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One of the world's most widespread cars


Volkswagen type 1 was once one of the world's most widespread cars, also here in Denmark it was a bestseller. Despite the car's slightly strained origins as a product of the Nazi era in Germany, the model achieved enormous popularity.

The Type 1 was one of those cars that had so much personality that it got nicknames. In this country it was called the Bubble or the Beetle. Over a period of 41 years, almost 20 million copies of the various versions of the Type 1 were built in the period from 1938-1979, when production of the model stopped in Germany. After this, production continued in Mexico, where a further 1.7 million copies of the Type 1 were built, until the model went out of production in 2003. An incredible story that will probably never be surpassed by any car model.

One of the few good ideas from der Führer

Hitler had the idea and after coming to power in Germany started the construction of highways that would connect the major cities throughout the German Empire. The cars that had to ply these roads had to be, among other things, cars for ordinary people. The aim was that it should not cost more than 1000 reigsmark. There had to be room for two adults and three children, or three soldiers and a machine gun. It had to be able to run 100 km/h. and had to use a maximum of 8 liters of petrol per 100 km.

The designer who was selected to solve the ambitious task was none other than Ferdinand Porsche himself. He solved the task, but did not get to be responsible for the final production.

In 1938, the first pre-series cars were ready to be shown to the public, and the car became a not inconsiderable part of the Nazis' targeted propaganda machine. The factory that was to produce the car was located in the north-eastern part of Germany, and the place was named Wolfsburg. Although not many cars were produced for civilian use, the production apparatus was extensively used during the war to produce military versions of the car, known as the Kübelwagen. A vehicle that was built on the Type 1 model's platform and used its engine and transmission.

A symbol of West Germany's growth

At the end of the war, Volkswagen was left with a modern, albeit bombed-out factory and a proven technical platform for the post-war public car. It turned out that it was a perfect fit for post-war transport-starved Europe, and the model became a symbol of the "Wirtschaftswunder", which partly became West Germany after the end of the war.

It is thought-provoking that type 1 was the factory's only passenger car model right up until the early 60s, when type 3 saw the light of day. In addition to manufacturing in Germany, VW had assembly plants in Ireland, South Africa, Brazil and Australia, and later in Mexico. In the mid-fifties, the total production of VW Bubblers worldwide was up to 1,000 units. per day.

A legendary car and a legendary driver

After the end of the war, the Allies did not really know what to do with the project. They discussed letting it become a form of war compensation, but no one was interested in the quirky little car, and it ended up that production remained in Germany. It is alleged that those who worked there during the war started building cars before an official management had been appointed to take care of the day-to-day running of Volkswagen. The task was carried out for a few years by the British Major Ivan Hirst, before being awarded in 1948 to Heinz Heinrich Nordhoff, who will forever stand as the person who ensured that the VW Type 1 became a legendary world car and the VW factory one of the world's largest car factories. He resigned his position due to illness in 1967 and had written himself into history as one of Europe's greatest industrial leaders.

Why so popular

One wonders how this partially misengineered car could become so popular. The reason was probably Nordhoff's kingly thinking of delivering substance and quality above all else. But he also knew how to sell cars, and knew how to give the car an image that was hammered into people's heads with some of the best and most simple advertising for a car the world has seen. The simple "Think Small" advertising campaigns were brilliant in all their simplicity. But without a good product it would not have been possible.

A demonstration of construction quality

The VW Type 1 ended up being a demonstration of what quality could be built into a small mass-produced car. Although the shape of the car remained largely the same right up to the end of the 60s, the car developed quietly all the time. The VW Type 1 was a robust quality car with great personality that you either loved or hated. Those who were looking for a car that could last and that retained its resale value loved it, and there were obviously most of them. Those looking for speed, handling and prestige hated it. From the first to the last model, the VW type 1 had rather poor driving characteristics. It was unusually scratched, even a petrol gauge was optional equipment.

Type 1 with Porsche chassis

Although the improved chassis in the 1302/1303 series based on Porsche 911 principles was a step in the right direction, switching from understeer to oversteer and great wind sensitivity was something that followed the construction from cradle to grave. The car's air-cooled engine located behind the rear axle was not conducive to either heat in the cabin or driving characteristics. Even something as basic as a fan to create some ventilation in the car was an extra.

However, with the car's center of gravity back over the driving wheels and the flat undercarriage, it was excellent on bad roads. A Bubble was a real mountain-climbing goat. With its narrow wheels and good ground clearance, it could drive in deep snow. Nothing short of it became so popular in Norway, where Harald A. Møller was one of the first in the world to see the possibilities of the quirky little car. Even before the war people were down to look at the car, and immediately after the end of the war they started importing VW Bubblers to Norway. Something that was to develop into a true car import adventure. In 1948, Harald A. Møller started as the official importer of VW to Norway and still is.

The mechanic's sweet dream

From a mechanic's point of view, the Type 1 was a dream, reliable and easy to work on. Almost everything on a Bubble could be made and repaired with simple means and common hand tools. The VW organization worldwide became a model of how it should be done, and in a relatively short time a strong dealer network was established everywhere, even in the USA it succeeded in making VW a brand beyond the ordinary. Thanks to the reuse of many of the same spare parts across all models, from Type 1-3, spare parts availability and price were also a VW speciality.

If you had a Bubble that broke, you could get help anywhere in the world. A new engine could be delivered and fitted in a few hours, and was stock at any self-respecting VW dealer. They were also pioneers in the recycling of wear parts such as steering gear for whole parts such as engines and gearboxes, engines on a replacement basis. Things were under control at VW, and a VW type 1 was the bubble that didn't burst.

The rescue for VW

At the end of the 60s, it was clear to the new VW management that the golden egg Type 1 was about to be outcompeted by newer and more modern car designs. At long last, it had been found that the engine in the front and traction on the front wheels were better for small and medium-sized cars. Fortunately for VW, there was another German car manufacturer that had run into financial difficulties. It was NSU, a factory which, unlike VW, had always been extremely innovative. But with the RO80 and wankel engine, you had gone too far. VW acquired NSU and thus bought into state-of-the-art development and super fine engine constructions, which could easily be used in a new generation of passenger cars. The VW K70 was basically an NSU that got a VW badge.

It was the starting point for a fantastic development in the form of new state-of-the-art models such as the VW Polo, Golf and Passat.

My experiences with VW type 1

Extends over a few years. In the early 80's I was the owner of a moss green VW 1303 1974. It was the last version of the type 1 which sold in significant numbers in 73 and 74. Die-hard VW people still viewed the new generation with some skepticism of public transport, which was a diametrical opposite to the Bubble. I needed a cheap and reliable car, and I thought the 1303 model was a nice car. The undercarriage with inclined swingarms at the rear and MacPherson struts at the front sounded a bit like the Porsche 911. I especially remember the car for the pleasant engine sound when driving on the road, where you actually drove away from the sound, and how fun it was on gravel and snowy roads. But it was heavy and sluggish and sensitive to wind and used gasoline like a baby calf drinks milk. Wintertime meant frozen windows and quantities of carburettor alcohol.

I ended up peeling the engine out, polishing the cylinder heads and planing 1.5mm off the cylinder heads to get the compression up. It got an Empi exhaust and a set of carburetors from a 1500S from 44 to 50 hp. It came out sounding good, but it was still a dull pot that didn't suit me at all. The flat fan-cooled boxer engine was old-fashioned and noisy, and I never got excited about it or the car itself. Type 1 was a relic of the past.

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