What the world calls the Beetle, the Bug, the Super Beetle, and the Super Bug, or Käfer to the Germans and Coccinelle to the French, is officially named the Volkswagen Type 1. Often forgotten is the fact that this odd-looking rear-engine sedan was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler. Before the war, he tasked for the production of a practical car, which would be affordable for every German citizen.
Ferdinand Porsche, the co-founder of Volkswagen and luxury-car manufacturer, engineered the VW Type 1. Also, while Hitler named it KdF-Wagen, which is a German acronym that translates to "strength through joy," Porsche preferred it to be called Volkswagen, which translates to "people's car." It was initially manufactured as a five-seat economy car—ideal for a family with three children—but was later modified for four persons.
A bit of history
The VW Type 1 car was first produced in 1938, but very few came out of the production lines due to the war that broke out in 1939. Factories were used to manufacture military vehicles, although a limited number of the KdF-Wagens continued to be built for the Nazi elite.
After the war, Germany was left with heavily-bombed factories and war-torn towns, and rebuilding was an almost impossible task for Volkswagen and the Germans, in general. Worse, automobile manufacturer, including Ford, thought that rebuilding Volkswagen was futile and worthless.
However, British Army officer and engineer Major Ivan Hirst and former Opel senior manager Heinz Nordhoff saw the great value of the Beetle and refused to seal its fate. Hirst and Nordhoff were the central figures who made it possible for Volkswagen to bring the 'people's car back to the people, not only of Germany but of the world.
'Volkswagen's first post-war customer was the British military, which Hirst persuaded into ordering 20,000 units of Volkswagen. After the army-khaki edition, production of peacetime-Beetles resumed. Sales trickled at first but picked up dramatically over the years, selling over a million units by 1955. Today, the Beetle continues to hold the record of being the single-model automobile with the longest production run of 65 years from 1938 to 2003.
The Beetle is a rear-wheel-drive utilitarian car powered by a rear-positioned air-cooled engine. It features a flat front windshield, a rounded body with a streamlined rear, and seating for four people. It can accommodate luggage under the hood and behind the rear seat.
International markets began importing the Beetle in the 1950s. 'Volkswagen's subsidiary in Australia started its assembly operations in 1954. In 1960, it started producing body panels and equipment with features unique to the Australian version and even coming out with its very own Volkswagen Country Buggy, a utility version of Type 1, in 1968. However, the assembly operations in Australia ceased in 1977, so the Australian market reverted to importing the Beetles once again.
The earliest model of Volkswagen Type 1 released in Australia was powered by an 1192-cc petrol engine mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox (27 kW). During this decade, the Beetle underwent some modifications, including a redesigned crankshaft, hydraulic brakes, fabric sunroof, and twin chrome tailpipes.
'Volkswagen's Type 1 sold successfully in the '50s'50s and well through the middle of the '60s. Its powertrain was updated several times within the decade. In 1961, the same 1192-cc engine was used but upgraded to the following specs:
· 1192-cc H4 petrol engine, 4-speed manual transmission (30 kW, 88 N⋅m) – synchronized transmission on all forward gears
During this time, new models were referred to as the "A" sedans. They were fitted with a mechanical gas gauge in favour of the erstwhile fuel tap and large taillights. Windows, doors, and windshields were widened, which improved the 'sBeetle's ventilation and gave it a fresher and more open look.
The two new engine options below were added one after the other, in 1966 and then in 1967:
- The 1285-cc H4 petrol engine, 4-speed manual transmission (37 kW) – 1966; the engine lids of the 1300 model wore a "1300" badge
- The 1493-cc H4 petrol engine, 3-speed automatic transmission (40 kW) – 1967; the engine lids of the 1500 model were marked "VW 1500"
The two previous engines (1200 and 1300) continued to be offered in many markets. In 1968, VW discontinued the 1200 version in Australia, the same year that the 1500 model became available.
Before the decade ended, the Beetle received significant alterations, both interior and exterior, including modified C-section bumpers, new taillights, an exterior gas filler with spring-loaded flap, an electrically-actuated fuel gauge, a new ventilation system, and a shorter shifting lever.
A larger Beetle, called the Super Bug, ushered in the new decade. It sold as the 1600 Super Bug SS in Australia and came with a 1584-cc H4 engine attached to a 3-speed semi-automatic gearbox. This transmission type was marketed as the automatic stick shift. The following year, an L trim level was introduced, which added more features to the previous package, including full carpeting, rubber bumper mouldings, passenger vanity mirror, and ashtrays.
As Volkswagen faced stiff competition coming from Japanese and European automakers, the sales of the Beetle started to plummet. To tide over the financial crisis, Volkswagen fielded upmarket models including the Golf and Polo, but not one succeeded like the Beetle.
While these newer models were launched and marketed, the production of the Beetle did not stop. Instead, it was shifted to Brazil and Mexico to lower the cost of operating the factories. However, partly due to competition and mainly to the failure of VW to meet safety and emission requirements for the Beetle, sales continued to decline over the years.
Importation to the US ceased in 1977, but to Europe, it lasted until 1985. No Beetles were released in Australia from 1977 through 1999, but the market opened again in 2000 with the introduction of the New Beetle.
1999-2002 – the New Beetle
Volkswagen began producing the New Beetle in 1997. The new model looked like its progenitor, drawing on the charm that endeared the classic Beetle to people so much. Underneath, however, was a different underpinning. The New Beetle was produced based on the PQ34 platform, the same one used for VW Golf. Unlike the original Beetle, the new compact car has a front-engine front-wheel-drive layout and rear luggage storage.
In 2000, VW released in Australia a three-door five-seat hatchback powered by a 1984-cc APK/AQY I4 SOHC 8V petrol engine attached to a 4-speed automatic gearbox (85 kW, 170 N⋅m). Two variants came out—a regular hatch in base trim and a Sunshine model. The latter came fitted with a power sunroof, a leather steering wheel, and heated front seats, in addition to the basic pack.
In 2001, a turbo version was made available in the Aussie market, with the following engine specs:
· 1781-cc APH/AVC/AWC/AWU/AWV/BKF I4 DOHC 20V turbocharged petrol engine mated to a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual gearbox (110 kW, 220 N⋅m)
The turbo model included the following features: leather steering wheels and upholstery, heated front seats, remote anti-theft alarm system, cruise control, electronic stability program, traction control system, fog lights, and a rear spoiler.
While the New Beetle has replaced the Type 1 Beetle in most markets, VW continued to produce the Type 1 albeit on a low scale. With the continually decreasing demand, however, the end of the road drew nearer for the Beetle. In June 2003, Volkswagen announced that production would end for Type 1. On July 30, 2003, three thousand Beetles badged as the Última Edición (Last Edition) rolled off the production line at the VW plant in Puebla, Mexico. A 1584-cc fuel-injected 4-cylinder petrol engine (37 kW, 98 N⋅m) powered this special edition.
The final edition Beetles were available in two colours—Aquarius blue and Harvest Moon beige. This last series featured a 4-speaker CD player, whitewall tires, body-coloured wheels, tinted glass, chrome bumpers and hubcaps, chrome badge on the glove box, a Wolfsburg emblem on the front trunk, and a Volkswagen Última Edición commemorative plaque.
A mariachi band played during the production of the very last Beetle, which was called El Rey (The King). Nostalgic advertisements bade goodbye to the small car that left such a large void. The blue-clad El Rey took its final drive to Volkswagen'sVolkswagen's museum in Wolfsburg, Germany, where it stays to this day.
Meanwhile, the New Beetle continued its journey. VW released it with the following powertrain options from 2003 through 2011:
- 2002 – 1595-cc AYD/BFS I4 SOHC 8V petrol engine mated to either a 4-speed auto or a 5-speed manual gearbox (75 kW, 148 N⋅m)
- 2002 – 1984-cc APK/AQY I4 SOHC 8V petrol engine mated to either a 4-speed auto or a 5-speed manual gearbox (85 kW, 170 N⋅m)
- 2003 – 1984-cc AZJ/BDC/BEJ/BER/BEV/BGD/BHP I4 SOHC 8V petrol engine mated to a 6-speed auto or a 5-speed manual gearbox (85 kW, 172 N⋅m) – fitted to a two-door four-seat cabriolet
- 2005 – 1896-cc BJB/BKC/BXE/BLS I4 SOHC 8V turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox (77 kW, 240 N⋅m)
From 2006 to 2010, the New Beetle cabriolet was offered in the same 2.0L engine, while the regular hatchback was made available with the same 1.6L petrol and 1.9L diesel engine options. For the 2010 and 2011 model years, VW introduced a particular BlackOrange variant in Australia to highlight the final edition of the New Beetle.
The Beetle torch was passed on to a new model, the Beetle A5 in 2011. It is a front-engine front-wheel drive hatchback built based on the PQ35 or A5 platform, which is the same platform used on the VW Jetta. It runs on a 1.4L 16V TSI petrol engine, attached to either a 7-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual gearbox (11k kW). It is a three-door, four-seat C-segment or small family car, with a more spacious trunk than that of the New Beetle.
A Fender Edition came out in 2013 and 2014 in partnership with Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. This limited edition used the same 1.4L engine paired to a 7-speed automatic transmission and featured a 400-watt nine-speaker audio system along with other Fender elements and trims.
The production of this generation ceased in July 2019, but it still sells in many markets, including Australia. Eight decades is quite a stretch for a car model to remain on the market, even for a Beetle.
By Jeannette Salanga (JMSL)