July 30, 2003: A mariachi band serenades the last old style Volkswagen Beetle as it rolls off the assembly line in Mexico. After 65 years in production and 21,529,464 cars later, the old Bug was dead. The Volkswagen Type 1, also known as the Beetle or Bug, was a German economy car built from 1938, and still in production as the New Beetle. While the public called them by their familiar names, Volkswagen itself did not until 1967. Early versions were called 1200, 1300, and 1500 which referred to the size of the engines in cubic centimeters.
Drawbacks to the little car were its styling or lack thereof, weak power, rough ride, and high noise levels. Regardless, it remained on the market for one of the longest periods of manufacture and is one of the most recognizable vehicles ever built.
Designs were first submitted in 1925 and modified over the years. In 1933, Hitler met with Richard Whittle and Ferdinand Porsche and asked them to develop a low-priced Volks-Wagen or People’s Car. It was to hold 2 adults and 3 children, have a top speed of 62 mph and not cost more than 990 Reichsmarks (about 31 weeks pay). The prototype appeared in 1935 with its air-cooled, rear-mounted engine. Production began and then war broke out. While Nazi elites were offered a chance to own a civilian version of Volkswagen from 1940-1945, most were military vehicles.
After the war, production resumed and by 1955 the one-millionth car rolled off the assembly line. The top speed was now 72 mph and the little car got 31 mpg. It was the top selling foreign car in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, with stiff competition from the world market, Volkswagen made radical changes. While the car was no larger, many of the components were. Horsepower was increased, the electric generator doubled, the clutch size increased, along with many other systems. It came in new colors and with upgraded upholstery.
By 1994, Volkswagen knew that something more needed to be done and created the all new and improved Beetle. The old Beetle would be phased out and the New Beetle began to be sold in 1998. It comes hard top and convertible, 2- or 3-door, standard, Turbo, or diesel engines/transmissions, and costs about $17,000.
“As Volkswagen demonstrated, … automakers know how to design good bumpers.” – Adrian Lund
“We were the little Volkswagen trying to climb that hill without all of its cylinders. We gave it everything we had. We battled and battled. The neat thing is we figured out a way to win. That’s probably the best thing I can say.” – Mike Wilton
“The New Beetle never would have gotten approved for production if it hadn’t gotten rave reviews at the (Detroit) show from the public and the press, which stopped in its tracks when they saw it. That message quickly got back to Volkswagen that people thought it was cool and wanted VW to build it.” – Jim Hossack
“Americans are notorious car abusers. When Volkswagen cars are driven like typical Americans drive them, that’s when they start having significant problems.” – John Wolkonowicz