The VW Beetle is an icon of the automotive industry. Though originating in Germany, its eye-catching, compact design quickly made it into an international star. The vehicle was perfect for everyday people, as it featured space for plenty of passengers, a low cost, and easy-to-replace parts.
If you love the VW Beetle or just want to know more about it, you’ll want to check out its evolution over the years.
The Volkswagen Beetle’s Evolution Through the Years
The Volkswagen Beetle lived through World War II and survived, thriving throughout the second half of the 20th century. Throughout its evolution, the Beetle retained its core design philosophy but still saw tons of improvements, causing it to remain attractive to drivers for a long time.
The Volkswagen Prototype
In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler commissioned the VW Beetle as a “people’s car.” He wanted a vehicle with enough space to carry three children and two adults and power to travel at 62 miles per hour out on the Autobahn. He also wanted the car to get around 32 miles per gallon and come at an affordable price tag. Finally, Hitler ordered that the car’s parts should be easy and inexpensive to change, with a simpler air-cooled engine a must.
Following Hitler’s commission, Ferdinand Porsche went to work making it a reality. Porsche succeeded with his design, making a simple and cost-effective model perfect for everyday people’s needs.
Since Porsche had previously designed the Porsche Type 12 for Zundapp, he had some experience to build from as he developed a VW Beetle prototype. Borrowing designs from the Type 12, he gave the prototype the round shape integral to the Beetle’s look and incorporated a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine. This air-cooled engine reached 25 horsepower and featured a suspension with torsion bars.
When Did the Volkswagen Beetle Come Out?
The design and engine were appealing enough that Hitler ordered the construction of a Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. This factory put the first year VW Bug into production in 1938, but only a couple hundred Beetles came out. After Germany entered World War II, civilian production stopped, and the VW Beetle’s assembly halted with it. While the car wasn’t widely available due to the production stoppage, some military officers received it. Additionally, Volkswagen supplied Hitler with the very first convertible model.
Despite the vehicle’s association with one of history’s most horrific leaders, it lived long past the regime and allowed people around the world to own a car.
Mass Production of the Volkswagen
After the war and Germany’s defeat, the fate of the VW Beetle was up in the air. As the Allies decided what to do with Germany’s post-war economy, there wasn’t a lot of interest initially in reviving the Beetle. British vehicle manufacturers declined to take over the car’s production, saying it didn’t meet technical requirements and wouldn’t be financially successful.
A British officer, Ivan Hirst, is widely credited with saving the Beetle. He knew the British military needed cars and Germans needed jobs, so he convinced the military to order the production of 20,000 cars. By 1946, the factory was in full swing, building 1,000 VW Beetles a month. These vehicles were called the Volkswagen Type 1.
1947 Volkswagen Type 1 Civilian Production
After producing thousands of vehicles for the British military, Volkswagen shifted to making civilian Beetles in 1947. These vehicles still only reached 25 horsepower but could easily make their top cruising speed of 60 miles per hour. The very first versions of these Beetles featured rear split windows. As these windows were only available for a few years, they’ve become a highly sought after model.
The original civilian Type 1 featured an air-cooled four-cylinder engine with a rear-wheel drive. The body came with two doors, a space for four passengers, a flat front windscreen and plenty of luggage space. The Beetle’s front and rear suspension retained the prototype’s torsion bars and featured a new stabilizer bar, giving every wheel independent suspension.
While Volkswagen would change the Type 1’s design over the years, its unique shape stayed the same. The unchanged appearance wasn’t a result of a lack of imagination. Instead, it was a part of a design strategy from Volkswagen — they refused to create cars planned to become obsolete. They wanted to produce a vehicle that could last for ages, and the iconic design was the perfect representation of that strategy.
Inside the car, the Beetle had a fold-down rear seat, adjustable front seats, optional swing-out rear windows, a metal dash and painted metal surfaces. The car also featured a heating system that ran off the engine’s heat, pivoting vent windows in the front and a simple windshield washer system. The Beetle only came with a four-speed manual transmission at first, but Volkswagen would later offer a few other options.
In 1948, Wilhelm Karmann redesigned the two-door Beetle into a four-seater convertible. To account for the roof’s removal, Volkswagen reinforced the convertible Beetle with a transverse beam, double-wall side cow-panels and welded U-channel rails on the sills. This version of the Beetle was also more luxurious, with twin map pockets, rear stone shields, dual rear ashtrays and a passenger visor vanity mirror.
Arrival in America
In 1949, the first Volkswagen Beetle arrived in the United States as the company opened the Beetle’s distribution to foreign markets. This model arrived in the states with chrome door handles, headlamps and hubcaps. It also had a removable radio blanking plate and a brand-new steering wheel. Compared to other American cars of the time, it was significantly different. The lack of a radiator, small design and engine placement where a trunk would normally be separated it from the crowd.
With its expansion into foreign markets, the Type 1 Beetle became one of the best-selling cars in the world. By 1955, Volkswagen had produced a million cars, cementing it as a major player in the auto industry. To commemorate the milestone, the one-millionth automobile produced by Volkswagen was a gold-painted Beetle featuring rhinestone-encrusted bumpers. Fans can still see this Beetle, as it’s kept at the AutoStadt Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.
In 1959, Volkswagen wanted to reach a wider audience and appeal to a generation of Americans looking for a smaller car. To accomplish this goal, the company hired Doyle Dane Bernbach, a New York advertising agency. At the agency, copywriters Helmut Krone and Julian Koenig came up with the “Think Small” campaign. One of their first ads had a small Beetle placed alone in a swath of white space, with text underneath reading “Think small.” Other similar ads would follow, all carrying the same central message.
The campaign was a massive success, becoming one of the most recognizable and celebrated ad strategies in the world. Think Small would later be hailed as the 20th century’s greatest ad campaign. Since these ads focused on the car’s small size compared to other vehicles available, they appealed to consumers seeking an attractive alternative to the larger automobiles of the time.
While the Type 1 Beetle didn’t go through multiple generations like other vehicles, it still received several changes throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Beginning in 1950, Volkswagen added a fabric sunroof and hydraulic brakes to the Beetle. Throughout 1952 and 1953, Volkswagen phased out the split oval rear window, replacing it with a single oval window.
In 1954, Volkswagen increased the engine’s displacement by including a new cylinder bore. This enhanced engine displacement and a redesigned crankshaft gave the Beetle 36 horsepower. Volkswagen also upgraded the car’s revving abilities and continued raising the compression ratios to account for the change in fuel’s octane ratings.
Other smaller changes came throughout the 1950s. One major addition was new twin chrome tailpipes that became distinctive to buyers. Additionally, flashing directional indicator lamps replaced VW’s traditional semaphore turn signals in North America. By the end of the 1950s, Volkswagen dropped the oval rear window in favor of a rectangular one.
The 1960s kicked off with a couple changes — a hydraulic steering damper and a front anti-roll bar. In 1961, Volkswagen gave the Beetle a new transmission and engine. This new engine featured 40 horsepower and an increased compression ratio.
Other engine upgrades continued through this era, with Volkswagen offering one with 50 horsepower in 1966. As the 1960s progressed, buyers could purchase a three- and four-speed semi-automatic transmission. Customers enjoyed these new transmissions, as it gave them an alternative to the four-speed manual version solely offered before then.
Other notable changes included Volkswagen’s body stamping revision in 1965. These modifications allowed for larger windows and gave the Beetle a more modern, open appearance. The year 1968 saw some of the most substantial changes, with new safety improvements, a ventilation system, a shorter shift lever and higher-mounted C-section bumpers.
Released in 1971, the Super Beetle was one of the most notable offerings from the 1970s. This premium model came with more trunk space and a front suspension system. The year 1972 was the pinnacle of Beetle sales, with the vehicle beating the Ford Model T for the world’s bestselling car. The 1302S model of 1972 came with larger rear lights, a revised VW badge and a curved windscreen. The interior also featured better ventilation, new seat designs and a padded dashboard.
Though the 1972 Beetle was a best-seller, the Wolfsburg factory stopped making the models in 1974, with production shifting to other factories. The Beetle began fading in popularity by the end of 1976, with Volkswagen declining to sell the sedan version of it in the United States for quite some time. Convertible Beetles were still offered in 1977, however. These convertibles featured a four-speed manual transmission, a four-cylinder engine, accented dash and an upgraded sound system.
The car’s declining popularity led Volkswagen to end Beetle production in all their German factories in 1978. Though German manufacturing ended, Volkswagen sent production to Brazil and Mexico, where it continued throughout the 1980s.
The 1998 Beetle Revival
After more than a decade’s long hiatus from the American market, a revitalized Type 1 Beetle hit the scene. Volkswagen dubbed this updated vehicle the “New Beetle.” The company gave the New Beetle a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which was a major upgrade to past ones. Additionally, the car came with a front-wheel drive and front engine.
This new version of the Beetle was mounted on a compact Golf hatchback platform, giving it a larger body than the older models. It still featured retro-themed styling to help drivers quickly identify it as a Beetle. Though the revitalized Beetle was initially a hit, Volkswagen decided to end the Type 1 Beetle’s production in 2003.
Later Models of the Beetle
After the Type 1 Beetle’s production ended, Volkswagen waited until 2011 to release a second-generation model of it, dubbing it the A5. This new generation of the Beetle came with a 170-horsepower five-cylinder engine. It also offered automatic and manual transmission options. By 2018, Volkswagen upgraded to a 2.0-liter turbo engine featuring 174 horsepower. Concerning design, the Beetle’s body was wider and longer than previous models, with various technological upgrades inside.
Compared to the first generation’s run, the A5 was short-lived, closing out production in 2019. While there are no current plans to revive the Beetle, it’s still possible the car could return for a third generation.
5 VW Beetle Trivia Facts
The VW Beetle is one of the most famous cars in all of automotive history, with plenty of interesting facts and pieces of trivia about it. The five VW Beetle trivia facts below give more information on this well-known automobile:
- Who came up with the original Beetle design? While Porsche is credited with developing the Beetle prototype, he didn’t develop the building blocks for the design. Bela Barenyi, an 18-year-old Hungarian student, created what would become the Beetle’s chassis design in 1925.
- Where’d it get its nickname? Though the Beetle was officially called the Type 1, its nickname is far more recognizable. In 1938, the New York Times referred to the car as a Beetle, and with that, history was made.
- Where was the last Beetle ever made? The final Type 1 Beetle was produced in Puebla, Mexico, in 2003. Once the factory finished production, Volkswagen whisked the car away to their company’s museum, where it’s still displayed today.
- How long was the Type 1 Beetle produced? The original Type 1 Beetle was produced from 1938 to 2003. This incredible 65-year run holds the record for the longest vehicle ever manufactured on a single platform.
- What films have Beetles appeared in? The VW Beetle has appeared in several films, with “Herbie,” “Quantum of Solace” and “The Shining” included in this list. It’s probably most famous for its role in the “Herbie” franchise, as it plays an anthropomorphic 1963 Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own.
Choose VW Beetle Restoration Parts From Raybuck
At Raybuck Auto Body Parts, we know how important VW Beetles are to the many automotive enthusiasts worldwide. To help our customers keep their Beetles running smoothly and looking their best, we provide them with plenty of repair and restoration parts. We offer tons of interior components and body and chassis parts, such as doors, floors, fenders, rocker panels and bumpers
You can easily find the right parts by filtering our results by time period. Our 1947 to 1967 and 1968 to 1979 Volkswagen parts are some of the most popular. You can even select parts for 1971-1979 Super Beetles on our site.