VW or Volkswagen, German for “the people’s car” had its beginnings in pre World War II Germany. At a time when cars were items of luxury owned only by the rich, a few German automakers envisioned an economical car that could be owned by ordinary families for about the cost of a motorcycle. Adolf Hitler embraced this idea, sponsoring a new state owned factory to produce a car designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche (see also the history of Porsche cars). The time was 1934 and Europeans would purchase this car buy means of a savings plan, paying in 5 marks per week.
The new VW cars began appearing in 1936. Designed by Erwin Komenda using the wind tunnel, these cars the distinct round “Beetle” shape and an air cooled, rear mounted engine. The cars were first produced at a factory in Stuttgart but in 1938 the factory was relocated to Wolfsburg. Prior to World War II only a handful of “Beetles” were produced but Volkswagen honored the savings agreements in West Germany following the war.
In wartime, Volkswagen produced military vehicles including the Kubelwagon or “bucket vehicle” and the floating Schwimmwagen. Following the war, the British occupied KdF-Stadt and the factory was placed under the control of an army Major Ivan Hirst. With cars in short supply during those first post war years, some of the Volkswagen cars were produced and found their way into the hands of British service personnel who were allowed to keep them when they were sent back to Britain.
Within a year the factory was producing 1,000 cars each month even though it had not been completely repaired. Changing the name of the car, Major Hirst attempted to get automobile companies from Britain, America, and France to take over the project. It was when no British manufacturer was willing to take over the plant that the factory began producing cars for the British army. Heinrich Nordhoff, who had worked at Opel, took over the plant in 1948 and began producing the Volkswagen type 2 better know as the Volkswagen Bus along with the Karmann Ghia sports car.
By the mid 1950s Volkswagen cars were being seen in North America with shipments first to Canada and then the US. Due to the popularity of the cars a factory was build in Canada in 1957 followed by a very successful advertising campaign in the United States which dubbed the rounded car, the Beetle. Volkswagen, however, did not officially use this name until 1998 when it launched the New Beetle.
Volkswagen continues to be a popular car manufacturer today with the Golf, Jetta, and Passat models. All are moderately priced, dependable automobiles which get excellent gas mileage. These cars are frequently featured in magazines such as “Car and Driver” and “Motor Trend.” Volkswagen has a long history of producing automobiles that are economical to own and operate.