Skip to main content

Happy 70th Birthday (sort of) to the original Volkswagen Beetle

Shortly after Christmas 1945, an icon was born. World War II had at last come to an end, and out of its destructive wake rolled a round, cartoonish-looking compact known as the Volkswagen Beetle. Also called the Volkswagen Type 1 or VW Bug, the Beetle would eventually be sold more than 21 million times, making it the most prolific car in history. If there were a Mount Rushmore for automobiles, it would undoubtedly have a place reserved on it for the little Bug.

The first Beetle officially rolled off the production line 70 years ago this week, but the vehicle’s true foundations were laid much earlier. In 1934, Adolf Hitler contracted automotive engineer and Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche to design an inexpensive, simple car to ride on Germany’s newly-laid Autobahn road network. Dubbed the KdF-Wagen or “People’s Car” by the Führer, the rear-drive two-door was capable of ferrying two adults and three children at 62 mph comfortably, while only using 7 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers — 32 mpg in the States. The People’s Car would be built just 630 times, but the Beetle’s path was set.

Volkswagen Beetle Type 1
Beetle Type 1 in Wolfsburg VW

The U.S. military took control of the KdF-Wagen’s Wolfsburg production facility in April 1945, and subsequently transferred ownership to the British two months later. British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst was tasked with bringing the plant back up to speed, but in an apt representation of the vehicle’s militaristic origins, his first assignment was removing an unexploded bomb from in between several pieces of irreplaceable production equipment. If the bomb had gone off, the Beetle’s story would have likely ended right then and there, yet another casualty of the brutal global conflict.

Hirst’s hands proved steady however, and thus the Beetle was given its chance to shine. The plant was only able to churn out 55 cars by the end of 1945 — a result of improvised management and material shortages — but as Volkswagen describes, “The early vehicles were visible symbols of hope; a new beginning for the car plant under British control.”

“Volkswagen’s British roots remain discernible still today,” the brand says. “It was the British who converted the factory to civilian manufacturing, and who focused on the quality of the vehicles. They paid great attention to service and meeting customers’ needs, and set up a dealer network which was already covering all three western zones of Germany by 1948.”

In October 1949, the Volkswagenwerk GmbH company was returned to German hands, and the Beetle was a key player in the development of post-war democracy and economic stability in the country.

Volkswagen Beetle Type 1
“Herbie” Beetle Type 1 Simon Evans/123RF.com

As the years ticked by, the vehicle became a symbol of flower power and surf culture, starred in Hollywood films, and even became a staple in motorsports. Then, 65 years after its introduction, the Beetle was finally squished. The Mexican-built Última Edición went on sale in June 2003, marking the end of a truly legendary production run.

The quirky Beetle has gone through just two redesigns over its lifetime, and even though you can buy an A5 version from a Volkswagen dealership today, there’s nothing quite like the original. Its bulging eyes have seen dictators come and go, social movements rise and fall, and the global landscape continue to change. And with countless examples still on the road, there’s still much more for the lovable Bug to see. Happy Birthday, Beetle.

Editors' Recommendations

Andrew Hard
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Andrew first started writing in middle school and hasn't put the pen down since. Whether it's technology, music, sports, or…
Rivian R2 vs. Ford Mustang Mach-E: Will the R2 be a better buy?
Side of the Rivian R2

The Rivian R2 has finally been announced, and it could end up being the go-to EV for drivers who want a decently affordable electric car with a rugged look and feel. But when it finally launches to the public, it won't be the only option in its price range -- the Ford Mustang Mach-E could be one of its main competitors.

The Mustang Mach-E may not be quite as rugged-feeling as the Rivian R2, but it does have a lot going for it -- like an increasingly low price, sleek design, and comfortable interior. Is one of these EVs better than the other? We put the two head-to-head to find out.
Design
The first thing to note about the two cars is their design, as they’re pretty different. The Rivian R2 is built to be a little more rugged and outdoorsy, while the Mach-E instead has a sleeker and sportier look to it. Both cars look stylish and modern.

Read more
2025 Mercedes-Benz EQS sedan gets new face, bigger battery
2025 Mercedes-Benz EQS sedan front-quarter view.

The Mercedes-Benz EQS sedan arrived during the 2022 model year as the flagship of Mercedes' EV fleet. But now that it's been on sale for a few years, it's time for this flagship to get a refit so that it can stay competitive with other six-figure electric sedans like the BMW i7, Lucid Air, and Tesla Model S. The updated EQS sedan is scheduled to reach dealerships later this year as a 2025 model.

One of the most controversial features of the EQS has been its unorthodox streamlined shape, which makes the EQS one of the most aerodynamic sedans around, but also means it doesn't look much like a traditional Mercedes. For 2025, the EQS takes a step closer to that traditional look with a new grille featuring chrome bars like on the Mercedes S-Class. It also sports the brand's trademark hood ornament.

Read more
Best electric car charger deals: $100 off home charging stations
The handle of the Grizzl-E EV charger plugged into a vehicle.

A few years ago, electric vehicles were pretty rare or cost a fortune, but with more and more of the larger car brands getting into the game, there are a lot of excellent and even budget-friendly choices nowadays. That said, the electrical network for charging your cars might not be that widespread, so instead you'll have to rely on charging your car at home. Luckily, there are a lot of excellent car chargers at a discount, so if you've just bought an EV or want to upgrade your current charging solution, be sure to check out our favorite deals below.
Shockflo EV charger — $205, was $220

This EV charger by Shockflo is a Level 2 EV charger, which offers six times faster charging than a standard charger. It delivers 24 miles with just one hour of charging, and it can act as a mobile charger you can throw in the trunk or be mounted to a wall. It has an LCD display with useful information like charging rate, voltage, and charging time, as well as LED indicator lights that lets you know charging progress and errors.

Read more