Tuesday, January 25, 2005

History

The Volkswagen car company can find its roots in 1930's Germany. It was the idea of rising National Socialist, Adolph Hitler. Hitler wanted a car that Germans could afford, not an easy task, especially with Europe in a depression. Inspired by a biography of Henry Ford, which he read while in prison, Hitler was convinced it was possible. He appointed Ferdinand Porsche, famed automotive and motorcycle designer, to design and produce this automobile.



Ferdinand Porsche at initially found Hitlers requirements for the car impossible: top speed of 100Kmph, 7 liters per 100km fuel consumption, capacity for 2 adults and 3 children, an air-cooled engine, and cost less than 1000 Reichmarks. However, Porsche accepted, seeing it as a challenge. Porsche begain designing the vehicle, basing most of its design off earlier work: tweight torsion-bar suspension, an air-cooled 4 cylinder "boxer" engine, and streamlined bodies.



Hitler was however, unimpressed with the early designs. Hitler sugessted: "[It] should look like a beetle, you've only got to look to nature to find out what streamlining is."



Porsche and his team altered the design, relocating the headlights to the fenders, making minor body alterations, reverting to forged crank shafts, and switching to mechanical fuel pumps. At this piont the VW was near its final design, but many beleived it would cost much more than the projected 990 Reichmarks. In 1937 the Volkswagen became state-funded, recieving 500,000 Reichmarks, and 30 VW's were to be produced by Mercedes-Benz. These cars were tested by the Manufacturers Association, and the SS. The design was simplified and a rear window was added, the farmiliar beetle, designated KDF-wagen, was ready for production.



In 1938, ground was broken for a new factory to produce the Volkswagens. hitler placed the factory on the banks of the Mitteland Canal in north Germany, close to water for ease of transporting materials. Porsche had gone to The USA to learn assembly techniques and bring back german engineers from Ford.



Germans could make payments on a KDF-wagen, but they would only receive their car on the completion of payments, opposite of modern financing. 336,668 KDF-wagens had payments started on them, but production did not begin until 1940, and due to wartime constraints only 640 KDF-Wagens were produced. Those that were produced went to high-ranking Nazi officials, and not the average German.



Volkswagen shifted to military applications, producing cars like the Kübelwagen and the amphibious Schwimmwagen. Both of these were based on the robust KDF chassis. The factory also produced everything from wings for bombers, to stoves to keep soldiers warm.




As the war dragged on, wages for workers fell. Following ideals of the Third Reich, slave labor was used, including Jews, Slavs, and POW's. By the end of the war, 90% of VW's workforce was non-German. VW's survival during the war can be partially atributed to the use of slave labor.



When the end of the war came, VW fell under the control of the British. Major Ivan Hirst was given control in 1945, and restarted production, for use by the occupying forces.



In 1948, Heinz Nordhoff became General Director of VW, and begain work on new convertible versions of the beetle. Karmann produced a four seater, while Hebmüller produced a two seater.
due to a fire, Hebmüller went out of business in 1953.



In 1971, the "Super Beetle" was introduced, with redesigned suspension, and engine. Then in 1972 the Beetle surpassed the Model T as the most popular vehicle ever made. Production continued at the Wolfsberg factory until 1978. Beetle production continued in Peubla, Mexico with the 20,000,000th Beetle produced in 1981. Beetles were still imported into Europe as late as 1985, due to their popularity.



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