The history of Volkswagen initially began with Ferdinand Porsche. His vision was to build a car that everybody could afford.
Porsche was an engineering and mechanical genius who was capable of sorting out technical problems and always providing a solution. Due to his skill, he was later employed by a large number of car companies like Lohner, Austro-Daimler, Mercedes, Daimler-Benz and Steyr. In 1930 he opened up his own business designing motorcars.
In 1931, he organised his staff of engineers to start designing a car with a water cooled three cylinder engine. The car was to have independent suspension and the capacity to carry four adults comfortably at 100 km/h. One important requirement was that the car needed to be affordable to the masses. The project was joined by NSU, a motor cycle manufacturer wanting to make it into the car manufacturing business. Beneficial changes were made with NSU’s help. The water cooled three cylinder engine gave a number of problems and was ditched. A completely new air cooled four cylinder engine was designed and built. This brand new engine was to be the forerunner of the flat four engines we know today.
In 1933 at the Berlin Motor Show, the newly selected chancellor of Germany announced his plans to produce a small car for the German people. When Porsche heard that the chancellor shared his dream he quickly arranged a meeting with him. The chancellor was keen to gel a contract, but had some conditions attached. In the chancellor’s view, the car needed to be able to carry two adults and three children, it had to cruise at 100 km/h, the fuel consumption was to be no more than 8 litres/100 km, the engine had to be air cooled, the car needed also to carry three soldiers and equipment, and the price was to be no more than 1.000 RM. Porsche accepted a contract, which was signed in 1934 stating the delivery of three prototypes inside 10 months. Three prototypes were eventually delivered in October, 1936 and were called “W1” prototypes. The next series of 30 cars built during 1937 were called the VW 30. Between 1935 and 1937, a total of 50 prototypes were built. The decision was made to go ahead with the flat four air-cooled engine designed by Franz Reimspeiss. This engine remained more or less the same for many decades to follow. The prototypes were submitted to a rough test programme in order to expose weaknesses. For example, they had to withstand days of running at full throttle on the newly built autobahns. The tests were so severe and long that elite members of the German army had to be recruited as test drivers. In fact, the testing lasted for approximately 1600 million kilometres.
The final VW design was decided on with the aid of the chancellor himself, and looked very similar to the classic Beetle we know today. A purpose built facility was built in a new town, KDF Stadt. It was opened in May 26 1938, with the production of the vehicle to be started in September 1939, but in March 1939, World War II broke out. The war resulted in the factory being used by the German air traffic ministry, who used the building to produce stoves, V1 bombs and ammunition, and to repair aircraft.
After the war, the factory ended up in British hands, and Major Ivan Hirst was made manager. He wanted to re-start the production of the VW cars, as cheap cars were required for the German public. In 1946, the company was ordered to produce 1000 cars, and the company became known as “Volkswagen”. The town was known as “Wolfsburg”. The first export of the VW took place in 1947, when a Dutch car dealer named Ben Pon bought five cars. In 1948, Heinrich Nordhoff was made the senior executive. He had previously been in charge of Opel. The production kept growing, and in 1955, Volkswagen was producing 1000 cars a day. In 1972, the Beetle overtook the Ford Model-T record, becoming the most produced model of all time – with over 15 million units having been produced.
To this day, over 22 million VW “bugs” have been produced. The VW Beetle stopped production only recently – in the year 2003, Mexico. Loved by Hippies in the 1970s, the VW Beetle has had a magnificently popular life. Many people have been taken by its quirky cute looks, and the simple and very reliable mechanics. In many ways, it’s not surprising that VW eventually came out with the New Beetle, combining the charm of the original with modern technology.
In 1973, the Volkswagen Passat was introduced as a modern motorcar to keep up with the technological advancements of other car manufacturers. The Passat was based on the Audi 80, and it offered roomy, reliable and comfortable transport. The Passat enjoyed success. However, the 1974 Volkswagen Golf, which was based on the BMC Mini, really set the platform for Volkswagen to excel and become one of Europe’s leading car manufacturers. The Golf was designed and built with vastly superior technology, when compared with the Mini’s cheaper materials.
Modern Volkswagens share a lot in common with Audi models. Though they do lack the charm of the older Beetles and Kombi vans, the Passats, Golfs. Polos, Jettas and Touaregs are classy, superbly well-built machines that rate as some of motoring’s finest automobiles. Today, the Volkswagen Group has taken its place among the world’s top three automakers, thanks to the Wolfsburg-based company’s outstanding delivery figures in the first half of 2008. Rival Ford had to settle for fourth position.
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