Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Bug’s Life: A History of the Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen’s Beetle is one of the oldest nameplates in automotive history still in use today. In the U.S., the Bug was sold between 1950 and 1979, with sales resuming as a new model introduced in 1998. But the little VW’s history stretches all the way back to 1934, when development work started in earnest in Germany. The first batch of finalized cars were birthed in 1938, only to see the gleaming new factory built to assemble them pulled into Germany's war effort and later bombed to near-oblivion. European civilians wouldn’t get their hands on the car until 1947, after production was restarted to provide ground transportation for Allied occupying troops. U.S. importation grew from a trickle in the early ‘50s to a flood a decade later, and eventually 21 million Beetles would be sold worldwide. Even after U.S. sales ceased in 1979, the car continued to be built and sold in Mexico and Brazil. Over the years, very little about the Beetle changed; it wasn’t until 1998 that the car received its first major redesign. For a look at the major events in the Bug's history, continue on:1945 Beetle production1946 Type IWolfsburg factory, 19471949 Beetle CabrioletSuccess! A VW is officially exported to the U.S. for the first time. An East-Coast foreign-car dealer, Max Hoffman, is appointed exclusive VW importer for America east of the Mississippi. Hoffman sells 330 VWs, mostly to other dealers throughout the U.S. Many of the VWs are tacked onto orders for Porsches and Jaguars—as in, to expedite orders of sexy sports cars, dealers would agree to buy a VW or two from Hoffman. The cars are cheap, and dealers find that they aren’t that difficult to sell.By 1951, the original Type I's cable brakes are replaced by hydraulically operated drums at all four corners, and the engine gains a Solex carburetor. Power swells from 24 horsepower to 30.In 1952, Volkswagen fits the transmission's second, third, and fourth gears with synchromesh.The split rear window design so coveted by VW collectors today is replaced for 1953 by a slightly larger, single oval rear window.For the first time, Volkswagen ups the Beetle engine's displacement from 1131 cc to 1192 cc. Power rises from 30 horsepower to 36.In 1955, with production humming along, Volkswagen builds its one-millionth Beetle in Wolfsburg. Only about 9000 have made their way to the U.S. The same year, Volkswagen of America is formed. A host of dealerships are established and held to strict parts-availability and presentation expectations. As for the Beetle, it loses its old-school turn-signal semaphores in favor of more modern signal lamps.Once again, Volkswagen messes with the Beetle's rear window, enlarging the opening for 1958. A year earlier, the company fitted the little car with tubeless tires for the first time.The 1950s and 1960s see the expansion of Volkswagen's clever, often self-deprecating advertising. In 1961, the Beetle's transmission becomes fully synchronized, and an automatic choke and a pump-type windshield-washer system are fitted. Output rises to 40 horsepower.The Bug's engine grows in size again for 1966, to 1285 cc, prompting the addition of a slightly optimistic "1300" badge to the trunk. Output rises to 50 horsepower.Volkswagen again juices the Beetle's engine, increasing displacement to 1493 cc, netting another 3 horsepower and a badge update to "1500." In '67, the Bug also inherits 12-volt electronics, dual-circuit brakes, and two-speed windshield wipers.1967: Meyers Manx makes the cover of Car and Driver1968 VW Beetle 1500 Automatic1968: The Love Bug1969 Volkswagen BeetleEngine displacement again increases, rising to 1585 cc and bringing horsepower to 57. Every U.S.-spec Beetle becomes a "1600."Just as the rear suspension was updated for 1969, the front suspension receives its first redo for 1971. Super Beetle buyers net a larger front trunk, thanks to a strut-type suspension. Also in 1971, computer analysis plugs are fitted halfway through the model year. In a six-car comparison test in 1971, the Super Beetle places fifth. About the new front suspension, we declare "only an expert could detect [it] from the driver's seat." The fitment of new cylinder heads with two intake ports per cylinder instead of one brings three additional horsepower (for 60 total). This renders the Super Beetle the fastest Bug we'd ever tested, dropping its quarter-mile time to 19.8 seconds. The run to 60 mph takes nearly as long, at 16.1 seconds.Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Beetle set sales milestones; in 1972, it establishes a big one. The 15,007,034th Bug rolls off the assembly line, matching the Ford Model T's worldwide sales record. Of course, the Bug isn't even close to being finished.1970s: Rally success?For 1973, not much changes save for the enlarging of the windshield opening.Another milestone is reached in 1974, although it has nothing to do with sales. Wolfsburg builds its last Bug, as production is shifted to other European facilities, as well as Puebla, Mexico.The Beetle makes another technological leap for 1975 with the arrival of electronic fuel injection. New power rating standards drop peak output to just 46 horsepower. Energy-absorbing bumpers are added for 1974, and the Super Beetle goes away for '75.By 1976 the Beetle's existence begins to wane. More modern competitors, combined with VW's introduction of the Golf (the Rabbit in America), are the writing on the wall. No more Beetle sedans would be sold in the U.S. after 1976.1977 Volkswagen Beetle convertible1998 Volkswagen New Beetle2001 Volkswagen Beetle RSi2002 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo S2003: The Type I finally dies2003 Volkswagen Beetle convertible2006 Volkswagen New Beetle2012 Volkswagen Beetle 2.52013 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo convertible2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dunes

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