4 cars, 4 seasons: the Beetle, from the Reich to Woodstock

The most tested car in history and also one of the toughest. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, who was recovered by the Nazis, the first Volkswagen became a symbol of peace and love.

Sold almost everywhere, it is one of the most famous cars in the world. But what we nicknamed “Ladybug” may have been forgotten, because it is close to its production site in Wolfsburgin Lower Saxony, was completely destroyed by Allied bombing…

It was at the end of the 1920s the idea of ​​a “people’s car”, accessible to as many people as possible, came to the mind of the brilliant Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche. But it was taken 17 years of development, between 1928 and 1945, before it was seen for sale. A record.

“Adolf Hitler did not start the project, but he took it over.”

Philip Casse

automotive historian

Porsche built the first three prototypes of the future “Cox” in its design office in Stuttgart, before making a choice a small 4-cylinder boxer, air-cooled, positioned flat on the rear. The same principle can be seen in the future Porsche 356, the ancestor of the famous 911. About thirty copies were then built as a subcontractor to Mercedes who, ironically, initially refused the project.

Hitler recovered

In total, these prototypes will travel about 2.7 million kilometers“while, at that time, the best models made between 20 and 25,000 km of tests before being put on the market”, refers to Philippe Casse. For the automotive historian, who worked for many years at D’Ieteren, “So it was not Adolf Hitler who launched the project, but he took it over”.

The National Socialist dictator took over Ferdinand Porsche’s project by asking German banks to finance the factory that would produce it, starting in 1937. The name “Volkswagen” – “a rare find”, exclaims Philip Kantor, car director of the British auction house Bonhams –, was first used by Porsche. Hitler, meanwhile, was enthusiastic about the “KdF Wagen” – “Kraft durch Freude” (Strength through Joy) was a recreational organization controlled by the Nazi regime.

A Cox recited the first car-free Sunday, in Brussels, on November 18, 1973.

Armed Ladybug

1eh September 1939, Germany started World War II by attacking Poland. And the Beetle didn’t escape the war effort, by disembarking in all-terrain vehicles (Kübelwagen) or amphibious (Schwimmwagen). Produced in 50,000 and 14,000 units respectively, these military vehicles greatly improved the Beetle concept. “From the desert sands with Rommel’s Afrikakorps to the cobblestones of Belgium, this is the most tested car in the world”continued by Philip Kantor.

Hence its success, once the factory was rebuilt by the English officer and engineer Ivan Hurst (1916-2000). By relaunching the Beetle, the major was unwittingly preparing Germany’s industrial revival and its economic miracle.

[La fin de la coccinelle]

Conquest of the West

Coccinelle, Beetle or Käfer: it was a worldwide success, in the Glorious Thirties, and especially in the United States, where it was the first small car to enter the big boats of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Economical in use, “It took half of an American car”, explains Philippe Casse. This is how we saw Cox gradually invade big cities like New York, Washington or Chicago.

If the image of Cox remains in the hippie movement, the capital of its sympathy also comes from the series of films that present it.

In 1969, it became the symbol of Woodstock. And until now, many Beetles and VW Buses roam Bethel Woodsdecorated with stylized flowers, hearts and other symbols of peace.

If Cox’s image remains in the hippie movement, His sympathy capital also comes from the series of films featuring him“The Love Bug” where “Love a Ladybug”a comedy whose first episode, directed by Robert Stevenson on behalf of Disney, was released in 1968. Herbie in English-speaking countries, Choupette in French-speaking countries, VW number 53 wowed people during its lifetime and become an animated character himself.

A Ladybird’s Love (1968) – Cinema Trailer

Back to the beginning

Another popular model: the white Cox, registered LMW28IF, which appears on the cover of the last Beatles album, crossing a pedestrian crossing outside Abbey Road Studios. The Beetle, which happened to be parked there, gave rise to a delirium of interpretations among the group’s fans. and ends up in the garage of an American collector for 23,000 dollars! It can be admired today in the ZeitHaus Museum, near the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg.


million copies

made since 1945.

Produced between 1938 and 2003, mainly in Belgium, at the VW Forest factory created by importer Pierre D’Ieteren, the Volkswagen Type 1 therefore enjoyed great success, selling more than 21.5 million copies. This also explains why, due to the lack of rarity, it has not (yet) become a star in the vintage car market. “However, the earliest versions, with an oval rear window, are prized by collectors”, reviews Philip Kantor, from Bonhams. “Convertibles are the best. A good cabrio is 30, 35,000 euros!”

4 cars, 4 seasons!

1. The Renault 5 and the seventies.

2. The Mini and the Swinging London.

3. The Volkswagen Beetle and the immediate postwar period.

4. The Ford Mustang of the stars and the movie “Bullitt”.

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