With the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle redesign on the road, it’s time to look back at the original VW bug, which is still a very popular used car.
Adolf Hitler asked Porsche to design a “people’s car,” German translation “volkswagen,” in 1933. A minimal number of cars were produced prior to and during the war under his supervision. But after WWII, Volkswagens were produced without Nazi funding on a larger scale and sold quite well. The one millionth VW Beetle was manufactured in 1955.
The Type 1 Beetle (nicknamed the Bug) is the most-manufactured design platform of any car.
The Bug has a simple, functional, no frills design. The concept for it was a reliable car that would last a long time with minimal maintenance. It’s a rear-wheel drive with an air-cooled boxer engine in the back and storage space under the front hood.
Heat in the earliest models is a bit special. Because of the air-cooled engine, Bugs heat slowly in the winter. In the 1960s, an ingenious gas heater was put on top of the gas tank. A small gas fire would ignite inside the heater to warm the car quickly. But once the Beetle is warm, it stays that way; the car is nearly airtight and will float for a few minutes in the water.
The simple design led to many inventive uses of resources. For example, air pressure in the spare tire powers the windshield washer.
Changes to the original model were small and gradual like a change in the rear window from two panes to one and enlargement of the rear window a few years after that. In 1967, major upgrades were made to the drive train and in 1973, the Super Beetle was released with an elongated front end and therefore more trunk space. Newer models have modern features like air conditioning and cassette players followed by CD players later on.
After nearly sixty years in production, the last Type 1 Beetle rolled off the manufacturing floor in 2003. By this time, the Volkswagen New Beetle had been in production for five years and sales for the Type 1 had plummeted. With a little research, you can still find reliable Original Beetles in decent condition for a good price – while quirky, these cars have proven their long-lasting design concept a success.