Ferdinand Porsche dreamed of building a car that everybody could afford. A technical genius who honed his skills at Austro-Daimler, Mercedes, Daimler-Benz and Steyr, Porsche opened his own car design shop in 1930.
After several problems with the initial design of a three cylinder, water cooled engine—which kept on melting—a completely new air-cooled four cylinder engine was built, the forerunner of the flat four we know today. The engine was placed at the rear to avoid the traditional and complex transmission with a separate gear box, drive shaft, and rear axle.
By 1933, new German chancellor Adolf Hitler wanted to produce a small, affordable car for the German people. After meeting with Hitler, Porsche got his marching orders, which stated that: The small car should carry two adults and three children, have a cruising speed of 100kmh, have an air cooled engine, have fuel economy of not more than 0.8 litre per 10 km, be priced at less than RM 1000, and be able to carry three soldiers and a machine gun!!
The most difficult condition to meet was the price tag because the cheapest car at the time was the RM 1,500 Opel P4.
After signing a contract, Porsche worked until prototypes were built and delivered in October 1936. Between that time and 1937, rigorous and extensive road tests were made on the newly built German autobahns with German soldiers as test drivers. By 1939, the final production model was finished and the beetle now looked as we know it.
Soon war broke out and all manufacturing factories were commandeered by the German military to produce munitions and repair vehicles. The full production of the VW Beetle for the masses was delayed but military versions of the design were manufactured and deployed.
After the war, the British managed to revive production of the small, cheap car and the company was officially named Volkswagen. By 1946, 10,000 Beetles were made and the next year, the first Beetles were exported to the Dutch.
By 1950 an assembly plant in Ireland was built and the success of the Beetle in the market prompted additional factories to be built in South Africa (1951), Brazil (1953), and Australia (1955), mainly because the German factories couldn’t keep up with the huge foreign demand for the cars.
Almost miraculously and without any advertising, VW’s Beetles were selling like hotcakes, reaching 150,000 units in 1959. But by the 60’s when VW picked up an ad agency (DDB), their campaign caused sales to explode in the U.S.
The features of the Beetle were simple: A well-made, durable, little cute car that was inexpensive and offered good value. The groundbreaking advertising by DDB emphasizing the features of the Beetle created fantastic ads for the car. Immediately, American car buyers snapped up the Beetles and by the late ‘60s, VW was producing over 1 million Beetles a year worldwide.