In 1937-38 Ferdinand Porsche designed the Volkswagen Beetle. Adolf Hitler approved it and is even said to have drawn some sketches for it. Though Beetle was a name it gathered later, ‘Volkswagen’ meant ‘people’s car’ in German. A cost effective, no nonsense car that was truly socialist in being affordable to the common man. It is remarkable to note that, since the 1920s and the 1930s, Bauhaus in Munich and Vkhutemas in Moscow had begun imagining a SOCIALIST activity called DESIGN, which forged rules of Art with that of Technology to produce objects of function that would bring about an equitable world. For reasons only known to them, Hitler shut Bauhaus and chased them out of Germany and Stalin shut Vkhutemas and chased them out of the Soviet Union. And we don’t want to know what they threatened them with (if they did not draw or make what they wanted them to). Some of these radical fugitives found themselves in Switzerland and some others in New York. And we know the rest of their story.
The first Volkswagen cars were presented to Hitler and other top Nazis with much international pomp and show in 1939. Shortly, Tatra the automobile manufacturer of Czechoslovakia made some noise about patents they held, being violated. Then they became silent. They became silent because Hitler’s manic war on the world had begun. Czechoslovakia was one of the first countries to fall.
In Germany, before ordinary German people could buy the Volkswagen, Hitler’s good friend Ferdinand Porsche designed a battle version of it. The same engine, chassis, suspension and more or less the same profile- the ‘Kubelwagen’. The production of the Volkswagen (people’s car) ceased for the time being. The Kubelwagen was different in one striking feature (to the Volkswagen) though. It had a speed reducer that on special occasions could move the car at a deliberate 2 miles an hour, the average speed that an infantryman with his supplies and equipment walked.
‘Blitzkrieg’ was Hitler’s idea and it meant sudden war. He ordered the regular German army to do that. Country after country fell to the sudden thundering juggernaut of armor and howling bombers that smashed through defenses. Showing total indifference to the shell-shocked defenders, it sped on towards their capital cities, to demand unconditional surrender. Shortly afterwards, following the regular German Army, the Nazi army would come along- the SS troops. They shot everything that moved, men women children. The Nazi officers sat in their Kubelwagons directing their men and sometimes joining them. After killing over 75 to 80 million people, this stupid war ended in 1945. Those who survived the murder would never forget the clang clang of air-cooled engines and the frog like profile that moved at a very deliberate speed of 2 miles an hour; a symbol of sure death.
After the war, the British Auto Industry showed no interest in the frog like noisy car. Neither did French or American. However to give the defeated German peoples some thing to make a living on, the Allied occupying forces of battered Germany allowed production of the Volkswagen beetle to begin in 1948. The phenomenon began then, the ugly frog like machine with a bloodied profile and the sound of sure death transformed. It became cool. The Beetles drove it. The peaceniks made it their transport. It was sighted at all demonstrations of the young. In Paris it edged out their favorite 2 CV. Hollywood made hugely successful films on it. Woodstock was littered with them. No anti-war demonstrations were complete without them and without pausing; it became the sign of PEACE and LOVE. The production ended in 2017. The Volkswagen Beetle was the only car that stayed in production for 70 years.
How did this happen?
During this long haul, the hugely rich Volkswagen Company made ‘out of court’ amends with Tatra Automobiles of Czechoslovakia (who had made noises of their patents being violated.) But that was not all. Facts came out. Ferdinand Porsche had worked at Tatra Automobiles of Czechoslovakia before he began practicing in Germany and became Hitler’s favorite. Another man by the name of Jozef Ganz also worked at Tatra Automobiles of Czechoslovakia. He moved to Munich and designed his version of the people’s car ‘Standard’ and exhibited it at the Berlin Auto Exhibition in 1937. Hitler saw it, because he inaugurated the exhibition. Jozef Ganz and his car were never ever seen afterwards. Josef Ganz was a Jew and a communist to boot.
To those of us who would like to see how his car looked like, we can, on the Internet, just like why Tatra the Czechoslovakian automaker made noises about their patents long ago.
Whose design was it anyway?
Was it Ferdinand Porsche’s?
Was it Tatra’s?
Was it Hitler’s?
Was it Josef Ganz’s?
Or was it the people who eventually ‘designed’ it?
Prakash Moorthy, Professor and HoD, Animation and Motion Graphics, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)
Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.