The History Of The Volkswagen Beetle, One Of The Most Popular Cars Ever Made

The cute and quirky Volkswagen Beetle has been a favorite among car enthusiasts for generations. Its shape makes it a true original, and its legacy is undeniable. When the automaker announced that it was discontinuing the Beetle for good, many were heartbroken by the news.

However, the Beetle had a good, long run. And over the years it has left a huge impression on many people, including celebrities. You may think you know all about the VW Beetle, but we have some interesting tidbits about the car that will definitely make you feel nostalgic.

Hitler Was Partially Responsible For The Production Of The Beetle

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Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images
Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images

Ferdinand Porsche came up with the Beetle concept in 1931. He initially developed the Porsche Type 12, which was known as the “Auto fur Jedermann” or “Car for Everyone”. Two years later, Adolf Hitler asked Porsche to develop a “People’s Car” or “Volks Wagen.”

The Beetle could easily transport a family of four with two adults and two children. It also had room for luggage and could travel a not-so-stunning 62 mph. The word “volks” was used by many products the Nazi party promoted, including the Volksradio.

When It First Became Available In America No One Wanted One

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National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

While today the love affair Americans have with the Beetle is palpable, it didn’t start out that way. Following World War II, Americans were not exactly thrilled to buy things that were made in Germany. The car was first introduced to the United States in 1949, and the reception was certainly lukewarm.

That year, only two Bugs were sold. But it didn’t take too long for Beetle mania to hit. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Beetles were snapped up each year by eager consumers. The height of its popularity was in 1970 when 570,000 were sold.

The Name ‘Beetle’ Didn’t Come About Until The 1960s

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images
Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

The Beetle was initially referred to as the Porsche Type 60 before it was called the KdF-Wagen in reference to the arm of the Third Reich known as the “Kraft durch Freude,” which means “Strength through Joy.”

In 1935, the first Type 60 prototype, called the V1, was complete. Testing began the following year at Porsche’s shop in Stuttgart. The round cars were all air-cooled with a rear-mounted engine. The distinctive shape of the car reminded people of the insect, and it became known as the Beetle in the late ’60s.

Audiences Loved The Herbie The Love Bug Films

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Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In 1968, Disney released the feature film The Love Bug. Its main character was a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie the Love Bug. The car could think and act on its own and was able to drive itself around. The car was white with red, white, and blue racing stripes and the racing number 53 on its hood.

The Herbie the Love Bug franchise was really popular for the film studio, and a total of six films were produced (the last one was 2005’s Herbie: Full Loaded). In 2015, one of the film’s original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction.

A White Beetle Featured On The Beatles’s Abbey Road Album Became Famous In Its Own Right

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FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The British band the Beatles released their famous Abbey Road album in 1969. It featured the members walking across a zebra crossing outside of Abbey Road Studios. In the background parked on the side of the road is a VW Beetle with the number plate (LMW 281F).

The license plate was reportedly stolen off the car several times after the album’s release. The car belonged to someone who lived in an apartment across from the studio. The car itself was later sold for $23,000 at auction and put on display at a museum in Germany.

Seattle’s Fremont Troll Sculpture Is Clutching An Actual VW Beetle

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Trudy Laltoo, contributor, Getty Images
Trudy Laltoo, contributor, Getty Images

The Fremont Troll (also called The Troll or the Troll Under the Bridge) is a large sculpture in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Wash., located under the Aurora Bridge. In its hands is a real VW Beetle. It appears as though the troll simply pulled it off the road above.

The vehicle has a California license plate and was formerly red. The sculpture was created by four local artists. They were influenced by Scandinavian folklore to depict a troll living under a bridge.

The Car’s Iconic Bud Vase Was Eventually Eliminated To Appeal To Male Drivers

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China Photos/Getty Images
China Photos/Getty Images

Earlier models of the Beetle featured a blumenvasen made of porcelain. The small vase could be affixed to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield. The accessory was so kitschy that the automaker kept the design element when it redesigned and launched the Beetle in 1998.

But not everyone was on board with all that flower power. While considering the 2011 redesign, marketing executives nixed the bud vase thinking that it wasn’t macho enough for the male consumer base.

Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno & Other Celebs Have Famously Owned Beetles

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Dale Wilcox/WireImage
Dale Wilcox/WireImage

Several celebrities are fans of the Beetle and have them in their collections. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s first car was a 1977 Beetle. He also had a 1960 Beetle that he sold in a 2016 auction for $121,000. Jay Leno owns several rare vintage models, including Beetles from 1938, 1955 and 1966.

Actor Hugh Jackman owns a vintage Beetle as well as a 23-window Volkswagen bus. Model Heidi Klum has owned several Beetles over the years as has Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who sold a brown 1960 Beetle on eBay for $28,350 in 2016.

The Millionth Beetle Was Produced In 1955

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Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Pictured is the one-millionth VW Beetle, formerly known as the Kaefer, in the Autostadt Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany. The car is gold plated and also features gemstone-encrusted bumpers.

The millionth VW Beetle rolled off the assembly line in 1955. It took just 10 years for the millionth Beetle to be produced. Just eight years later in 1963, the automaker would deliver its 10 millionth car. Between 1938 and 2003, a record 21,529,464 Volkswagen Beetles were sold around the world.

Britain Rejected The Offer To Manufacture ‘Unattractive’ Beetles Following WWII

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Wolff & Tritschler/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Wolff & Tritschler/ullstein bild via Getty Images

After World War II, Britain was supposed to take charge of the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. However, British automakers had no desire to run the company and stated that “the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car.” They also commented that the car was “quite unattractive” to the typical consumer.

Oh, there’s more. The automakers claimed, “to build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise.” They couldn’t have been more wrong and lost what would have been a monumental amount of money had they decided to take over the German business.

It Topped The Model T As The World’s Best-Selling Car

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Marcel Kusch/picture alliance via Getty Images
Marcel Kusch/picture alliance via Getty Images

In 1972, the 15,007,034th VW Beetle came off the assembly line, beating a world car production record that Ford Motor Co. had set with the Model T, which was produced from 1908 to 1927. At the time, more Beetles had been sold than any other type of vehicle around the world.

For many years the Beetle remained super popular among consumers, who loved the car for its unique design as well as its legacy. Its sales have since been surpassed by the VW Golf, Ford F-Series, and Toyota Corolla.

The New Beetle Inspired Other Automakers To Go Retro

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Noam Galai/Getty Images
Noam Galai/Getty Images

As we noted previously, in 1998 VW reintroduced the New Beetle. People went crazy for the car, which had a sleek, modern look but still heavily relied on its retro design. It was a breath of fresh air in the late ’90s when many cars simply weren’t super exciting when it came to the design.

Other automakers took notice. In response to the New Beetle, they began producing retro-themed cars of their own, including the PT Cruiser, the SSR, HHR, and the modern Camaro. If you’re a fan of any of these cars, you have Volkswagen to thank.

It Floats (For A Little While)

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Bill Kennedy/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Bill Kennedy/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Pictured above is a television presenter in a VW Beetle car in the River Thames, near Tower Bridge on July 10, 1986. The original Volkswagen Beetle has the ability to float…but only for a little while. The reason why is because the vehicle has a steel bottom with nothing underneath it.

This airtight construction gave the car the ability to float (temporarily). VW even released a commercial demonstrating how the car had the ability to stay upright in water. However, they included the disclaimer, “The VW will definitely float, but it will not float indefinitely.”

The Counter Culture Loved It

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Three Lions/Getty Images
Three Lions/Getty Images

Pictured above are two exhausted festival-goers from Woodstock passed out on the bonnet and roof of their Volkswagen Beetle in 1969. During the ’60s, the Beetle was extremely popular among those who embodied a counter-culture lifestyle. They loved its simple design as well as its price.

At the time, the Beetle cost less than $2,000 — a real bargain. In addition, the Beetle got really good mileage. The only downside is that the earlier models were a little slow. They struggled to get past 62-65 mph.

The Original Beetle Stuck Around For A Really Long Time

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David Fenton/Getty Images
David Fenton/Getty Images

The first-generation Volkswagen Beetle continued to be produced in Germany until 1977 (28 years after it was first introduced to America). Production then moved to Brazil and Mexico. Brazil kept making the Beetle for an additional nine years, while Mexico pushed them through the assembly line up until 2003.

The Beetles made in Latin America never made it to the United States because they were replaced by the VW Rabbit, which was also known as the VW Golf.

There Were Three Distinct Versions of The Beetle

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NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images
NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images

There were three distinct models of the Beetle over the course of its production. The New Beetle was introduced in 1998 and was so named to partially separate it from the original model.

The New Beetle was produced from 1997 to 2011. It had several throwback style similarities to the earlier design, including the flower vase on the dashboard. Both incarnations were similar in shape, but the New Beetle had the same front-wheel-drive system as the VW Golf.

Germans Don’t Love The Beetle Nearly As Much As Americans Do

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*Daniel Berman / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
*Daniel Berman / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

America’s love affair with the VW Beetle has been going on for decades. While they adore the cute little spunky car not everyone around the world feels the same way, including the Germans. One of the most obvious problems they have with the car is its connection to Hitler.

The car is also a reminder of the sordid history and the hardships they endured before the West German economic turnaround changed their lives for the better. As a result, the Germans don’t harbor the same affection for the Beetle.

The Car Had One of the Most Groundbreaking Ad Campaigns of the 20th Century

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PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images

You have to give the advertising execs who worked with Volkswagen a lot of credit. They put a lot of creative energy into promoting the Beetle over the years, and it worked. In fact, the car was the subject of one of the industry’s most influential ad campaigns of the 20th century.

Volkswagen flipped the script by using irony and self-deprecating humor to promote its brand, and people loved it. In 1959, for example, the ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach came up with the “Think Small” campaign that included a small black and white photo of a Beetle surrounded by white space. It was a huge hit.

Other Countries Have Equally Cute Nicknames for the Beetle

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Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images
Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images

As we mentioned previously, the Beetle was originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1. Then people started comparing its shape to an insect, and the Beetle moniker stuck. But it’s not known exclusively as the English term “Beetle” around the world. The French call it Coccinelle, which means ladybug.

In Italy and Brazil, it’s known as Maggiolino and Fusca, respectively, both of which mean “beetle.” People in Mexico call it Vocho, while Bolivians call it Peta (turtle) and Indonesians call it Kodok (frog). We’re not sure which name is the cutest, but we’re partial to Peta. It does have a turtle-like resemblance too, doesn’t it?

Beetle Production Ceased In 2018

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Hector Vivas/Getty Images
Hector Vivas/Getty Images

VW reintroduced the Beetle (called the New Beetle) in 1998, which was a mix of the traditional and modern to create a slightly new look. In 2011, the automaker made the car even sleeker, eliminating its rounded top for a more sloping roof. The redesign was initially embraced by consumers, but SUVs dominated car sales overall, prompting VW to end production in 2018.

The last Beetle produced at the VW Puebla plant in Mexico was sent to the city’s Volkswagen museum. The last American-made cars were scooped up by Volkswagen of America. Scott Keogh, President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America, said in a press release, “While its time has come, the role it has played in the evolution of our brand will be forever cherished.”