Seventy-five years ago (and a day) the automotive world witnessed one of the most profound events every in Germany: the first Volkswagen Limousine rolled off the assembly line in Wolfsburg.
VW limousine? Called the Type 1 internally, it would later become what everyone now knows as the Beetle.
The cute little underpowered coupe started hitting the streets Dec. 27, 1945 under the watchful eye of a British military officer, Major Ivan Hirst. The British Military Government Series took over the trusteeship of the Volkswagenwerk GmbH, and Hirst used the Type 1 to resolve transportation needs in the government’s occupation zone.
Hirst’s pragmatism and vision spurred the birth of the best-selling vehicle ever. He managed to launch the Beetle despite rationing and other issues that caused shortages throughout Germany. However, that didn’t stop him from converting a
former weapons factory to automobile production.
The first customer? The British military, of course, which placed an order for 20,000 vehicles in August 1945. The move was also in line with Britain’s plans for a post-war Germany and its redevelopment. Not only did the Beetle launch that year, the company’s now-famous Works Council elected its first round of members Nov. 27, 1945.
Nevertheless, there were considerable problems in supplying the workforce with food and living space, and production was hampered by raw material and energy supply bottlenecks. Despite these difficult conditions, the first Volkswagen sedan left the production line shortly after Christmas. By the end of 1945, 55 vehicles had been produced.
From 1946 up to the currency reform, about 1,000 vehicles were produced per month. It was not possible to produce more vehicles with the material shortages, rationing, and lack of personnel. The trustees responsible laid the foundations for further growth of the company by beginning to export the Volkswagen sedan in 1947, and establishing a sales and after-sales service system.
The decision to develop a civilian factory and to start series production of the Volkswagen Type 1 was the starting point of a unique success story. Thanks to the early restart, Volkswagenwerk GmbH was ideally positioned for the economic upswing after the introduction of the D-Mark.
Under the unofficial designation of “VW Beetle”, the car became more popular than almost any other automobile model throughout the world. It was also a record breaker in terms of production, duration and volume. Volkswagen only discontinued production of the original VW Beetle in Mexico in 2003, after 21,529,464 vehicles had been manufactured, including about 15.8 million in Germany.