21,000,000 VW Beetles were built. That makes it the most popular car … ever! Today, of course, the ‘V-Dub’ commands cult status. And – with plenty of scope for customisation – Beetle mania is a hive of creativity. That said, if all you needed from a car was reliability, the Beetle was still the car for you. The designer of the ulimate in automotive utilitarianism was Dr Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, that Dr Porsche! The Beetle was born out of Herr Hitler’s yen for motoring for the masses. Yes, that Herr Hitler! As things turned out, not many Beetles were built before the war. Following it, though, the production floodgate opened. The first Beetle was pretty basic. It came with a non-synchromesh gearbox, cable brakes – and little by way of ornamentation. With hostilities over, however, the US started to catch the V-Dub bug. For starters, it ticked all the second car boxes. It was cheap, dependable, practical and economical. Heck, the Beetle even made a great beach buggy!
The Beetle put out 50bhp from a 1,584cc air-cooled motor. It maxed out at 84mph. Visually – while no oil painting – it was not without allure. Let us say, it had a certain rough-edged charm! Indeed, the Kharmann Ghia – which was based on the Beetle – was really rather pretty. And, the split-rear-screen model – of the early Fifties – was positively voguish!
Enter the ’60s, though, and buyers demanded a more modern driving experience. VW responded by replacing the time-served 1,100cc engine with 1,300 and 1,500cc updates. And, Beetles were now fitted with an all-synchromesh ‘box, disc brakes and semi-automatic transmission. The factory was at Wolfsburg – in Lower Saxony. Not even the Führer could have foreseen the all-conquering heights to which the Beetle’s sales would soar. The second most popular car of all time came courtesy of Henry Ford. The Model T clocked up 15,000,000 sales – 6m shy of its nemesis. It was in the early Seventies that the Beetle outstripped the Model T’s tally. Probably because VW offered it in colours other than black! Its zenith was in the Sixties, after all. Psychedelia – unlike Goth – did not do black!