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The Air-Cooled Volkswagen--History, Specifications, and Pictures

There are quite a few photos on this page. I hope you find them worth the wait.


The Volkswagen Beetle is regarded as one of the most remarkable and best engineered cars of the century. The car has its origins in the 1930s as it was designed mainly by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche during that decade. Porsche had had dreams of creating an economical car for the masses in Germany since he was a young man.

Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, ca. 1940

Porsche was born in Maffersdorf, Austria Hungary in 1875. His first car design was an electric car designed in 1900 for Ludwig Lohner, called the Porsche-Lohner Chaise. After this, he moved on to work for Daimler-Benz where he first struck upon the idea of a small car for the masses. The first "peoples' car" was a prototype called the Type 130. Unfortunately, Daimler-Benz was not enthusiastic about the design and the project was scrapped. After working there, he moved on to a short stint at a company called Steyr. They too, were not enthusiastic about the project as Germany was in the midst of a depression. Then a company called Zündapp, which primarily built motorcycles became interested in a small automobile for the lower and middle classes of Germany. They built the next prototype, a rear engined automobile called the Type 12. Again, the project was ruined when Zuendapp entered into a deal with NSU to only produce motorcycles. Ironically, the next company to approach Porsche about his dreams was the same NSU. They built a prototype called the NSU Type 32. The car had many features of the early Beetles, but once again the project came to a screeching halt as NSU didn't have the funding to put the car into production.

In January of 1933, Porsche met with Adolf Hitler to discuss the matter of a peoples' car. They set guidelines for how large, how expensive, and what type of engine the car should have. Hitler had relatively little to do with the car's actual design and development, and nothing to do with the production of the car in its first post-prototype form, for he was dead by that point. Unfortunately, Porsche was made to work under the RDA (Reichsverband der Deutschen Automobilindustrie, or German motor industry association. The RDA gave him only 10 months to build three prototypes for under RM900, whereas Porsche thought he could build a car to the other specifications in about a year for under RM1,550. He began to wonder if his dream would ever come true. Two prototypes were completed in no less than two years, the V1 sedan and V2 convertible--a third variation being the VW3 sedan with a steel instead of aluminum body.

Rigorous testing by the RDA revealed flaws in front wheel bearings, valves, brakes, and camshafts. A series of 30 prototypes, called the VW30's were given the go-ahead and tested for over 50,000 miles each by merciless SS officers. Another 44 cars--VW38's--were build in 1937 and shared most of the characteristics of the first production Beetles. The glaring flaws had been worked out by this point. The factory cornerstone in Wolfsburg was laid on 26 May 1938. Most Beetle production, however would have to wait as a little conflict called World War II got in the way.

Major Ivan Hirst is the gentleman who was responsible for starting up the heavily bombed VW factory after the war (the factory was bombed because of its production of German war vehicles). The earliest Beetles built from 1938-39, 43-45 were called "KdF Wagens," or Kraft durch Freude Wagens, which means strength through joy cars, a movement meant to give the German people a sense of purpose. A plan was set up to pay for your new KdF-Wagen by purchasing RM5 stamps every week. After four books of 50 stamps were filled, you could get your new car. The problem is, this never happened. Only a very limited amount of KdF Wagens were built, and they all went to government officials. Not one person from the 336,638 that signed up for the stamp program ever received one.

1948 was the year in which a most influencial man named Heinz Nordhoff acquired a job at Volkswagen. Nordhoff was the genius who took it's lowly position and transformed it to the most popular car of the twentieth century. From 1948 onwards, things at Volkswagen got more productive and positive. In 1948, a couchbuilding company called Hebmüller began producing a beautiful converted 2 seat convertible Beetle. Unfortunately, the Hebmüller factory burned severly in 1950 and only about 750 of these cars were built through 1953. Today, about 200 are known to exist, and are very desirable and expensive.

This Hebmüller is from Delaware and is driven often 250 miles to VW shows and back--most of these are trailered now, so it's nice to see one that gets driven.

There were many other companies who tried to use their custom designed bodies on a VW chassis. These include Rometsch, Drews, and Dannenhauer & Stauss. The best had only modest success. Another very important event in VW history occured in 1949. The first two Volkswagens were imported into the United States of America. These were imported by dutchman Ben Pon. At first, the cars did not cach on in the US, but would prove very popular by the mid 1950s. A big reason for this was that Max Hoffman, the Jaguar importer required a VW be purchased if a Jaguar was. Soon, dealers were calling back and just requesting VWs. The first regular, 4 seat cabriolet version of the Beetle appeared in 1950. A completed Beetle would be sent to the Karmann factory in Osnabrueck, and essentially, the top would be chopped off and a convertible made. These cars proved very popular, as the model was produced in Germany up until 1979.

1979 Super Beetle Convertible

An accessorized Split Window Beetle at a show

On 8 March, 1953, the well knowm "split" rear window (photo above) was enlarged and changed to an oval. The dashboard was rearranged the same year and the engine capacity grew the next--to 1192cc from 1131cc. (photo below) The oval window cars would remain until 1957, after which the rear window would be again enlarged to a rectangular shape. Minor changes were made to the Beetle every year for better operation and more safety. By 1955, 30,928 registered Beetles were in the US. That number grew to 191,372 by just 1960. The car gained so much favor in the US because of its endearing attributes. Unlike most Detroit-built American fuel guzzlers, the Beetle was very economical and cheap to maintain. Instead of radically redesigning the car every year for newness appeal, it stayed very similar and only minor refinements were made. The Beetle performed wonderfully in the snow because of the rear engine. They were reliable and trusty little cars.

A 25 hp, 1131cc VW engine from an early '53 Beetle

Beetle adveratising was undoubtedly some of the best in the world during the 60s. An agency named Doyle, Dane & Bernbach did their ads. They were clever and witty. Unlike glamorous American car ads, they were usually in black and white and were honest and truthful. Each and every one evoked a sense of humor in it that you cannot help but respect. Several ads have become classics, such as the "Think Small" campaign which told of the economical nature of every Volkswagen, and the "Lemon" ad of 1960, which spoke of their stringent quality control system. Every DDB ad helped create an image of reliability, individuality, and value for money that set them apart from Detroit's mainstream.

1965 marked the year in which one million or more VW's were manufactured in Wolfsburg. One was coming off the line every three second, and yet the world called for more. It seemed like everyone had one during the 1960s. The hippies adopted the VW as their unofficial icon, and "beetle stuffing" hit college campuses. The point was to cram as many people as you could inside the car. Disney only emphasized the charisma in 1969 when it released "The Love Bug," an adorable movie who's main character is a '63 Beetle, Herbie, who has a mind of his own.


1968 marked an important year for the Beetle evolution. Many, many changes were made that year including upright sealed beam headlights, new taillights, new bumpers, new seats, and much more. New emission laws caused anti-emission systems and catalytic converters to be added. Many people believe the car lost a lot of its character that endeared it to the millions of people. During the late 70s the Beetle's popularity ebbed severely. VW attempted to issue several special edition Beetles, but the reign of the German-built Beetles was nearly over. The last German-built one was a 1980 covertible which rolled off the line in Osnabrück on January 10th.

Today, however, the original Beetle is still produced in Mexico. It remains a very popular car in that country, but the new (old) ones do not meet US emission laws and can not be legally imported here. The Beetle now holds the world record for production; nearing 23 million units produced. It is a car which had its humble beginnings in turmoiled Europe, and evolved into the most lovable and popular car of the century.


As early as late January of 1938, there were moves afoot to produce a military version of the Beetle for the war that lie ominously ahead. There were many, many prototypes, but eventually two main vehicles emerged as the war-time KdF-Wagens. They were the Kübelwagen (literally, "bucketcar", but actually an abbreviated version of Kübelsitzewagen, "bucket seated car") and the Schwimmwagen ("swim car"). The latter was an amphibious vehicle with a rear-mounted propeller for water navigation. Only 14,283 were produced. The Kübelwagen was much more plentiful and practical than the Schwimmwagen. It is an extremely austere, rugged automobile built simply for war-use. About 50,000 were made. Survivng examples of both cars are scarce and very collectible. Production was from 1940-44 for the Kübel and 42-44 for the "Schwimmer".

A Kübelwagen, photo by Colin Burnham

A Schwimmwagen, photo by Colin Burnham

Another war car was the Type 82E; a KdF-Wagen (Beetle) on a more rugged, Kübelwagen drive chassis. This gave the car a humourous and unnatural high stance, but allowed for good ground clearance for off-road terrain. A type 877, also called the Kommandeurwagen was built in very small amounts. This was basically an 82E with a even more rugged, four wheel drive chassis. They proved almost impossible to drive. There are many other prototype or altered versions of these cars. For example, a pickup truck Kuebelwagen was made. There was even a wood/gas generator conversion to power certain cars because of the acute fuel shortages. By 1945, the production of most of these were cars had halted; sights were set at the civilian Beetles.


A clean Type 2 spotted near Woodstock, NY

Ben Pon, the same person who first imported Beetles to the USA, was the man responsible for convincing the Volkswagen factory that a commercial VW mechanically based on the Beetle was in order, circa 1949. He drew up sketches of his idea of a "box on wheels." The Type 2 Volkswagen, or "bus" was born in 1950. It was designed as a spartan vehicle for new businesses starting up after the second world war. The earliest buses didn't even have a rear window or bumper. Originally, the bus was to be built on the Beetle chassis, but it proved too weak for the larger bus. A new chassis was designed specifically for it. The buses built before 1956 are called "barndoors" because of their large rear engine lid. Soon after its introduction, there seemed to be a market for a more luxurious, passenger-friendly Type 2, and so the variations began. The base-model, no frills bus was the panel van, made for businesses. It had no windows down the sides of it, and no upholstery was available for the cargo area. The next bus on the hierarchy was the "Kombi." This was a bus with three windows down each side. It was designed to carry people and/or cargo, hence the name. Removable, crude rear seats were optional for the back. The next bus was the Microbus. It usually had the same window configuration as the Kombi, but was a step higher in comforts. It was not designed for cargo transport; nicely upholstered seats went throughout the vehicle and matching interior panels and a cloth or vinyl headliner were standard. It also came from the factory with chromed hubcaps and two-tone paint. The most lucullan bus offered was the Deluxe Microbus. Here, the amout of windows just takes off. You could get the three windows down each side, four windows down each side, or even five which was a curved plexiglass corner window. Four "skylight" windows on each side above the regular ones were a popular option. The Deluxes usually had sunroofs; infact, it is extremely rare to find one without one. These automobiles also had a fancy chrome strip between the upper and lower sections. The Type 2, or Transporter line was not limited to these busses. A single cab and double cab pickup were made. A special highroof panel van was made for cumbersome loads. There were many ambulance and firetruck conversions as well. There was a double door bus, with dual loading doors on both sides. All of these variations, plus the differences in window configurations makes for a seemingly infinite number of different busses.

It should be noted that a company called Binz began making double cab Type 2s in 1953, a few years before VW did. Apparently, a single cab didn't fit a certain customer's needs, so he took it to this coachbuilding company to convert it for him. They thought this was a good idea to market, and thus Binz began producing them. They would do the conversion, upholster their own rear seat, and paint the car (as they got them from VW primed) and sell it for about US$1800, $300 more than a standard single cab.


A 1973 Karmann Ghia

Wilhelm Karmann was a man of great ambition, much like that Dr. Porsche. His company, Karmann began talks of a joint VW/Karmann project with Volkswagen in the early 1950s. The idea was to produce a sporty vehicle based on the Beetle's mechanical components. Karmann turned to the Ghia styling studio in 1954 to design the body. The result was a gorgeous two-seat body in a coupe and cabriolet version. Finally, in 1955, Herr Nordhoff agreed to produce this car and the result was the Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia. Many enthusiasts find it the epitome of its genre in cars- styled in Italy and engineered in Germany. They were produced until 1974. 361,401 coupes and 80,899 cabriolets were produced.

An unusual, poorly recieved version of the Karmann-Ghia, the Type 3 Karmann Ghia, or Type 34 Ghia, to which it is sometimes referred, was introduced in the 1962 and never made it out of that decade. It was based on the Type 3 Volkswagen (see below) as opposed to the original Karmann Ghia being based on the Type 1 (Beetle). Though the factory produced 31 (2 are known to survive today) prototype convertible versions, the idea did not make it to production. Unlike the Type 1 Ghia, a sunroof could be ordered for the cars. From the back, one could see how it is easily mistaken for a BMW 2002. Otherwise, the car somewhat resembled a Corvair--the styling was much more US oriented. For that reason, many find it an incredible mystery as to why VW didn't officially market the car in America. Either 42,498 or 45,562 were built. Only 1,500-2,000 are believed to survive today.

A Type 34 Karmann Ghia

The unveiling of the T34 Ghia convertible--would not go into production


A Type 3 Notchback in England; Photo By Colin Burnham

In September of 1961, Volkswagen announced that they would be producing a new car--labeled the VW 1500. The car would share very little in common with the Beetle. The engine was to be rear-engined, air-cooled 1498cc unit which would be configured to take up less space than that of the Beetles'. The resultant car was one which was radically different than the Volkswagen's primary car. It was more conventional for the time--a "three box" design, one that was actually pleasing to the eye. The first model of this new line was a standard looking sedan. It would eventually earn the nickname "Notchback." Released around the same time as the Notchback, another Type 3 variety was called the "Squareback." As one might fathom, it was the model of the line which we in America would refer to as the station wagon. The Germans, however, called the Type 2, Bus, the station wagon. The squareback was called the Varient--it would prove to be the longest running model of the Type 3 line.

A very nice custom, lowered Type 3 Squareback

In August of 1965, a third Type 3 joined the other two. It was aptly named the "Fastback" because of its sportscar fastback style. The cars were all tastefully designed and well proportioned. They were produced until 1973.


A nice VW Thing with soft top

A rare Acapulco Thing with its hard top

While the Karmann-Ghia represented the sporty, elegant side of the Beetle family, another member, the Type 181 diametrically opposed it. A strictly utilitarian vehicle, the 181's design echoed that of the wartime Kübelwagen. It went into production at the Hanover factory in 1970, and though initially 1500 powered, the engine was soon replaced by the 1600cc unit. The Type 181 became known as the Trekker in Europe, as the Thing in the US, and as the Safari in Mexico. In 1973, production transferred to Mexico, and the car officially was imported into the US. Because of its military-like appearance and high ground clearance, 2000 were actually built for the German army in 1970. Some also went to the Belgian and Dutch armed forces.


I will soon have a Type 4 section up. These cars are really stretching my interests in VW, but they are air-cooled, and certainly worthy of mention and summary. Please check back soon.


Many companies have built their own bodies to be built upon shortened VW chassis. The most notable is the Meyers Manx, created by Bruce Meyers in 1961. Other look-alikes have follwed the "dune buggy" craze.

A VW-based, Meyers-inspired dune buggy

Other companies have built fiberglass kits for the VW as well, for example, the sporty-looking Bradley GT, and the odd Brubaker Box.


As is the case with many facets of the automobile hobby, there are always those few cars that don't quite fit in with the rest; usually because of their rarity, and/or peculiarities. The VW scene is no exception to this, and these are a few that some enthusiasts might not even know about.

The Fridolin

The Type 147 Microvan, "Fridolin," is an automobile that could be described as the vehicle between the Beetle and the Bus; it was a van developed for postal delivery that was based on the Beetle and bore a great resemblence to the bus in the back. The body was designed by Westfaliawerk, the company better known for converting many Type 2's into campers. It had sliding, not hinging rear doors and was in production from 1964 through 1973. 6,139 were produced for sale in Germany with about 85% of those going to the DBP (German Post Office). A further 1,201 were sold to the PTT (Swiss Post Office). The only difference between the German ones and Swiss ones is a lack of rear corner windows in the German ones.

A nice Fridolin van

The SP-2

This attractive sports car was built in Brazil, and was largely sold to the domestic market. A few examples did make their way to the rest of the world in the hands of private owners. The car featured a large-displacement Type 4 engine.

The Brasilia

This was another Brazilian-exclusive car. It resembled a cross between a 412 (Type 4) and and squareback Type 3. It was very successful in Brazil. Production commenced in 1972.

Ze de Caixo

I have to admit that this is a car that I had no idea existed until I picked up the April 2001 issue of Total VW, a great UK-based VW magazine. The featured car resides in an exclusive and wonderful collection in Belgium. The car is another Brazilian model. It is the only 4-door, air-cooled sedan that VW ever built, and is billed as a "prototype, experimenal Type 3," though they were build for two years, '68 and '69, making them the first of the Type 3-like cars to leave Brazil. What is really odd about this model is that the engine is an upright Type 1, 1600cc, not the "pancake" Type 3 engine I was expecting to see. The car also carries a steering wheel which I believe is unique to this model.

The Puma

I first saw one of these for sale on eBay. I had never before heard of it. Some time ago I received some information on the car, but I cannot seem to locate it now.

Here it is--the Puma (I've never seen one)

Another view

Engine is clearly an air-cooled flat 4

The Matador

This is an example of a car not built by VW, but one using VW components. One is known in Belgium in a private collection. As soon as I find the article I'm searching for, I can put some info up.

The Matador Truck (They also made a van)

The engine of the Matador sits directly under the driver.

More oddities to come: The Dannenhauer & Stauss, the Drews, and the many varieties of the Rometsch. (and hopefully pictures for the ones that don't have them)

Worldwide Post-War Production Figures for the Beetle during German dominated period (through 1980)

1945-- 1,785
1946-- 10,020
1947-- 8,987
1948-- 19,244
1949-- 46,146
1950-- 81,979
1951-- 93,709
1952-- 114,348
1953-- 151,323
1954-- 202,174
1955-- 279,986
1956-- 333,190
1957-- 380,561
1958-- 451,526
1959-- 575,407
1960-- 739,443
1961-- 827,850
1962-- 876,255
1963-- 838,488
1964-- 948,370
1965-- 1,090,863
1966-- 1,080,165
1967-- 925,787
1968-- 1,136,134
1969-- 1,219,314
1970-- 1,196,099
1971-- 1,291,612
1972-- 1,220,686
1973-- 1,206,018
1974-- 791,053
1975-- 441,116
1976-- 383,277
1977-- 258,634
1978-- 271,673
1979-- 253,340
1980-- 236,177

Production figures for cars built just in Germany for this time period are available; just e-mail me (link at bottom of page).

Worldwide Production Figures for Beetle after Production Halted in Germany

1981-- 157,505
1982-- 138,091
1983-- 119,745
1984-- 118,138
1985-- 86,189
1986-- 46,633
1987-- 17,166
1988-- 19,008
1989-- 32,421
1990-- 84,716
1991-- 85,681
1992-- 86,613
1993-- 104,710
1994-- 95,600
1995-- 33,361
1996-- 39,722
1997-- 35,678
1998-- 36,498

Please e-mail me for technical specifications--there is a link to do so at the bottom of the page.

If you have any questions, also please e-mail me and I will try to help.

I am going to try to find a guestbook for the page soon--too bad I can't keep all the charming entries from before!

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VW Beetle Locations and Years of Production