Motoring News

It’s 75 years since the Beetle was hatched by a Brit in Germany

  • Series production started just after Christmas 1945
  • British Major Ivan Hirst enabled vehicle production
  • Project starts with considerable improvisation

HERNDON, Virginia – Series production of the Volkswagen Limousine began on December 27 1945 in Wolfsburg, Germany, as a vehicle referred to in-house as ‘Type 1’ but soon to become world-famous as the VW Beetle.

The vehicle’s unique and ongoing success story started in Wolfsburg – where it remains to this day – thanks to the strategic vision of British army Major Ivan Hirst. Here’s how it went down…

In June 1945 – at the end of the Second World War, the British Military Government Series assumed trusteeship over Volkswagenwerk GmbH and production of the Volkswagen Type 1 began with a plan to use the vehicle for urgently needed transport within the occupation zone.

‘PURPOSE – AND A DISTINCT ATTITUDE’

Senior resident officer Major Ivan Hirst played a key role in this development and it was this British pragmatism that finally protected the plant against impending demolition. Hirst’s far-sightedness and talent for improvisation made it possible to start automobile production in the years of rationing and under conditions dominated by shortages.

THE BEETLE GETS IT WINGS. A prototype of the original VW Beetle assembled soon after the end of the Second World War. Image: VW

With his enthusiasm for technology and cars, his purposefulness, and his distinct attitude, he succeeded in transforming a former armaments plant into a civilian industrial company in an impressively short space of time.

The British Military Government issued an order for 20 000 vehicles in August 1945. The start of production was a visible sign of a new beginning and hope at a factory largely destroyed by the end of World War II. It was a solution in line with British policy for Germany intended to createfinancial security for the population as key elements in the development of democratic structures.

Democracy, after years of Adolf Hitler, found its way into the Volkswagenwerk and on November 27 1945 a Works Council elected in a democratic ballot held its constituent meeting.

LINING UP PRODUCTION. A senior British Army officer was responsible for the start of a car that would last for 75 years. Image: VW

There were considerable problems in supplying the workforce with food and living space, and production was hampered by raw-material and energy supply bottlenecks. Despite these difficult conditions, the first Volkswagen sedan left the production line soon after Christmas.

By the end of 1945 55 vehicles had been produced.

FOUNDATIONS OF A CLASSIC LAID

From 1946 up to the Reichmark currency reform about 1000 vehicles a month were being assembled. It was not possible to produce more vehicles given the shortage of materials, rationing, and lack of personnel but the trustees responsible laid the foundations for further growth of the company by, in 1947, exporting the Volkswagen sedan and establishing a sales and after-sales service system.

READ MORE VW features on Carman’s Corner

The decision to develop a civilian factory and to start series production was the starting point of a unique success story. Thanks to the early restart, Volkswagenwerk GmbH was ideally positioned for the economic upswing after the introduction of the D-Mark.

The cars, under the unofficial designation of ‘VW Beetle’, became more popular than almost any other automobile model around the world. It was also a record-breaker in terms of production, duration and volume.

Volkswagen only discontinued production of the original VW Beetle in Mexico in 2003, after 21 529 464 vehicles had been assembled – 15.8-million of them in Germany.

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