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The legendary “people’s car”, which is what ‘Volkswagen’ stands for in German, was born in 1937 in Germany and has its headquarters at the German city of Wolfsburg, in the Lower Saxony State. This is one of the top selling car brands in the world today.
The very first model created for Volkswagen was the worldwide known BeetleVolkswagen BeetleGermany, 1938 > 2003. It was supposed to be a “car for the German people”, designed by Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) back in 1934. He then created the Beetle – a car that has a rear-mounted air-cooled engine and rear wheels drive. It was also one of the first cars to be designed with the help of a wind tunnel and that would be a success.
Coincidently, by that time Adolf Hitler’s desire was that almost anybody could afford a car. Hitler himself showed a devoted interest in cars and demanded car designer Porsche to make the Beetle – VW’s only car by that time – include a better fuel efficiency and be economical and practical for the working German men.
In 1938, the first Volkswagen factory was built in Wolfsburg. In that same year, a Type 1 Cabriolet was offered to Hitler for his fiftieth birthday. Volkswagen was still producing a short number of cars by the time World War II started, in 1939. The War meant the car production would be reconverted to military vehicles production: the Type 81 Kübelwagen (utility vehicle) was the most common wartime VW model.
The Volkswagen company remained active after the War thanks to British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst (1916-2000), who controlled the factory after it had been captured by the Americans in 1945 and given to the British to manage.
It was first supposed to be used as a place for military vehicles maintenance, rather than a commercial enterprise to sell cars. Then, lacking in some light transportation, the British Army ordered Hirst to start producing cars in it, initially mainly to the occupying forces personnel in Germany.
By the year 1946 the factory was already producing 1000 cars a month. It was then that the factory took “Volkswagen” as its name and production rates started increasing. By that time, almost everyone in the motor industry thought the factory would not subsist for much longer and claimed that the car they produced was “too ugly and too noisy”. Those critics included FordFordUnited States of America, 1903 > present representatives, which also claimed that Wolfsburg was way too near the border with East Germany.
In 1948, the Beetle production was renewed and Volkswagen became a symbol of West Germany regeneration. Besides, the company was now a trust controlled by the West Germany government.
A year later, Volkswagen started exhibiting and selling in the United States. The Beetle’s introduction on the American market in the 1950’s included a lot of publicity and went from the public’s general hesitation to a great acceptance and sales rise.
From 1950 beyond, Volkswagen finally started producing new models, starting with the TransporterVolkswagen TransporterGermany, 1950 > present (meant to carry goods). Until the late 60’s, the company committed to the one-version policy, which included almost all of the models, aside from the Type 2Volkswagen Transporter Gen.2 [T2]Germany, 1967 > 1979 and the Karmann GhiaVolkswagen Karmann-GhiaGermany, 1955 > 1975 (which existed in a few versions).
Type 1 Beetle sales reach 1 million units by 1954. Officially, its name was actually just Type 1, although it was generally called the Beetle (with several translations to many different countries). Wolfsburg’s VW factory would only adopt that name in 1998 when the GolfVolkswagen GolfGermany, 1974 > present-based New BeetleVolkswagen Beetle (modern)Germany, 1997 > present came out. In April 1955, Volkswagen of America was created to regulate sales and service in the States.
Later, in 1964, Volkswagen buys AudiAudiGermany, 1909 > present, largely experienced in front wheels drive and water-cooled engines and which would become a savior of the VW Group. The company’s product line expanded in 1967 with the introduction of several Type 3Volkswagen Type 3 Gen.1Germany, 1961 > 1973 models (basically body design variations) and then in 1969 with the equally unpopular Type 4Volkswagen Type 4Germany, 1968 > 1974 models (the 411 and 412). The Type 4, though, was a lot more sophisticated than all the others, due to its modern mechanic inputs.
However, VW’s Type 3 and 4 were both flops, which put Volkswagen in a delicate situation by the end of the 60’s decade, mainly because its production and sales were based almost only on the Beetle and this car would have to be replaced anytime soon. The solution to the problem was on Audi’s mentioned experience with front wheels drive and water-cooled engines, which Volkswagen could and actually needed to use to create a reliable successor for the Beetle. And then there was renewed hope for VW with launching of models PoloVolkswagen PoloGermany, 1975 > present, Golf (1974) and PassatVolkswagen PassatGermany, 1973 > present (1973), all using Audi’s technological influences. The first generation of Passat was actually like it would be a new Audi 80Audi 80Germany, 1966 > 1995 generation.
In 1971, Volkswagen adds Type 113 (the “Super Beetle”) to its collection, which was different because it had a McPherson strut front suspension, adding some worthy trunk space to it and widening the front end. By the next year, VW Beetle beats Ford’s Model TFord Model TUnited States of America, 1908 > 1920 production records, up to over 16 million units. The outdated Beetle was still increasing its production thanks to the American exportations, advertising and its reputation for being reliable.
The VW Golf actually became the VW’s model that’s responsible for a great part of its success and the top selling model in Europe. It replaced Beetle’s production at Wolfsburg and was first placed in the U.S. and Canada markets as the VW RabbitVolkswagen Rabbit (modern)United States of America, 2006 > 2009, then afterwards as Golf, in the 1980’s. Both visually and mechanically, the Golf was nothing like the Beetle, especially due to its water-cooled engine in the front, front wheels drive and the typical hatchback that has been so popular ever since. The mainstream production of the Beetle, which obviously decreased a lot, moved to Brazil and Mexico.
Since then, the Golf became the mechanic and technological base for several other models of the Volkswagen Group, including the brands other than Volkswagen, as well as the main source of Volkswagen’s production and selling. This means its chassis has been used to generate other models too.
It wasn’t until 1976 that the first VW diesel engine was made. Then, in 1985, Volkswagen launched the powerful Polo G40Volkswagen Polo Coupé GT...Germany, 1985 > present, a 129hp coupé with top speed at 218km/h (135 mi/h).
The company buys SeatSeatSpain, 1950 > present in 1990 and then SkodaSkodaCzech Rep., 1895 > present in 1991. In the 90’s, Audi rises up to BMWBMWGermany, 1918 > present and Mercedes-BenzMercedes-BenzGermany, 1924 > present levels, so Volkswagen takes Audi’s position in the market and Seat and Skoda are now free to take VW’s former place. In 1994, Volkswagen launches LupoVolkswagen LupoGermany, 1998 > 2005 – a car that is capable of running 1000 km (620 mi) with a 34 liters deposit.
Then, in 1997, J. Mays secretly designs the Concept One, a “retro”-themed car that looked a lot like the old Beetle. Although the Volkswagen management opposed to its launch, they couldn’t ignore the public positive reaction and the new version of the Beetle (New Beetle) is launched, based on Golf’s technology and chassis. However, it has been more popular in the U.S.A. than in Europe.
In 1998, VW buys luxurious brand BentleyBentleyUnited Kingdom, 1919 > present and sportive brands LamborghiniLamborghiniItaly, 1963 > present and BugattiBugattiFrance, 1909 > present, expanding the Volkswagen Group.
The new W8 and PhaetonVolkswagen PhaetonGermany, 2002 > present are launched in 2001: W8 is the first 8 cylinder VW and Phaeton is the first deluxe VW. SUV TouaregVolkswagen TouaregGermany, 2002 > present is launched the following year, sharing the same chassis with Porsche CayennePorsche CayenneGermany, 2002 > present.
After rumors of VW buying PorschePorscheGermany, 1931 > present, it is Porsche that purchases 18.65% of VW in 2005, which rises up to 30% in 2007, becoming VW’s biggest shareholder and overcoming the government of the German state of Lower Saxony.
Since around 2002, VW sales in the U.S. started decreasing dramatically, leading to a loss of nearly 1 billion US dollars by 2005, reportedly because of the Group’s cars reliability which ranked really low on several studies. Still, Volkswagen is currently betting on innovative advertising campaigns as well as on its lineup in the States and is determined to remain competitive amongst Americans and Canadians.
Volkswagen’s logo is as simple as it can get: a V over a W, surrounded by a circle and on a blue background. Still, this is one of the most famous symbols in the world.
The history of the Volkswagen logotype is actually built around some controversy. In fact, the official story tells us that this logo reportedly came out as a result of a competition amongst the VW office personnel, in which the winner would win 50 Marks. That person would be Franz Xaver Reimspiess, the engineer who also improved the Beetle’s engine in the 1930’s. The logo was then registered, in 1938.
Nevertheless, Swedish Nikolai Borg claims his legal copyright to the logo, saying that he allegedly had been ordered to start designing the VW emblem in 1939. Borg has tried to perform a legal action against VW so he would win back the copyright, but that action remained unsuccessful. Therefore, Volkswagen history still tells us that it was Reimspiess the author of the logo.
Ever since, the logo has suffered a few minor changes over the time: black over white, then later blue over white and white over black or blue. It has been adapted to the brand’s own needs and technologies. In the end, blue was the color chosen and now associated to Volkswagen’s identity: friendly, essential and innovative.Nowadays and since 2000, it has a more three-dimensional appearance, gathering the brand’s high standards with its familiarity.
Clearly, the Beetle is the most emblematic Volkswagen of all times, besides having been the first VW model ever and the only one for a few years. Officially called Type 1 and also known as the “Bug”, the Beetle was first manufactured in 1938 and was Volkswagen’s main – and almost sole – source of production and sales for many years, until the Golf came out. It stopped being made and has been replaced in 1998 by the New Beetle.
The Type 87 KommandeurswagenVolkswagen Command VehicleGermany, 1946 > 1946 was sort of a 4x4 Beetle, with big tires for the sand, like an off-road car. There have only been made five copies of the Type 87, three during the World War II, which reportedly were sent to the north of Africa, and other two in 1946 for the French and the English armies to evaluate them. There is only one remaining nowadays, which was the one sent to the English army.
The VW 1500Volkswagen 1500 NotchbackGermany, 1961 > present (from 1961 to 1965) and the VW 1600Volkswagen 1600 TL FastbackGermany, 1970 > present (from 1967 to 1973) were larger engine versions of the Beetle. They still had the typical rear-mounted air-cooled engine, only stronger and flat. These were the Type 3 line models.
Produced only between 1968 and 1974 were Type 4 models 411Volkswagen 411 LEGermany, 1970 > present
and 412, rear-mounted air-cooled engine cars with more powerful specifications. These were the first four-door Volkswagen models (although there were the two-door versions too) and were bigger than the previous models. Still, the Type 4 was quickly replaced by the Passat, which would end the air-cooled engines era for VW.
From 1970 to 1975, Volkswagen produced the first front-mounted water-cooled engine model, which was the sedan K70Volkswagen K70Germany, 1970 > 1974. The number “70” identifies the engine power output, 70hp, while the “K” stands for “kolben”, German for piston (piston engine). This wasn’t a very popular car though, as only 200.000 copies were sold.
The Volkswagen SP2Volkswagen SP2Brazil, 1972 > present was an intern market sports car, especially made in and for Brazil. Supposedly, “SP” stands for São Paulo (Brazilian city), but some think it might represent “Sport Prototype” or “Special Project”. It was only manufactured from 1972 to 1976, because the Brazilian market was closed to importations by that time.
The VW BrasiliaVolkswagen BrasiliaBrazil, 1982 > present was another Brazilian market specific car, made between 1973 and 1982, by Brazil’s Volkswagen. “Brasilia” is the name of Brazil’s capital, which had been founded 13 years before and which this VW model intended to honor.
The Dasher was actually none other than the United States market name used for the Passat, having been launched in 1974. It was the first Volkswagen ever to have front wheel drive and was sold under this name until 1981.
Manufactured for just about 4 years (1977-1981), the VW DerbyVolkswagen DerbyGermany, 1977 > 1981 was basically the two-door sedan version of the Polo. By 1984, the name Derby was replaced by Polo Classic.
The hatchback coupé CorradoVolkswagen CorradoGermany, 1988 > 1996 was launched in 1988, mainly as a successor to the SciroccoVolkswagen SciroccoGermany, 1974 > 1992. This three-door car stopped being made in 1995.
The two-door sedan Apollo was yet another model made and sold in Brazil, between 1990 and 1992. It was first supposed to be an accessible and popular automobile, but it turned out to be more of a deluxe one. The Apollo was quickly replaced though, by the VW Logus, in 1992/93.
The Ford EscortFord Escort (UK)United Kingdom, 1955 > 2000 mechanics based VW Logus was launched in the Brazilian market in 1993. This mid-sized sedan came to replace the commercial failure that was the Apollo. However, it was cut off by 1997, leaving an empty space on the mid-size sedan line, which the Classic Polo would fill.
The Pointer, produced only from 1994 to 1997, was a five-door hatchback, more like a small family car, specifically made for the South American countries. It had also a GTI version.
Volkswagen racing started out in 1966, by the time Formula Vee took off in Europe. Formula Vee was a popular low-cost racing route where the competitor cars were made out of accessible VW Beetle parts.
Only five years later, Volkswagen entered the Formula Super V, which was more demanding and famous for introducing a bunch of new talents into the rallying world in the course of its 11 years of existence. VW scored some victories, as well as the Formula 3 championship.
In 1976, it was time for the Trans-Am Series (Trans-American Sedan Championship) to welcome the VW Scirocco into its under 2000cc class races.
Volkswagen signs up for the Paris to Dakar Rally in 1980 with a car that was developed by Audi – the IltisVolkswagen IltisGermany, 1982 > present. There, it won first, second, fourth and ninth places.
It wasn’t until 1981 that Volkswagen racing changed its name to Volkswagen Motorsport and was placed in Hannover. At this point, VW started developing specific rally cars, starting with the first Golf GTIVolkswagen Golf GTiGermany, 1976 > 1983.
By the time Volkswagen completed 20 years in the racing world (1986), it would also win first place in the Group A World Rally championship.
The Golf GTI also brought “home” the British Rally championship first prize in both 1997 and 1999.
Volkswagen started a one-make racing cup in 1998 with the ADAC Lupo Cup, which was replaced in 2000 by the ADAC New Beetle Cup. 3 year later, this would be replaced too by the ADAC Polo Cup.
In the year 2000, it was also launched the Volkswagen Racing Cup, where evidently only Volkswagen racing models can participate. It takes place in the United Kingdom, on the British Formula 3, and it’s still running nowadays.
The Touareg made the second VW participation in the Paris to Dakar Rally in 2003, finishing in first place. Volkswagen then developed the Race Touareg T2Volkswagen Race Touareg T2Germany, 2004 > present, which would suffer some significant improvements from then (2004) till nowadays. It would conquer 6th place on the Paris to Dakar 2004, 3rd place in 2005 and 2nd place in 2006. Besides, it made it to first place on the Diesel class, in 2005 and 2006.
The VW commercial vehicles, too, joined the European Truck races in 2004, winning 2004 and 2005’s Back to Back championship series.
Currently, Volkswagen participates with some substantial regularity in several cross-country rallies, having achieved some reasonably good results. The Race Toureg has indeed won first place in 7 of these rallies, between 2005 and 2007, amongst the 24 times it has been on a podium position. This car has proved enough its great resistance throughout any kind of ground, the deserts and extremely opposite range temperatures. It now heads for the 2008 Dakar Rally.
It’s the Golf and the Race Touareg 2 that are currently competing on the circuits. It has now been over 40 years of Volkswagen efforts to stand out on motorsport.
In addition, the Volkswagen Group Motorsport includes brands from the VW Group other than Volkswagen itself. Also as regular rally contestants are Audi, Seat, Škoda and Lamborghini.
Volkswagen’s famously known two-piece parted back window was applied until 1953. It then turned into an oval one-piece window – but still small. Finally, in 1958, Volkswagen enlarged their back windows, making it possible to have a much better rear visibility.
Until 1960, Volkswagen engines didn’t overcome the mere 36hp. They only made it to the 40hp engine the following year.
An air-cooled Volkswagen’s engine block (made out of aluminum and magnesium) is so light that, without the crankshaft and other heavy pieces, it doesn’t weigh much more than a cardboard box. They could actually be seen in homebuilt aircraft.
Closing a door of a VW Beetle without opening a window first could actually hurt your ears! That was because of its excessively rigid structure.
Volkswagen vehicles were so economic that back in the 60’s you could actually run about a mile (1.6 km) for an American cent!
The first Beetles’ engines didn’t have a radiator, as they were air-cooled.
Adolf Otto Eichmann, mostly known as the “executor chief” of the Nazi Germany as he was the main responsible for the Holocaust that killed millions, has actually worked in an Argentinean Volkswagen factory.
The only countries that still manufacture Volkswagen vehicles are Brazil and Mexico.
The Golf GTI was actually the world’s first compact sports car.
Volkswagen is one of the world’s largest car manufacturers producing over 5 million cars per year