The Volkswagen Type 1, which became known to millions as the Beetle, was based on a 1930s design by Hans Ledwinka, who worked for the Czechoslovakian carmaker Tatra. Ledwinka’s teardrop Tatra had a pancake, air-cooled, four-cylinder engine, just like the first KdF Wagen designed by Ferdinand Porsche for Adolf Hitler in 1938. It even had split rear windows like the Tatra. In fact, there were so many similarities that after World War II, Germany settled a patent-infringement lawsuit Tatra had filed in the 1930s before Czechoslovakia was invaded and occupied.
Few Beetles were produced during the war, but in 1945, the bombed-out Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Wolfsburg was put back into production by a British Major named Ivan Hirst. The idea was to get the German economy going again, and while the Beetle was not seen as a commercial threat by the likes of Henry Ford II, it would eventually sell more than 21 units worldwide, beating the Ford Model T by some 6 million vehicles.
One way to track the evolution of the Beetle is to follow the design of its rear windows. Split windows were produced from 1938 until 1952. In 1953, these were replaced by a single oval window, which itself was redesigned in 1958 as a round-cornered rectangle (although the shape is usually described by VW collectors as “square”). The other early Beetle landmark is the Cabriolet, a convertible designed by the German firm Karmann. While Beetles were produced until 2003, Carbiolets were discontinued in 1980.
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When Southern Californian Justin Pinchot is in the market for a new car, he doesn’t just head for the local Auto Row or browse the… [more]