Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Volkswagen Beetle

By Michelle Shocklee

I'm not a car enthusiast. I've told my husband and sons, who are car enthusiasts, that as long as I have something reliable to get me from Point A to Point B, I'm happy. (I also think the prices car dealers charge these days for a new car are beyond outrageous, but that's a soapbox for another day.)

Volkswagen; photo from Google

But if I were given the opportunity to choose any car in the world, I would choose a red vintage Volkswagen Beetle, also known as a VW Bug.

Why, you ask?

When I was a little girl, our family had a tan VW Bug. (Daddy would have never bought a red car!) Mom drove us five kids around town in it, going to school, cub scouts, church, and half-day Kindergarten for me. Sadly, a drunk driver rear-ended our little Bug one afternoon while Mom and I waited to turn onto our street. Mom suffered a broken back and a broken neck, but I only had a concussion since I'd been laying down in the backseat pouting about something instead of standing in the front seat, which was my usual position. Mercifully, Mom recovered after many long months, but our VW Bug was totaled.

Because I have such happy memories of our Bug, imagine how horrified I was when I learned that the person I had to thank for my cute little dream car was none other than the evil Adolph Hitler. 

Back in 1930s Germany, Adolph Hitler gained more power every day it seemed. Proud of Germany's new infrastructure, which included many highways, Hitler wanted German citizens to have an economical vehicle so they could enjoy the country he was creating. In 1934, he ordered car designer Ferdinand Porsche to begin work on the Volkswagen, which is German for "people's car." The Spanish War of 1936-1938 shifted production resources to military needs, so it wasn't until the war ended that Porsche and his team could get back to their work developing the iconic design of the Bug (Kafer in German). 

Early model of the VW Bug; photo from Wikipedia
A note of interest about the design: it was originally conceived by Béla Barényi, a Hungarian engineer, in the 1920s. He was able to prove in court in 1953 that Porsche's patents were Barényi's ideas, and therefore Barényi has since been credited with first conceiving the original design for this car.

One of the recognizable hallmarks of the Bug is its unique shape. Yet its rounded body wasn't designed for looks but for strength. A curved piece of metal has more strength than a flat piece. Another notable difference from other vehicles is the placement of the air-cooled engine in the back of the car. Although less powerful than other cars in its class, the VW Bug's engine was simple, economical, and easy to repair. Air-cooled engines don't have water pumps, thermostats, hoses, or a radiator, and the dry weight of an air-cooled engine is much lighter than a comparable water-cooled engine.

By 1946, VW Bugs were being mass-produced in Germany. However, Hitler's war on the world had soured many people against anything coming out of Germany. The company basically had to reinvent itself if it was going to stay in business. Volkswagen searched and found an advertising agency that would create ads focused on building brand advocates. Conceived by the New York agency Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach, the advertising campaign began in 1959 and was one of the best in the world during the sixties. Unlike glamorous, over-the-top American car ads, VW Beetle ads were usually in black and white and were witty and funny. It helped the Beetle to become the fourth highest-selling automobile of all time. 

When the 15,007,034th car rolled off the line at Wolfsburg in 1972, the Volkswagen Beetle surpassed the Ford Model T as the longest-running and most-manufactured car in history. During the original Beetle's 65-year production run, more than 21 million were built world-wide. Not bad for a cute little Bug, eh?

I'm currently working on a new historical time-slip novel set in the 1940s and 1970s. Can you guess what kind of car my heroine drives? 😎

Your turn! If you could choose any car to drive, what would it be?

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels and is a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at www.MichelleShocklee.com

*2021 Christy Awards Finalist*

Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena. Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, but it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. Will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?

For purchase options, visit www.MichelleShocklee.com


  1. I'm with you, except my Bug would be baby blue, like the one my grandfather owned. I wanted the car desperately when he passed away, but I was not yet driving age. Our family owned VW Buses.

    1. Linda, baby blue would be lovely too! That’s cool that you had VW Buses! 😎

  2. Thanks for the fun post! My husband owned a red Bug when we were dating. I think the modern ones are kind of cute, too. I really dislike driving, but the car I own now is pretty much perfect. Although, the 50's Chevys are nostalgic for me, blue and white with those rounded headlights.

    1. Connie, I like the modern Bugs too, but my heart belongs to the originals. 🥰 How fun that your husband had a red one!!

  3. this is a wonderful post. thanks for sharing. in high school I dated a boy whos father was manager of a VW dealership. We did a lot of wonderful running around in one of those. I really love my CRV Honda right now.

    1. Thanks, Lori. Glad my post brought back good memories for you. ☺️

  4. Great post! I learned a lot. I didn't know the designer for the VW Bug was Ferdinand Porsche. I am assuming he is also the designer of the Porsche. I would love to drive a Porsche.

    1. Thanks Michelle! Yes, Mr. Porsche also designed the cars with his name on them. I’ve driven—not owned though—a couple Porsches. They are definitely fun cars!