How the Iconic VW Beetle Got Its Design

Image credit – Pinterest

Automologist ATHERTON gives us a history lesson on the well-loved Beetle. 

The Volkswagen Beetle, as we all know, is an automotive and cultural icon. From the first car in 1938 to the last one to roll off the assembly line in 2003, it has stood the test of time. With sales of over 21 million units worldwide, it stands as an all-time bestseller.

One may argue that the Toyota Corolla is the model that should get that accolade, but that one has had many iterations over the years.

The VW Beetle is also called the ‘Bug’ in the English-speaking world or the ‘cocinnelle’, which is French for ‘ladybug’, or ‘vocho’ in Mexico, where 1.4 million units were produced between 1967 to 2003. Although assembly lines in Germany stopped producing the Beetle since 1977, this car has endeared itself to many owners throughout the world.

The design is rather peculiar but its origins can be traced back to a company called Tatra in Czechoslovakia. The lead engineer for Volkswagen was Ferdinand Porsche, and he and his team took design cues from other cars of that time, and the Tatra had an element of charm and simplicity to it.

Tatra V570. Image credit –wikipedia

Tatra’s lead designer at that time was Hans Ledwinka, along with his son Erich, designer of the Pinzgauer, and design engineer Erich Übelacker. They were building and designing a small ‘people’s car’ with a rear-mounted engine in a backbone frame. (Hmm…sounds familiar.)

The story goes that Hitler and Porsche were influenced by the Tatras. Hitler had ridden in Tatras during political tours in Czechoslovakia, during which he dined with Ledwinka. It is said that after one tour, Hitler went to Ferdinand Porsche and said: ‘This is the car for my roads.”

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The Tatra T97 was a mid-class saloon car from Czechoslovakia produced for a short time in the pre-war period, from 1936 to 1939.

Porsche took the hint and started the process of building the cars. Ledwinka took notice and sued, as the designs seemed similar. However, the suit was dropped after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, and the rest is history.

This article is a result of a curious writer wondering how the Volkswagen Beetle came into being and a lot of gems were unearthed during the search. Artists are always inspired by another design or idea before they can create their own.

Take for instance two designs that we are familiar with in modern times:

Can you tell a Hyundai from a BMW unless you’re really up close?

Ford with Aston Martin grille as standard?

Design, in general, whether it is of a car or otherwise, always takes cues from another person’s work or from nature, and then manifests itself in the work of the current designer.

When was the last time you were inspired by someone or something? If you cannot remember, it is time you did, because we learn from history and move forward for the better.

Ferdinand Porsche was inspired by the Tatra, and had his own ideas incorporated. I think the ‘Bug’ by Porsche looks like a better end-product and has a global appeal that lasts till today.

A timeless design that still fascinates people from all walks of life. Image

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