BIRTH OF THE BEETLE
This was an opportunity for Porsche to resurrect his earlier, bypassed small car design. His revised design was named the V1, and there was a convertible version was named V2. The names are uncomfortably similar to the later German rockets. By 1935, the prototypes had been completed and were being driven. The cars had a four cylinder, air-cooled, rear- mounted engine which produced 22.5 horsepower. Remarkably, they were nearly the same engines used in the Volkswagen Beetles several decades later.
The National Socialist government sold “stamps” to the public that they could use to purchase the automobile when it became available. It was promoted as a car savings program. If a family had accumulated 200 stamps, they could redeem them for a car. Huge amounts of cash were finding their way into the NAZI coffers. World War II broke out and the factory was converted to military vehicle production without ever completing a single KdF Wagen. Years later, people who had collected the stamps sued Volkswagen to get compensation.
During the war, Porsche’s plant was busy building vehicles for the German army. Their 50,000 “Kubelwagens” served the same function as the Allies’ Jeep; and the 16,000 “Schwimmwagens” were the amphibious version, which had a retractable propeller in the rear and was steered with its front tires. Because petroleum was in short supply,
Ferdinand Porsche experimented with alternatively fueled engines including a
wood/gas hybrid combination and compressed CO2. Sadly, it is estimated by
historians that about 15,000 slave laborers were used in producing these
military vehicles. This was 80% of the factory’s wartime workforce.
In 1946, 10,000 cars were built. It was the British who named the company Volkswagen, and renamed the workers’ town Wolfsburg (today a center for automobile design and testing). But the British government was not interested in running the operation themselves. They tried to get Ford Motors to take it over but they refused. French and British companies were likewise not interested. Finally in 1949, the British government turned control of Volkswagen over to the German government.
Today, the VW Group owns Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, and 50% of Porsche. Once upon a time the company could have been had for a song.