Posts Tagged ‘septuagenarian’

Those tough little Beetles

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

According to, beetles live almost everywhere on the planet. They can be noisy, have a big impact on the economy, and have been around for many years. I couldn’t agree more, except that I am not talking about the insects belonging to the Coleoptera family, I am referring to Volkswagen Beetles. VW-Beetles, too, are found on every continent, are undeniably noisy, and have had a huge impact on the economy (almost 22 million Volkswagen were sold in 150 countries).

It ‘runs and runs and runs’

Er laeuft und laeuft und laeuft was the VW-advertising slogan. Indeed, Beetles can look back on a long and incredibly successful history. Those little bugs just celebrated their birthday. They are septuagenarians now (someone between the ages of 70 and 80.) On 26 May 1938, Adolf Hitler first introduced the beetle’s prototype at an auto show in Berlin. He had commissioned the German engineer, Ferdinand Porsche, to design an inexpensive, reliable, and fuel-efficient car that would cost no more than 1,000 marks (less than $250 at the time). Hitler was a fan of Porsche whose racing cars were very successful on the European racing circuits, and Hitler wanted a car that the average German could afford.

1960 Volkswagen cabriolet

1960 Volkswagen cabriolet

World War II and the Beetles

Porsche went to work, but when the Second World War broke out the following year, the Volkswagen plant was converted into an armaments factory, and beetle production came to a standstill. The war left the plant in ruins. The US Army turned it over to the British Army, and Major Ivan Hirst was placed in charge of operations. The major succeeded in interesting his superiors in putting the car to work as an inexpensive light transport vehicle. He got approval to produce 20,000 Beetles. Under his direction, the plant turned out 2,000 Beetles in 1945 and 10,000 the following year. Since the British military did not intend to remain in the car business, they offered it, free of charge, to British and French car manufactures as well as to the Ford Motor Company. But the offer was turned down by all three of these industry giants. They all agreed that the cars were too ugly and noisy and building them would be a completely uneconomic enterprise. (For additional of the story, read Walled-In, Chapter 2)

Beetles’ success story

First the Germans, then people all over the world, fell in love with this bug-shaped little car that boasted a top speed of 60 mph, 25 horsepower, a non-synchronized transmission, an air-cooled rear-engine, a basic, rudimentary heater, and a pint-sized luggage compartment. It lacked any kind of chrome embellishment. The first Volkswagens did not even have a fuel gauge. When the tank ran dry, you simply switched to the one-gallon reserve. But the car was robust, trouble-free, and easy to repair. (also visit, first new car was a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle as well. I loved that car. His name was “Toeffi” (putt-putt), and I talked to him. I still miss the characteristic VW-noise he made when I accelerated. Our dog heard me coming when I was still half a mile down the street.

Now, Volkswagen is hoping to make a comeback with the production of an all-electric, fully integrated e-generation bus. The vehicle should hit the market by 2022 and is intended to make Volkswagen a worldwide bestseller once again.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.