The Nazi Porsche: Adolf Hitler and the Volkswagen Beetle
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The Nazi Porsche: Adolf Hitler and the Volkswagen Beetle

WWII

The Nazi Porsche: Adolf Hitler and the Volkswagen Beetle

Translated as “the people’s car,” the much-loved Volkswagen Bug was the brainchild of two designers: Ferdinand Porshe and Adolf Hitler.

Translated as “the people’s car,” the much-loved Volkswagen Bug was the brainchild of two designers: Ferdinand Porshe and Adolf Hitler.

by  Albert Mroz

The Volkswagen, or “People’s Car,” that so many millions have known for more than half a century had its genesis in Nazi Germany. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, who designed the Volkswagen, had to share the concept with none other than Adolf Hitler. And though the Volkswagen may have first been intended for use as a civilian recreational vehicle, it was quickly transformed into three basic military iterations: the Kommandeurswagen (commander’s car), Kubelwagen (bucket car), and Schwimmwagen (amphibious car). The VW’s transformation into a military vehicle was a rapid metamorphosis over which Porsche had no control.

Responding to the Model T’s Success

The original concept for a German Kleinauto (small car) was in part a response to the phenomenal success of the Ford Model T. The German motorcycle company NSU decided to venture into the small-car business and hired Porsche to design such a car. The prototype was known as the Type 32 of 1932, and was only one of numerous prototypes before the actual Volkswagen went into series production. Porsche had considerable experience in automotive design. Born and educated in the Czech Republic, his mentor was Hans Ledwinka, designer of the early rear-engine air-cooled Tatra. Porsche believed in Ledwinka’s design. In 1900, at the age of 25, he showed his Lohner-Porsche-Electrochaise, powered by electric motors, causing a sensation at the Paris World’s Fair.

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In 1905, Porsche joined the Austro-Daimler Company and designed his first race car, the Prince-Heinrich-Wagen. Through racing-car design, Porsche realized early on the importance of aerodynamics, and this influenced most of his later automotive designs. Wind-resistance tests helped him create highly successful racing cars for Auto-Union. Before starting his own design firm in 1929, Porsche worked for Daimler-Benz, helping develop the famous SS, SSK, and other Mercedes models.

Translated as “the people’s car,” the much-loved Volkswagen Bug was the brainchild of two designers: Ferdinand Porshe and Adolf Hitler.

Hitler and Porsche Get Together

When Hitler took power, Porsche announced his concept of a small, inexpensive car at the 1933 Berlin Auto Show. At the show, Hitler promised to transform Germany into a truly motorized nation. Porsche and Hitler met in May 1934 to discuss plans for the “People’s Car.” Porsche outlined the specs he had in mind. The car would have a one-liter displacement air-cooled motor, producing approximately 25-brake horsepower at 3,500 RPM, weigh less than 1,500 pounds, with four-wheel independent suspension to reach a top speed of 100 kilometers per hour. Hitler added specs according to his own vision: the car was to be a four-seater, get 100 kilometers per seven liters of gasoline, and maintain 100 kilometers per hour. Porsche proposed that the car be priced at around 1,550 marks ($620 at 1934 exchange rate).

The Goal of Mass Production

Hitler limited the price of the Volkswagen to 900 marks and gave Porsche only 10 months to build a prototype. Beating out other proposals, Porsche and his design team began building three prototypes in a garage at his home near Stuttgart. Hitler monitored the progress impatiently, then found out that Porsche was a Czech citizen. Dismayed, he quickly rectified the political problem by formally converting Porsche’s citizenship.

The relative success of the three VW prototypes was a minor achievement in comparison to the goal of mass-producing such cars by the millions. Hitler, vowing to out-produce Ford in the United States, became agitated over what he called the industry’s procrastination. On February 28, 1937, he warned during a speech that if private industry could not built such a car, it would no longer remain private industry. These histrionics foreshadowed what would face the Volkswagen company within a short time.

Originally Published April 22, 2014

Add Your Comments

One Comment

  1. Phil
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Whilst an interesting article, for reasons of expediency, I think, it was actually the British who we should call the “step fathers” of the modern VW. Post war the Brits decided to save the VW blueprints, re-ooen yhe factory and the British Army placed an order for 22,000 vehicles for good measure. If it hadn’t been for the Brits the VW would have been destined to be little more than yet another quirky Hitler plan consigned to the annals of history

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2240486/How-British-soldiers-helped-save-VW-car-rescuing-blueprints-bomb-hit-German-factory-1945.html

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