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Fahrvergnügen: Driving Pleasure

On May 28, 1937 the Nazi party (then, under the control of Adolf Hitler) formed a new, state-owned automobile company entitled Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens (roughly translated to mean The society to create the German car). Later in the year, the company’s name was simplified to Volkswagenwerk which roughly translates to The people’s car company.

Volkswagen’s first headquarters and automobile factory was located in Wolfsburg, Germany. The company’s initial objective was to build military vehicles in preparation for Hitler’s European invasion plans, as well as the mass production of small and inexpensive – yet equally fast – automobiles to be sold to the general public. Additionally, Hitler was building a network of highways, called autobahns, all across the country for the public to drive their new Volkswagens on.

Hitler contracted with Ferdinand Porsche, an Austrian automotive engineer, to provide the designs for the vehicles that Volkswagen would produce, and the very first Volkswagen – the KdF Wagen (Kraft-durch-Freude, translated to mean Strength through Joy) – was displayed at the 1939 Berlin Motor Show. However, when World War II began later that same year, production at the Wolfsburg factory was halted… and by the time the war ended the plant was in ruins. Nevertheless, the Allies rebuilt and revived the Volkswagen Motor Corporation, knowing that the German auto industry would be important to the economy and recovery of the country following the war.

From 1942 – 1944, Volkswagen massed produced the Schwimmwagen for its military personnel. This amphibious military jeep was used by all personnel, and was only 4-wheel drive in first gear. Later, from 1968 – 1983 Volkswagen manufactured just shy of 91,000 of their Type 181 (LHD) and 182 (RHD) jeep/dune buggy hybrids, a modified version of the Schwimmwagen, for the public market… selling them as the Thing in the U.S., the Safari in Mexico, and the Trekker in the U.K.

Initially, U.S. sales were diminutive compared to that of the rest of the world, mainly because of the company’s original connections to Hitler. However, an advertising campaign that ran in 1959 dubbed the KdF Wagen “The Beetle” – using the tagline “Think Small” – and that seemed to trigger some public interest, ultimately making Volkswagen the top selling import over the next few years.

The German government sold sixty percent of the company’s stock to the public in 1960, making the company no longer a nationally owned corporation, and within twelve years there had been more the fifteen million VW Bugs produced. In 1998, Volkswagen redesign the Beetle, dubbing it The New Beetle, while still producing the original KdF Wagen model until 2003. The very last Original Beetle rolled off the production lines In July 2003. In the 1970’s Volkswagen introduced new, spottier models – such as the Rabbit and the Golf.

  • In 1969, Volkswagen merged a few small subsidiaries to form the current Audi – which is where the four ringed logo is derived from.
  • In 1990, SEAT, S.A. became the first non-German subsidiary fully owned by The Volkswagen Group.
  • Between 1991 – 1995 Volkswagen steadily purchased interest in Škoda automobilová a.s., until they owned Škoda Auto outright.
  • In 1998, Volkswagen acquired Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini. Although Volkswagen technically owns Rolls-Royce and Bentley, purchasing them both at the same time, they do not own the license to use the Rolls-Royce trademark.
  • In 2008, Volkswagen purchased controlling interest in Scania AB. However, they have owned the entire company outright since 2015.
  • In 2009, Volkswagen became the parent company to Porsche and purchased stock interest in Suzuki.
  • In 2012, Volkswagen bought out Ducati (under Lamborghini) and MAN SE (under Volkswagen).

 

I have driven Volkswagens, and standards in particular, almost exclusively for nearly twenty years. I currently drive a 5-speed, black, 2004, Jetta GLS (2.slow)… but, the Thing is actually my dream car – as odd as that might sound for someone like me. The VW slogan “I Bleed Blue” runs deep and true in my family. My eldest son, who is 22 and a new father, currently drives a 5-speed, white, 2007 Rabbit (the second Rabbit he’s owned) and my 19-year-old is presently shopping for his first car – his first Volkswagen. Even my new grandson has a Volkswagen, a little red Bug… walker. I guess you can say it’s in our blood, and by nature we start the VDub Love early.

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