Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Volkswagen Beetle

The Volkswagen Type 1, more commonly known as the Beetle, Fusca (in Brazil and Uruguay), Coccinelle or Cox (French), Vocho (Spanish), Bug, Volky or Käfer (German), Escarabajo (beetle in Spanish), Carocha (in Portugal) is an economy car produced by the German automaker Volkswagen from 1938 until 1975. Although the names "Beetle" and "Bug" were quickly adopted by the public, it was not until August of 1967 that VW themselves began using the name Beetle in marketing materials. It had previously been known only as either the "Type I" or as the 1200 (twelve-hundred), 1300 (thirteen-hundred) or 1500 (fifteen-hundred), which had been the names under which the vehicle was marketed in Europe prior to 1967; the numbers denoted the vehicle's engine size in cubic centimeters. In 1998, many years after the original model had been dropped from the lineup in most of the world (it continued in Mexico and a handful of other countries until 2003) VW introduced the "New Beetle" (built on a Volkswagen Golf platform), bearing a strong resemblance to the original.

Although widely disdained for its unusual styling, weak power, rough ride, and high noise levels, it was ultimately among the longest and most produced automobiles for a single design. It remained a top seller even as rear-wheel drive conventional subcompacts were refined until ultimately replaced by front-wheel drive models. Most other nameplates are applied to succeeding generations of redesigned platforms, including its replacement, the Golf / Rabbit. The Beetle car was the benchmark for both generations of American compact cars such as the Chevrolet Corvair and subcompact cars such as the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega. In the international poll for the award of the world's most influential car of the twentieth century the Beetle came fourth after the Ford Model T, the Mini and the Citroën DS, but the Beetle is far more recognizable and familiar to more people than any other passenger automobile.

Volkswagen Beetle - The People's Car

The origins of the car date back to 1925, when Béla Barényi submitted his concepts to the Maschinenbauanstalt Wien. Further influences came from the 1931 Tatra T97, and the 1931 Porsche Typ 12, an experimental prototype that never saw production.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler met with Richard Whittle and Ferdinand Porsche to discuss the development of a "Volks-Wagen" ("People's Car"), a basic vehicle that should be capable of transporting two adults and three children at a speed of 100 km/h (62 mph), and which should cost no more than 990 Reichsmark (at an average income of 32RM/week).

Hitler's commissioning of the "People's Car" did not necessitate a clean-sheet car design. Ferdinand Porsche had already formulated the original parameters of a car design similar to the final production version of the Beetle several years before it was commissioned, and had already built working prototypes by 1931. Erwin Komenda, Porsche's chief designer, was responsible for the design and styling of the car. However its production only became financially viable when it was backed by the Third Reich. Before the large-scale production of the "People's Car" could commence, war broke out, and available manufacturing capacity was shifted to producing military-use vehicles. Production of civilian VW automobiles did not start until after the post-war occupation began.

The Type 1's mechanics and chassis were shared with several German military vehicles of the period, including the Kübelwagen ("bucket car", later adapted for civil use as the Type 181 or "Thing"), used by both the German military and the SS, and the amphibious Schwimmwagen, built in small numbers.

The military Beetle

Prototypes of the Kdf-Wagen appeared from 1935 onwards - the first prototypes were produced by Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart, Germany. The car already had its distinctive round shape and its air-cooled, rear-mounted engine. However, the factory had only produced a handful of cars by the time war started in 1939. Consequently, the first volume-produced versions of the car's chassis were military vehicles, the Jeep-like Kübelwagen Typ 82 (approx. 52,000 built) and the amphibious Schwimmwagen Typ 166 (approx. 14,000 built).

The car was designed to be as simple as possible mechanically, so that there was less to go wrong; the aircooled 985 cc 25 hp (19 kW) motors proved especially effective in actions of the German Afrika Korps in North Africa's desert heat. This was due to the built-in oil-cooler and the superior performance of the flat-four engine configuration. The innovative suspension design used compact torsion beams instead of coil or leaf springs.

A handful of civilian-specific Beetles were produced, primarily for the Nazi elite, in the years 1940–1945, but production figures were small. In response to gasoline shortages, a few wartime "Holzbrenner" Beetles were fueled by wood pyrolysis gas producers under the hood. In addition to the Kübelwagen, Schwimmwagen, and handful of others, the factory managed another wartime vehicle: the Kommandeurwagen; a Beetle body mounted on the 4WD Kübelwagen chassis. A total of 669 Kommandeurwagens were produced until 1945, when all production was halted due to heavy damage sustained in Allied air raids on the factory. Much of the essential equipment had already been moved to underground bunkers for protection, allowing production to resume quickly once hostilities had ended.

Volkswagen Beetle - Production boom

After the end of World War II, a shortage of local jobs led to the Wolfsburg factory being re-opened by Allied forces and production of the Type 1 recommencing. From there, production increased dramatically over the following decade, with the one-millionth car coming off the assembly line by 1955. The Beetle had superior performance in its category with a top speed of 115km/h (72mph) and 0-100km/h (0-60mph) in 27.5 seconds on 7.6 l/100 km (31mpg) for the standard 25kW (34hp) engine. This was far superior to the Citroen 2CV and Morris Minor and even competitive with more modern small cars like the Mini. The engine fired up immediately without a choke and could only be heard in the car when idling. It had excellent road-handling for a small car. It was economical to maintain and, for many, a joy to drive. However, the opinion of some in the United States was not as flattering. Henry Ford II once described the car as 'A little shit box' out of frustration that it was the top-selling foreign car in the US market. During the 1960s and early 1970s, innovative advertising campaigns and a glowing reputation for reliability and sturdiness helped production figures to surpass the levels of the previous record holder, the Ford Model T, when Beetle No. 15,007,034 was produced on February 17, 1972. By 1973 total production was over 16 million, and by June 23, 1992 there had been over 21 million produced.

VW Beetle 1967

The Volkswagen Beetle underwent changes to the 1967 model, and while the car itself didn't get any bigger, many of its mechanical systems and components did. Some of the changes to the Beetle included a bigger engine for the second year in a row. Horsepower had been increased to 37 kW (50 hp) the previous year, and for 1967 it was increased even more, to 40 kW (53 hp).

The output of the electrical generator was increased from 180 to 360 watts, and upgraded from a 6-volt to a 12-volt system. The clutch disk also increased in size, and changes were made to the flywheel, braking system, and rear axles. New standard equipment included two-speed windshield wipers, back-up lights, a driver's armrest on the door, locking buttons on the doors, sealed-beam headlights, and an outside mirror on the driver's side.

The 1967 Beetle was available in a variety of colors, including Ruby Red, Avocado Green, Lotus White, Java Green, Zenith Blue and Savannah Beige. Interior upholstery was available in either cloth or leatherette. Standard features included swiveling sun visors, coat hooks, assist straps, an automatic windshield washer, an overhead light, a folding rear seat, and storage space under the front hood and in a 1 meter carpeted compartment behind the rear seat.

The price was $1,640, and it weighed only 770 kg (1700 lbs). Top speed was 130 km/h (82 mph), enough to match the 110 km/h (70 mph) top speed of American freeways.

Volkswagen Beetle derivatives

While production of the standard Beetle continued, a Type 1 variant called the Super Beetle, produced from model year 1971 to 1979, offered MacPherson strut front suspension, better turning radius (despite having a 20 mm (3/4 in) longer wheelbase), and approximately double the usable space in the front luggage compartment, due to the stretched "nose" of the vehicle and relocation of the spare tire from a vertical to a horizontal position. The Super Beetle was improved in 1973 to include a padded dashboard and a more aerodynamic curved windshield.

The Super Beetle (VW 1302 and 1303 series, also called Type 113) is not the only Type 1 variant; other VWs under the Type 1 nomenclature include the Karmann Ghia and the VW 181 utility vehicle, not to mention the Brasilia and the Australian Country Buggy (locally produced in Australia using VW parts).

The Type 2 transporter is based on the Beetle platform with very similar mechanicals. Also, as mentioned below, Type 3 and Type 4 were all developments of the original Porsche design.

Volkswagen Beetle - Decline and fall

Though extremely successful in the 1960s, the Beetle was faced with stiff competition from more modern designs. The Japanese had refined rear wheel drive water cooled front engined small cars to where they sold well in the North American market, and Americans introduced their own similarly sized rear wheel drive Ford Pinto, Chevrolet Vega, and AMC Gremlin in the 1970s. The superminis in Europe adopted even more efficient transverse engine front wheel drive layouts, and sales began dropping off in the mid 1970s. There had been several unsuccessful attempts to replace the Beetle throughout the 1960s; the Type 3, Type 4, and the NSU-based K70 were all failures. Only when production lines at Wolfsburg switched to the new watercooled, front-engined, front-wheel drive Golf in 1974 (sold in North America as the Rabbit) did Volkswagen produce a car as successful as the Beetle, though it would be periodically redesigned over its lifetime, while the Beetle used only minor refinements of the same design it had been introduced with.

The Golf did not kill Beetle production, which continued in smaller numbers at other German factories until 1978, when mainstream production shifted to Brazil and Mexico, markets where low operating cost was more important. The last Beetle was produced in Puebla, Mexico, in mid-2003. The final batch of 3,000 Beetles were sold as 2004 models and badged as the Última Edición, with whitewall tires, a host of previously-discontinued chrome trim, and the choice of two special paint colors taken from the New Beetle. Production in Brazil ended in 1986, then restarted in 1993 and continued until 1996. Volkswagen sold Beetles in the United States until 1978 (the Beetle convertible a.k.a. Cabriolet was sold until January 1980) and in Europe until 1985.

The Beetle outlasted most other automobiles which had copied the rear air-cooled engine layout such as those by Subaru, Fiat, Renault, and General Motors. However, Porsche's sport coupes which were originally based on Volkswagen parts and platforms continue to use the classic rear engine layout in the Porsche 911 series, which remains competitive in the 2000s.