Volkswagen Beetle – The Peoples Car

The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most instantly recognisable cars in the history of automotive manufacturing, and just as interesting as the silhouette of the iconic bug is the story behind its concept. In this article we will take a quick look at the history of the Beetle and delve into its Australian connection throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

The origins of the Volkswagen Beetle date back to the early 1930’s when a Fuhrer by the name of Adolf Hitler proclaimed that the automobile, an at the time luxury afforded to only the very rich, should be available to the masses. Hitler specified that the ideal vehicle must be suitable for carrying 2 adults and 3 children at 100 km/h, while consuming no more than 7 litres of fuel every 100 km. Tasked with creating a vehicle to service the needs of the masses was tasked to Ferdinand Porsche. Porsche set about designing and building three prototypes, branded only ‘Volkswagen’ (“The Peoples Car”), the very round, bug-like appearance of the car ensured it was colloquially referred to as the Beetle.

Throughout WW2, Porsche developed a number of military spec Beetles that served as the first to leave his Wolfburg factory. With it’s now distinctive rear-mounted air cooled engine, the military spec vehicles were near on indestructible and were even designed to float for a short period of time in case of emergency!

By 1945 production was in full swing and the first customer vehicles were spreading throughout the streets of Europe. Armed with a 19kw flat four engine, the early Beetles proved a massive hit with the public and at a price of only 990 Reichsmark, which was similar to the price of a small motorcycle; the Bug was a genuine option for almost all families.

Fast forward 8 years and importation of the Beetle commenced into Australia, with assembly of the Peoples Car commencing in Melbourne by 1954. Throughout the 60’s locally manufactured parts and panels were being utilised in Melbourne built Beetles, with work being undertaken at the now HSV owned Clayton manufacturing plant. As we’ve become all too familiar with in recent times, sales of the Beetle eventually began to decline and in 1976 all Australian Volkswagen manufacturing efforts were ceased and the workshop was sold to Nissan Australia.

It wasn’t until 1998 that the first major re-design of the beetle took place and a look at the current Beetle finds a significantly different car to what was established way back in the 1930’s. The engine has been moved to the more traditional front mounted layout while power figures have increased with range topping models featuring in the area of 150kw. The unmistakable shape is still present and although not everybody’s cup of tea serves as one of very few modern cars that pay homage to their historical ancestors.

Do you own an early model Volkswagen Beetle? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know about it in the comments section below.