Updated: Mar 9
The Volkswagen Beetle was originally conceived in pre-war Germany by Adolf Hitler in 1934, as a cheap, mass-produced automobile, the “People’s Car”, a two-door rear-engine economy vehicle.
But it was not until 1938 that his chief engineer, Ferdinand Porsche, finalised the design. Although due to World War II, civilian vehicles only began to be produced in significant numbers in the late 1940s, and designated the Volkswagen Type 1.
Béla Barényi, an Austro-Hungarian engineer was, in fact, the original designer of the Beetle, and was able to prove in court in 1953 that Porsche’s patents were Barényi’s ideas, and has since been credited with the Beetle’s creation in 1925. He also successfully sued Volkswagen for copyright infringement in 1955.
The original 25hp Beetle managed a top speed of around 62mph, suitable for cruising the autobahns of the time. However, after the war, as the autobahn system improved, the engine was upgraded to 40hp.
After the war, the Volkswagen factory was handed over by the Americans to British control, when it was destined to be dismantled and shipped to UK. However, no British motor manufacturer was interested in the factory. An official report at the time stated “the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor car...it is quite unattractive to the average buyer...to build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise.”
But the Wolfsburg factory was reopened thanks to a British army officer, Major Ivan Hirst, who took over and restored the heavily bombed plant. Hirst persuaded the British military to order 20,00 cars, and by March 1946 the factory was up and running, producing 1,000 cars per month.
Sales of the Beetle hit a peak in America in the mid 1960s, helped in no small part by a successful and famous advertising campaign by the ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach. But it was coming under increasing competition from Japanese small car manufacturers, and sales went into a steep decline. Despite limping on for a few more decades, production ceased altogether in June 2003.
The design of this poster was conceived as an English tourist board travel advertisement, utilising the type face favoured by so many designers of the period, Gill Sans. An added note of nostalgia is brought to this illustration by the presence of an elm tree, now sadly all but vanished from the English countryside.