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Pack Automotive Museum

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VOLKSWAGEN

Meaning “peoples car”, VW was a result of a meeting between motorcycle company Zundapp and auto designer Ferdinand Porsche in 1931. The goal was to produce a multi-passenger, fuel efficient, low cost vehicle for the masses.  By 1935, and after many design and engineering delays over the years (and without an official name), the cars were on the road testing and available by 1936 but were more jeep like in style and more military looking vehicles and known by names like V1 and V2.  By this time, the German Military had taken over control of much of the business (one reason Henry Ford wanted to stay out of foreign countries was because of the possibility of nationalism) and the remainder of production, for a long time, never saw the masses it was created for.

After WWII, the British took over what was left of the plant and began to produce lightweight vehicles for use in occupied Germany and by 1945 had produced over 10,000 cars. Sometime after 1945, the company was officially named Volkswagen and the town around it was re-named Wolfsburg, which is the name of the local castle.  The British tried to make sure the company went into able hands and first offered the operation to Henry Ford who turned it down faster than the declining German Mark.  Next the Brits asked the French who turned up their nose at the idea (they do the same after any question) and, in 1949 were able to turn control over the German Government. After 1949, production steadily grew and exporting to neighboring countries like Denmark, Sweeden, Belgium and other European nations became large volume and profitable.  VW even asked help from the old German coach building company Karmann (of Karmann Ghia fame) to help with their convertible production. By the early 1950’s these small icons were referred to as “Beetles”.

Eventually exported to America where they received upgrades like hydraulic brakes, more chrome and more options than their foreign counterparts, VW was truly the first major auto import to the U.S.   Sure, there was Mercedes already but not being sold like the Beetle.  As the 60’s approached, the competition from other foreign imports like Datson was the handwriting on the wall for VW to do something different. One of the biggest changes was to the car’s suspension system, which was great while in town driving, however, when on an Interstate, LOOK OUT!  The slightest breeze from an oncoming semi could mean “hold on for dear life” as the car could change lanes without your intention.  Light weight was not a great benefit here.

By 1977 the Beetle had stopped production.  Even with all the changes the car was not in demand anymore even though A/C was an option.  Americans, at least, had growing families that could not practically use this small, 2-door type of transportation.  Even the Super Beetle was not enough and, to add to the German’s frustrations, the U.S. Government was pushing for stiffer safety regulations that would cost more money.  Eventually in the late 90’s the Beetle made a return in hopes of regaining the crown of small, economical car and it did draw the attention of the younger generation of Americans in spite of the fact that Americans really were not into small cars then either.
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