says Pike Peak - actually he said someone must have gone up Pikes Peak in a modified bug, and I think he's probably right. I would think that someone has because there's a ton of classes in that race. Vehicle wraps - he met a guy in a car park one time who did his own wrap up on his own - he has a bay window van, and he did his own vehicle wrap on that vehicle. Concourse shows - he goes on and on and on with the list of similarities that you can draw between just about every topic that we talk about, and the Volkswagen bug or beetle as it's called.

Ben: Do you know what that reminds me of, Scott, just a little bit? Some of my friends, when they just have children, everything you talk about can somehow relate to this child.

Scott: I can understand, I really do, and I know you understand. You talk about that Monte Carlo all the time, so no matter what we're talking about, you try to slip that in somehow right?

Ben: But for the grace of that beautiful car, I would be walking.

Scott: I mean you can't fault Gary for this. I mean -

Ben: I'm not.

Scott: It's just his frame of mind. Right now he has a '71 bay window VW camper, he's had it for more than 15 years, and he sent photos of this. He has actually swapped an engine.

Ben: I remember the photo.

Scott: Oh, you remember this?

Ben: I remember the photo.

Scott: Yeah, he's got the engine of this thing. He was on his way to a festival, I believe. He swapped the engine of this thing, just in a parking lot it looks like, and it's laying out on a crate. He and a couple of guys are at the back of this thing. They've got the engine out, the exhaust out, everything out. He did this in 2 hours. He changed the engine, and he said all he had was a scissor jack, an adjustable spanner, and a screwdriver, and that's it..

Ben: And an iron-clad will.

Scott: Exactly, 2 hours he swapped the engine out, and they made it to the festival.

Ben: That's amazing.

Scott: Cool, huh?

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: So, I don't know, for these guys - For Clint and Gary, we're gonna talk about the Volkswagen beetle today.

Ben: Yes, let's, and when we start, to quote the mad hatter there, let's start at the beginning, go through the middle, and then when we get to the end -

Scott: All right. We'll try to make this quick because that was a heck of a long intro.

Ben: Oh that was the caterpillar - well, whatever, that was good. We did Listener Mail already.

Scott: Sure, well to get into this really, I'm gonna give you a tiny bit of Porsche information because really, Ferdinand Porsche was the guy who had the idea for the Volkswagen bug.

Ben: And what is the idea?

Scott: Well, the idea is that it's the - this was in a way, it's his idea - I'm kind of talking across myself here, but in a way it was Porsche's idea, but Hitler came up - yea h, that's right, Hitler comes into this -

Ben: Adolf Hitler, we're not talking about some Jeremy Hitler or someone else.

Scott: No, no, this Adolf Hitler. He comes into the picture in a moment, but first, I gotta tell you about Porsche. So let's just do that, and we'll get into it, okay?

Ben: Yes.

Scott: All right. So, first of all, you hear a lot of people say that the Volkswagen beetle or bug was Hitler's idea - not necessarily true.

Ben: Yeah, not true.

Scott: He used his power to kind of take over that idea, and it was really Porsche's idea, Ferdinand Porsche. Now this is turn of the century type stuff because he was born in 1875, so you're talking about real early, early 20th century stuff right here. At the time, he was working on - He worked for Astro Daimler, which made Mercedes, and he also worked on the Mercedes SSK road cars, which are probably what made him the most famous, and again at the time, like maybe the early '30s, he was known as Germany's best engineer, if not you know the best engineer in the world, at that point in time - so, you know, extremely well known. He ended up going to a motorcycle manufacturer, NSU, which also was the company I believe that made that radial or rotary engine that we talked about in the rotary engine podcast. So he worked for NSU, and that's where he developed something that he called the type 32, which was a rear-mounted, air cooled flat four engine that eventually went into this prototype that he had, that I'll tell ya, looks an awful lot like the Volkswagen beetle that you and I know. Ben:: Oh yeah?

Scott: Yeah, the prototype in 32 looks just like - you would be able to pick it out instantly as a Volkswagen beetle.

Ben: It sounds like it has some of the main characteristics, rear-mounted, air-cooled -

Scott: Exactly. Now again, this is like 1931, '32, is the year. In 1933, that's when Hitler became Chancellor, and in '34, at the Motor Show, that's when Hitler decided to announce that he wanted the same type of car that Porsche was already building, and he said, I want something that's gonna be affordable, for everybody, and he called it -

Ben: The People's car.

Scott: Exactly, so you know what the name means?

Ben: Yeah, well I know the English name of it.

Scott: Well, go ahead.

Ben: Well it was the People's car.

Scott: Well yeah, I guess. I mean, you had a little more dramatic lead into it.

Ben: [Inaudible].

Scott: No, no, that's all, that's all. I thought maybe you had a little something -

Ben: Oh, I'm sorry, did I offend you?

Scott: No, not at all, not at all. I just thought - never mind..

Ben: You know what, let's do it - wait, wait, wait - Let's put in, we'll put in a drum roll, and then we'll both say it together. Okay, ready?Ben &

Scott: The people's car.

Scott: Yeah, that's right, s o they had the people's car, right? At this point it's a - and I'm doing air quotes - 'collaboration' between Porsche and Hitler at this point because he really just said I want you to do this.

Ben: Can I just take a moment to say this is pretty much typical behavior of politicians. It's just very advantageous to say oh, that good idea is now somehow my idea.

Scott: Yeah, and you're already working on it, so why don't we work together -

Ben: By which I mean I'll just make it seem as though I told you to do that.

Scott: That's exactly where this is going because remember, Porsche was building tractors by 1934, and remember we talked about those two from '34 to the early '60s I think, and so he was already working on what he thought was like the affordable version of a tractor for everybody, and now he's trying to work on the affordable version of a car for everybody, and Hitler steps in at that point, and says he wants it to be small, durable, air-cooled, which is exactly what Porsche is working on, right?

Ben: Right.

Scott: And he called the Volkswagen, like we talked about, and he said he also wants it to be less than 1000 marks, which is right about $250, so a very affordable car. Again, you're talking about the early '30s, so $250 was a significant amount of money at that time, but not so much that every family still couldn't get one if they had saved, and planned for this. That's kind of the idea, you know, not everybody is gonna instantly be able to get one, but it will be a lot easier than the automobile prices that were already there.

Ben: Right, something reasonable for the middle class to aspire to.

Scott: Exactly, exactly. So at that point he ordered three prototypes to be built, and then when the prototypes were requested from Hitler, Porsche went on a tour of American factories, manufacturing plants in about the mid '30s, 1935 I think it was. By 1936, he did have the three prototypes ready, so there are three prototype Volkswagens ready to go in '36. Hitler announces later in '37 that they're gonna go into production, and they're gonna build a new factory, which is now the Wolfsburg Factory, which is still there, but here's what happened. Actually, Porsche then goes back to America, he's getting this whole thing rolling, ready to go, then the war hits, so we're talking World War II hits, and Hitler is otherwise occupied.

Ben: He's got some stuff going on.

Scott: He's got some things, some other things on his plate at that point. The strange thing about this is, he says well, we got this idea that's already going well, now I need a military vehicle. He says, can we adapt what we've got to be a military vehicle.

Ben: Can we essentially weaponize the Beetle.

Scott: Exactly, yeah somehow make it usable by our troops, and of course, he does that. He modifies the Beetles, and he creates - I don't know how many military vehicles, but he did create these military vehicles. They looked a lot like a Jeep. They had you know, big off road tires, and one of them is this Schwimmwagen.

Ben: Schwimmwagen?

Scott: Yes, Schwimmwagen?

Ben: Is that - is there an amphibious vehicle really?

Scott: You know, I don't even know if I - I know I didn't pronounce that right, but here's a picture of it. You can look this up online. It's Schwimmwagen.

Ben: Oh, Schwimmwagen.

Scott: Oh, Schwimmwagen. That's right. I'm not even gonna try any more. Schwimmwagen. So they made a Schwimmwagen, which is an amphibious vehicle that looks like a Volkswagen. You can see the Beetle characteristics in this thing if you look it up, and I guess it would go as fast as about 15 miles per hour on the water, which is not bad really.

Ben: Not bad, especially water.

Scott: And for something that really wasn't designed to be an amphibious vehicle to begin with. It was just modified to make it work.

Ben: And it's World War II.

Scott: Exactly. World War II, you're right.

Ben: I mean back then, that's a while ago.

Scott: You're right. So here's the strange part about this. The Wolfsburg Plant was still building these things, and after the war, the original blueprints were still in the factory. They're in the factory, and that factory happens to be within the British territory, so they start -

Ben: No way.

Scott: Yeah, so they start producing up to 1000 Volkswagens a month in the late 1940s, like 1946 I think, they started making about 1000 Volkswagens a month.

Ben: The British?

Scott: Yeah, that's right.

Ben: Wow.

Scott: Which is really strange, so they've got the blueprints, the factory, everything is there, they just do it.

Ben: Can't blame them.

Scott: Yeah, I guess you can't.

Ben: I mean it's a good idea.

Scott: So I guess we can kind of skip forward here now. You know, so it's a popular car. It became popular in the U.S. around, like around the '60s and '70s.

Ben: Flower child.

Scott: Exactly.

Ben: Let's paint some flowers on the bug.

Scott: There were a couple of other designs, like the Super Beetle, and there were some suspension upgrades, and that, and some steering issues that were ironed out.

Ben: Oh wait, before we leave World War II, just a real quick Segway - One of the interesting things, Scott, we earlier mentioned the requirements that Hitler claimed to have come up with for the perfect People's Car of Germany, right? They happen to pretty much have a one-to-one match with all the stuff that Porsche was already doing.

Scott: Yeah, isn't that strange?

Ben: It's convenient. How about that? It's almost unbelievably convenient, but there's also - we almost skipped my favorite one, which is where he said - You know, nowadays we have a reputation, or we have a common stereotype of these Bugs and Beetles as being smaller vehicles, but according to Adolf Hitler, they were the exact specifications he wanted for it to be able to fit the perfect German family in there -

Scott: Oh boy.

Ben: Remember?

Scott: Yeah, I do remember.

Ben: Which is like two parents, and then two kids, and somehow always a baby because who are yu gonna fit in that middle seat in the back?

Scott: Well yeah, that's the thing, it was designed to fit five people, which was two adults, three children, and like you said, the ideal German family is what he called that.

Ben: Which is ridiculous to me to think that the design - You know the question is, did Porsche modify any sort of design stuff, or was that just something that was politically beneficial for Hitler to claim, you know?

Scott: I really don't know. I mean, it's really strange. I don't know if he did modify it in any way, but if you've ever been in an original Beetle, they're pretty tiny inside.

Ben: Yeah, they're tight.

Scott: Relatively. Relatively. I mean you get some room in the front, but if you get in the back, it seems like it was built for kids.

Ben: Yeah, I know. That's why I think the middle seat has got to be the baby seat.

Scott: It must be.

Ben: We couldn't fit five of us in there.

Scott: Must be.

Ben: So anyway, so we're back to the '60s.

Scott: Yeah, well we're - I mean, well I guess we can - We're pretty much wrapping up the history of this thing because we'll get into the modern stuff - I think you're gonna talk a little bit about the modern stuff right?

Ben: I'm gonna - Well, I'm gonna complain a little bit about the modern stuff.

Scott: That's no problem, but one thing I do want to mention before we move on is that the Beetle in - I believe it was in 1972 - It finally passed the Ford Model T as the - I want to get this right - The longest run of any single model. So the Model T ran from 1908 to 1927. It had a 19-year production history, and they built 15 million cars. In 1972, the Volkswagen beetle finally passed that number by producing 15 million vehicles, but remember, that one had been around since, I guess it would be the '40s, is that right? I don't know when the actual - because you know, we're talking about all these prototypes, and then finally production, which started in - well let's say the mid '40s.

Ben: Let's say the '40s.

Scott: Yeah, yeah. I wish I had the very first production number, but I don't.

Ben: We could find it.

Scott: Yeah, I can dig into that.

Ben: Or Gary might - Skiprat might know.

Scott: But the thing is, that was 1972 when they finally passed that. Then Ford said, well wait a minute, we're mistaken, we have some revised production numbers we've come up with here, but and Volkswagen, of course continued to produce the Beetle until I believe it was 1985 in Mexico. So they were producing - this is really strange - up until 1985, they were producing them in Mexico, and exporting them back to Germany. So, a lot of the Bugs that are in Germany right now from that later era -

Ben: Are actually Acho in Mexico.

Scott: Exactly, exactly. So they've a - I think it was in 1981 they actually had produced their 20 millionth.

Ben: Twenty million.

Scott: Twenty million, and that was in '81, and then they went on for another 4 years to produce that original Beetle design, then of course, there was a gap, and then they came back with the new Beetle.

Ben: The modern design.

Scott: The modern design, that's right.

Ben: Which is, you know - We did tell Clint and Gary that we're gonna talk about the history of the Beetle. We've covered that, so I don't want to go into the modern stuff except to make a complaint. I don't want to keep us here too long. I'm gonna complain about when the vehicle came back, which I think is a really efficient, unique, stylish, and reliable, most importantly, vehicle.

Scott: Oh sure, that thing created a lot of buzz. Do you remember how - I mean it was kind of like - almost like a celebrity type thing that you would see them here and there, and everybody would point and stare, and it was just because it had been gone from our landscaper for so long, that when it came back, and here it looked so similar to the original.

Ben: And it's part of American culture, just the Bug - like have you ever played punch bug?

Scott: I have.

Ben: I have been playing a continuous game of punch bug for about 15 years now.

Scott: That's great.

Ben: Me and my best friend, so I never know what's gonna happen, but the one complaint I do have about the modern version, the newer version, when it first came out, the marketing was almost positioned as though it was meant to be just a girl's car.

Scott: Oh, careful Ben.

Ben: I know, I know, I know. I just - I wanted to put that out there to see if anybody else thought - Now I'm not saying the vehicle itself, but I'm saying the way it was marketed.

Scott: Okay, I can understand that. You're saying that it's not unheard of for a man to drive a Volkswagen Beetle, however it seems it was directed toward a female audience.

Ben: And I don't know how they came up with that marketing research, which is something we have to cover in another podcast, but see man, the ice is not as thin as you thought it was when I was taking you there.

Scott: No, I understand, yeah. So stop the hate mail.

Ben: Please, stop the death threats.

Scott: He's just saying that the marketing was pushed that way, and I think there have been other cars in history that have kind of been pushed in that direction.

Ben: Yeah, it's interesting when you look back, and see how a company decides to sell a car.

Scott: But then, so is every other car marketed towards men -

Ben: See, that's the - now you're taking us back over the thin ice.

Scott: Yeah, or is it that they're marketed towards both, and just whoever stanches it up.

Ben: Yeah, I think a lot of times it is marketed more by age.

Scott: Yeah, yeah, I think you're right. I think you're right.

Ben: More like 18 to 35. I don't know who makes a car, and says this car is only for people 70 and up.

Scott: No I don't think anybody does that.

Ben: There might be, who knows? You're probably right. But so, with that -

Scott: Did somebody say - I thought I heard someone in the back of the room yell Buick.

Ben: What, oh, hang on -

Scott: No, no, that's a rumor.

Ben: Oh, he's gone, whoever it was is gone.

Scott: Oh good, I'm glad that guy is out of the room..

Ben: Yeah, me too. You're crazy. You, the thing, are crazy. Well, I guess Clint and Gary, I hope we've answered your questions. Scott, one thing I'd like to do in the future is talk about some of these Volkswagen Car Clubs, too because they're everywhere.

Scott: Yeah, we just went through the -

Ben: The history.

Scott: Yeah the evolution of the Beetle really, and honestly, there are so many little pieces of this that we can tackle, we can go into, and I'm sure that Clint and Gary are wishing for more. We can go into the camper wagons. We can go into the Baha Super Beetles. We can do all kinds of different things with this. You know, the original ones with the oval-shaped window with the split in the middle.

Ben: See, we know.

Scott: Yeah, there's a lot of this, and the engine variations throughout the years. There's a lot of stuff that we can cover on this one topic, so this is just kind of the broad intro, and where we go from here, who knows.

Ben: Scott, the thing, Benjamin, I think that was a pretty awesome overview of the History of the VW Beetle, however, we've got more on the website, right?

Scott: Oh yeah, we've got a lot on the website. We've got a lot of VW Beetle overview-type articles that - you can find that they are broken up into -

Ben: Like years, like '60 to '69.

Scott: Something like that, yeah, they're broken up into segments, a little bit irregular in the years that they're broken up into, but I believe that's due to model changes, and things like that, but very informative, pretty good information on the site.

Ben: Guys, we are about done here. We're heading out, maybe take a road trip, maybe go see if we can find that spider from earlier.

Scott: That's right, that's cool.

Ben: And in the meantime, if you guys have any ideas for an upcoming episode, drop us a line, or if there is anything else you would like to learn about automobile s, automotive technology, how to fix your car, or a thousand other fascinating things, visit our website at

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