Saying goodbye to the Volkswagen Beetle
On September 13, 2018, Volkswagen of Germany announced that it will discontinue its ‘Beetle’ line of cars, the first of which had been made in 1938. Ironically, the conceptualisation of this much-loved icon was steered by one of the world’s most hated men — Adolf Hitler. He wanted the Beetle to do for personal transport in Germany what the Ford Model T had done in the US.
Ferdinand Porsche had designed the Beetle to be a five-passenger car which would be cheap to buy and run. That it would eventually be, but first it would be used to make military vehicles during World War II, and it’s flat-four, air-cooled engine would make it ultra-reliable. After the war, it was the British who put the car into production for civilian use. And the man responsible for doing so was Major Ivan Hirst.
It’s not very clear why the Beetle became so popular across continents, but its production spread to the Americas, Africa and Australia. The original ‘Bug’, as it lovingly came to be called, went through small changes in look and equipment over its 50-plus-year run in Europe before it was replaced in 1998 by the New Beetle. But production of the original model continued in Mexico for five more years.
In a decade, the new model would change shape once more, which would remain till the end of the run for the moniker next year.
One of the ways the Beetle got into popular culture was through the movies. Herbie, a Beetle that sported the number 53 (top), was the star in a number of movies made between 1968 and 2005. It had a mind of its own and did things impossible for any Beetle to do in real life. In the 1968 film Bullitt (below), a green Beetle keeps appearing throughout a high-speed car chase involving Steve McQueen in a Ford Mustang and the bad guys in the Dodge Charger. The Beetle appears at least three times in different places and has now become as famous as the muscle cars that are at the centre of the scene.