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The people's car – generically, Volkswagen in German – is almost as old as the automobile, and the type was familiar in Germany long before the advent of the Volkswagen. Usually these 'popular'; cars were minimal cars, though size and simplicity did not necessarily bring them within the reach of the ordinary man in the street.
Henry Ford did build a successful universal car, to sell at a low price, but his Model T with its 2.9-litre engine was by no means a small car, nor was the Model A that followed it. When it was in production in the late 1920s, small 'proper'; cars in Germany ranged from the 700-cc DKW to the 1-litre Opel, with small Adlers, the BMW Dixi (a license-built Austin Seven) and the NSU-Fiats to come. These stimulated desire rather than a year's wage for an average worker. This prompted motorcycle manufacturer Zundapp to commission a low-cost car design from Dr. Ferdinand Porsche's new design studio. The project did not get far, but a Porsche-designed NSU that reached that prototype stage in 1933 accurately foreshadowed the Volkswagen.
The idea of a people's car appealed to Porsche, and it fascinated Adolf Hitler. When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, one of his pet notions was the concept of motoring for the masses, and a meeting with Porsche was to be a meeting of minds. Once again Porsche was commissioned to design a popular car, and when the first ludicrously tight financial limits were relaxed he accepted the technical challenge.
It is possible that Porsche received too much credit for the design of the Volkswagen, for most of the technical elements had been seen before in the work of such men as Ledwinka, Rumpler, Rabe and Nibel. The Volkswagen reflected the Porsche Buro's earlier designs, but it was to reach production and eventually succeed beyond the wildest limits of the Thirties dream.
In 1931, the Porsche independent front suspension was patented. It interested many manufactures, and was to be important to the Volkswagen. It was devised around torsion bars, not new as such, but in this arrangement the two transverse bars were housed in tubular cross members, with a lower trailing link at each end, and an upper link pivoted to the frame and combined with a friction shock absorber. This was lighter than the then-common transverse leaf spring arrangement, but it meant that the wheels rolled with the body.
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In 1938 the first Beetle was produced. The original Beetle did not have a rear window, all it had was a piece of plastic with a tiny slit in it. The most unique thing about the Beetle was that the engine was in the back of the car. Whenever Dr. Ferdinad Porsche was making the Beetle he wanted more power to go up hills and through snow and other obstacles. So they decided to put the source of the power where they needed it most. (Beetle)
By the end of WWII the Volkswagen factory in Germany was destroyed. At that time Americans were going to buy Volkswagen but they didn't because of all the damage that was made by the war. It took a while but the factory was re-built and production of the beetle started again. At this time the first VW Beetle convertible was produced. Only 682 convertibles were made. Then in 1949 the Export Model was produced. The Export Model was the same as the old beetle but it had chrome trim, new colors, and the interior of the car was much better. It wasn't until 1950 that hydraulic brakes were added. In 1952 the handy door on the glove compartment was made. A year later a window replaced the piece of plastic in the back of the car. Before 1954 the ignition did not start the engine so they had to push a little button that was under the dash and turn the ignition for electric. So in 1954 they got rid of the starter button and made it easier by putting it in the ignition. In 1960 500,000 beetles are shipped to the U.S. and you start to see more and more of them when on the road. In 1970 they invent the annoying buzzer that goes off when the door is open and the beetle is first to install it. In 1974 the first VW plant was shut down in Wolfsberg. Then in 1976 the metallic paint and sport style rims were added to make the beetle look a little better which wasn't to bad for a cost of $3,599. In 1978 the last beetle was produced in Germany and the only remaining beetle production is in Mexico. (Beetle)
Concept I was the sensation of the Detroit Show in January 1994 when Volkswagen executives quite clearly stated that it was not the forerunner of the production model. By the next motor show, at Geneva in March 1994, the strong public reaction had led to corporate change of mind, and chairman Ferdinand Piech decided that it would be developed as a production model. Beetle had never been an official VW name, but the public inevitably saw Concept I as 'Beetle II';, and on the Volkswagen stand at the 1996 Geneva Motor Show it was presented as 'the new Beetle';. The aim was 1998 production for sale in the United States first with models arriving in European show rooms in the autumn.
Concept I had started life as a study for an electric car, initiated at the VW-Audi California design studio under J. Mays. In 1992 it was taken up as a group project in Germany under Hartmut Warkuss, who transferred from Audi to head the VW design group at Wolfsburg.
The silhouette and styling features within it, such as the wheel arches, were strongly and deliberately reminiscent of the Beetle. The short nose and tail were by no means Beetle copies, and those wheel arches had to bulge to accommodate the thin but tall 18-inch wheels. There never was an intention to build a replicar.(Szczesny)
In mechanical aspects the Concept cars – the first was joined by a cabriolet in time for the 1994 Geneva show – were far removed from the Beetle. In 1994 the electric model was seen as one in a range, to include versions with a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel and hybrid diesel/electric power. Later, two petrol versions with 105-bhp and 150-bhp power units were added to the program. These were in-line engines, for transverse installation, and drove the front wheels (with the option of syncro four-wheel-drive to come). Initially, the new Beetle was to be offered with the direct fuel injection turbo-diesel o petrol engines. The former was expected to give it a top speed of around 180 km/h (112 mph).(Delerenzo)
It is safe to predict that sales will never match the staggering Beetle totals, but there is little doubt that its successor will secure a positive place in the markets from 1998 and on into the 21st century.