Sitting at a restaurant table in Munich in the summer of 1932, Hitler designed the prototype for what would become the immensely successful Beetle design for Volkswagen (literally, the "car of the people").
In an era where only the most economic elite possessed cars, Hitler believed that all people should be able to own a car and additionally thought that a smart design could allow for reliability, enjoyment, and vacation travel. The name given to the car in 1938 was Kraft durch Freude (KdF-Wagen, literally "strength through joy car").
Hitler gave his design to the head of Daimler-Benz, Jakob Werlin, and stressed its importance. "Take it with you and speak with people who understand more about it than I do. But don’t forget it. I want to hear from you soon, about the technical details."
Adolf Hitler speaking at the opening of the KdF factory. Ferdinand Porche can be seen in the background
Advertisement from c. 1939 says "Five marks a week you must put aside – If in your own car you want to ride!")
The KdF wagen , later renamed Volkswagen, lovingly called The Beetle by it’s countless fans, is perhaps the best-selling car of all-time. Truly, a recognizable shape that has stood the test of time.
Adolf Hitler was searching for a people’s car that was capable of transporting three children and two adults at speeds of sixty miles-per-hour. The car was to be inexpensive, costing the same as a motorcycle. Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned to produce such a vehicle.
There are many theories as to where the designs originated from. Some believe Hitler designed the vehicle. Some theorize that it was Joseph Ganz’s 1920 design that was the true inspiration for the Beetle design. Porsche had created designs for the Mercedes-Benz 170H, which played into the design of the Beetle.
Inspiration for the Beetle had been drawn from the Tatra vehicles, mainly the T97, that had been designed by Hans Ledwinka. Due to the similarities, Tatra launched a lawsuit which never really materialized due to Germany invading Czechoslovakia. The lawsuit was later re-opened after World War II and Volkswagen was forced to pay Tatra 3,000,000 Deutsche Marks. This left Volkswagen with little money for development of new Beetle models.
The Volkswagen Beetle first came on the scene in 1947, but they were known by a different name. KdF, short for Kraft durch Freude meaning ‘power by joy’, was designated to these small, gas-friendly vehicles. In English, the name Beetle was used. In German, they were known as Kafer, and in French they were called Coccinelle.
These little bundles of joy featured mechanical drum brakes and a gearbox void of synchromesh.
In 1949 the Volkswagen logo was placed on the rims. The engine was expanded to 1131 cc and was capable of producing 25 horsepower. The models that were produced after October of 1949 could be started without a ‘starting crank’.
Two convertible options were offered by Volkswagen in 1949. The two-seater design, designated 14A, was penned by Josef Hebmuller. The four-seater Type 15 version was designed and produced by Karmann of Osnabruck. The four-seater was vastly more popular and stayed in production for 30 years.