Bye Bye Beetle!

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A Beetle is a simple machine, originally designed to carry 4 adults at 62 mph. It was never meant to be as successful as it turned out to be! Volkswagen announced that it will end the production of this iconic car in 2019, here is tribute to the legendary car! The Lifestyle Journalist team tracks its life, including all the upheavels that this ‘Bug’ went through.

On September 13, 2018, Volkswagen of Germany announced that it will discontinue its ‘Beetle’ line of cars, the first of which had an in 1938. Ironically, the conceptualisation of this much-loved icon was steered by one of the world’s most hated men- Adolf Hitler. He wanted the Beetle to do for personal transport in Germany what the Ford Model T had done in the US
A car that defied the odds

A car that defied the odds

The car was initially known as Kafer; the German word for ‘beetle’ from which the popular English nickname originates. A spine chassis that links the front to the rear axle and a separate body shell that is bolted down on top. In the rear is a flat 4 air-cooled engine, which powers the rear wheels. Its peculiar styling, underpowered motor, rough ride and high noise might have turned it into a failure, but history shows that 80 years down the line Beetle ends its illustrations journey as an icon. 

Difficult start

World War 1 left Germany in economic mess, which was made worse by the Stock market crash in the 1920s. When Hitler rose to power in 1933, he ordered the creation of six thousand kilometers of autobahns; a highway system in Germany that usually doesn’t have a speed limit. He envisioned a small car that could sell cheaply and in large numbers. And for that Hitler chose Ferdinand Porsche. The car was the product of Porsche and the consulting specialists such as Austrian Erwin Komenda and Hungarian Bela Barenyri; who published a design identical to the car in the mid-1920s, and is considered as the true father of the car. All the prototype cars were lost during the bombing raid over Stuttgart in 1945.

Journey to America

In 1945 British Army General Ivan Hirst was ordered to take troops and clean up the war damaged factory so that it could be sold to another British automobile manufacture. The manufacture declined the offer. So finally, Hirst convinced the army to order 20,000 of the Beetles. By the end of 1946, the Wolfsburg factory was producing over 1000 cars a month. On January 17, 1949 German auto dealer Ben Pon arrived to New York via Netherland, along with two beetle cars. He spent the next three weeks travelling up and down the east coast, trying to sell the cars to American car dealers. However, at the end of the three weeks, Pon was forced to sell one of the cars and all of its spare parts for just 800 dollars; to pay his hotel bill and buying the return ticket to Netherland. Around the same time, Heinz Nordhoff, the head of Volkswagen of the time, was working on making the Bettle more appealing to the American public. In early 1949, Nordhoff unveiled the Delux export model, which included glossier piant, more colour options and chrome plated hubcaps, trim, bumpers and handles. In July 1949, Nordhoff journed to America taking along drawings and photographs of the new model. He must have succeeded in his endeavour because by 1955 almost 36,000 Beetles were being sold in America a year.

World fame

DDB advertising agency was the sling that propelled Beetle into instant world fame. In 1959, the Manhattan advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach took on the Beetle’s ad campaign. The men working on the project were Helmut Krone; a celebrated art director, copy writer Julian Koenig and Bernbach.  Koenig born in Germany and raised in New York was one of the few Americans who had actually bought a Volkswagen and had an understanding of it. They devised bold, honest advertising including the ‘Think small.’ The advertising doesn’t pretend to be anything but ‘what it is -an honest car.’ The agency made the car’s weakness its strength. Some of their slogans included, ‘lemon’; the most successful, ‘ugly is only skin deep,’ ‘it makes your house look bigger,’ ‘it is ugly, but it gets you there,’ ‘live below your dream’ etc. Beetle became a mainstay of popular culture through the 1960s and 1970s. In 1968 Disney released the first of six movies featuring Herbie the Love Bug; an anthropomorphic 1963 Beetle with racing style number 53 on the hood.

The new beetle

US sales ceased in 1979 but the car continued to be produced in Mexico and Brazil. In mid 1990s struggle pushed Ferdinand Piech to revive and modernize the distinctive Beetle design pioneered by his grandfather, Ferdinand Porsche. The result was a crescent shaped car called ‘New Beetle’ launched in 1998.The beginning of the end Consumers in the US have increasingly turned to large cars and prefer the Jetta sedan or a Tigun compact sport utility vehicle. The end of Beetle comes at a time when the German automakers’ last few years have been rocked by the fallout form a scandal caused by its admittance to cheating on diesel emission test.
Before the final chapter of this saga, the company said the output would end at its plant in Mexico from July 2019, after production of two celebration models: Final Edition SE and Final Edition SEL that would be available in couple and convertible body types.

Once bitten by beetle bug, you will be smitten forever :Meet the Beetle Owners in your city

Founder-President of Vintage and Classic Car Club Chandigarh, (Retd.) Brig J. S. Phoolka has put the above quote of beetle bug aptly! The Founder Secretary General of this club is a proud beetle owner. Meet Baljit S. Manco, who loves his beetle immensely. “Chandigarh has about 52 beetle cars, I owned four out of them initially but now I have only one. Beetle will still be sold despite suspension of its manufacturing. The car has its own charm. Vintage car lovers, like us, will still buy it. The brainchild of Hitler, it was the people’s car. This popular car was the second most sold car in the world at some point in the history. The manufacturers even used wooden and cardboard seats to bring down the cost. The purpose was to make this car accessible to everyone. The car did have mechanical efficiency but no luxury, which is why it was an affordable car for all.” He added, “We will lose the technology of air-cooled rear engine and rear wheel drive.” (once the manufacturing of this car closes down).

“Government has given special privilege to vintage cars and mentioned that they will be used only as sports cars, in rallies and static shows. They will fall under the heritage category (for the purpose of registration). One may use it on regular bases as well. Unfortunately people have started using them for weddings purposes- which is restricted as per the rules. These cars are exempted from the normal course of taxation,” said Manco.
“The new models are luxury vintage cars but not with a rear engine. The shape too is the same as the old one but it has lost its charm”- the club members explained.

“When I was in USA back in 1967, everyone had this car, even the ladies used to drive around in this car. I brought it for $2000 in those days,” says Atul Kapoor, a member of Vintage and Classic Car Club Chandigarh.

(With inputs from Kajal Chib and Gaurav Goswami)

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