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Volkswagen Beetle Through the Years


Volkswagen Beetle Overview

The Volkswagen Beetle has survived a dramatic life of ups and downs. Born out of Ferdinand Porsche’s automotive prowess and Adolf Hitler’s economic vision, the Beetle is now one of the world’s most notable icons. With millions upon millions of VW Bugs produced, the Beetle has taken on (and been forced into) many personas: a feminine daily driver, a competent cruiser, a post-war export, a hippie peace-loving-mobile, and much more. Today, we’re digging into the history of the Volkswagen Beetle through the years, one of the biggest icons the automotive world has ever seen.

Volkswagen Beetle Through the Years

Conception (1934 – 1940)

1938 Beetle
  • Automotive expert Ferdinand Porsche had the desire to create a small car, and sought a company that could back his desire.
  • Following Adolf Hitler’s speech at the 1934 Berlin Motor Show, Hitler arranged a meeting with Porsche.
  • This meeting laid the ground work for the Beetle, and prototypes were built by 1938.
  • Hilter called the car a “KdF-Wagen” (Strength Through Joy Car).
  • Porsche allegedly didn’t like the name (we can’t blame him).
  • With only prototypes on the road, the public already nicknamed the car, “Beetle.”
  • World War II led to the demise of the KdF-Wagen, but Porsche maintained his passion for the Beetle.
  • The very first production Beetle, known by Porsche as the “Type 60,” debuted at the 1939 Berlin Motor Show.

Wartime Production (1941 – 1944)

  • The Type 60 first had a 1L 4-cylinder engine that produced 23.5 hp, paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
  • The German army’s need for utility vehicles pushed the Beetle to the wayside for the most part.
  • Some Beetles were still created and sold during the war, but these were mostly sold to Nazi officials.

Postwar Production (1945 – 1949)

1949 Beetle
  • After the war, there was still a KdF-Wagen factory that hadn’t been bombed.
  • The British owned this sector of Germany after the war, and they saw opportunity with this factory, ordering the production of thousands of Beetles using mostly leftover pre-war parts.
  • In 1945, these cars were called “Volkswagens” for the first time.
  • The first post-war cars had a bigger 1.1L 4-cylinder engine.
  • Engine output grew to 30 hp by 1948.
  • In 1949, an “export model” was created and shipped to the US.

Establishing a Brand (1950 – 1959)

1957 Beetle
  • The Wolfsburg crest was added to the hood.
  • By 1951, nearly 400 Beetles sold in the US.
  • 1953 eliminated the 2-piece rear window and added a single oval one.
  • In 1954, the engine grew to 1.2L, raising hp to 36.
  • By 1957, all Beetles had tubeless tires.
  • After the ‘50s, the Beetle was a strong staple in the automotive world.

Going Steady (1960 – 1969)

VW Beetle
  • VW sold over 175,000 Beetles in the US.
  • Engine output grew to 40 hp.
  • In 1962, the Beetle gained a conventional fuel gauge.
  • The windshield and side windows grew bigger in 1965.
  • The motor grew to 1.3L in 1966, and 1.5L in 1967.
  • VW shifted away from swing axle rear suspension in 1969, taking on a new semi-trailing-arm system.

The Decline (1970 – 1979)

1974 Beetle
  • Reviewers had been recently unimpressed with the sluggish Beetle, and competitors like the Toyota Corolla were encroaching on Beetle sales territory.
  • In 1970, the engine grew to 1.6L and produced 57 hp.
  • Volkswagen released a larger “Super Beetle,” a car that utilized MacPherson strut front suspension.
  • The Super Beetle produced 60 hp.
  • In 1975, the Beetle gained electronic fuel injection.
  • Volkswagen slowly shifted its focus toward the next generation of VWs, like the Passat (Dasher), and the Golf (Rabbit).
  • The demise of the Bug seemed imminent with diving production numbers.
  • The last US-bound Beetle was produced in 1979.

All But Gone (1980 – 1997)

  • While most markets rejected the Beetle, Mexico still frequently used these cars as taxis.
  • When Mexico enacted a law requiring that future taxis must have 4-doors, it seemed the final nail in the coffin for the Beetle.

The Resurrection (1998 – 2010)

1998 VW Beetle
  • VW designed a resurrected Beetle (Concept 1), and it was extremely successful at the 1994 Detroit Auto Show.
  • By 1998, a Mexico-built “New Beetle” was created with a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine that produced 115 hp.
  • Transmission options were a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic.
  • Volkswagen also offered a turbodiesel 1.9L 4-cylinder engine.
  • In 1999, the Beetle was available with a turbocharged 1.8L engine that produced 150 hp.
  • In 2002, the Beetle Turbo S was introduced, with a 1.8L turbo engine and an exclusive 6-speed manual.
  • The Turbo S was quick, producing around 180 hp and 173 lb. ft. of torque.
  • 2003 marked the return of the Beetle Convertible.
  • By 2006, the New Beetle was refreshed with an updated fascia, and a 2.5L 5-cylinder engine that produced 150 hp.
  • The diesel was discontinued in 2006.
  • The “New Beetle” was discontinued after 2010.

The Modern VW Beetle (2012 – 2017)

2016 Beetle
  • Now called just “Beetle,” Volkswagen redesigned the car with a closer-to-original shape with a flattened roof and upright windshield.
  • Engine options included a 2.5L 5-cylinder producing 170 hp and a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder producing 200 hp.
  • In 2013, the convertible was added to the lineup.
  • In Spring of 2016, Volkswagen plans to sell an all-new dune-buggy Beetle.
  • Today, the Beetle can be had as a 1.8L turbo or 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder engine, producing 170 hp and 210 hp respectively.
  • The latest Beetle can be equipped with features like rearview camera, auto emergency braking, voice control, panoramic sun-roof, blind spot monitors and alerts, navigation, 6.3-in touchscreen, Vienna leather, Fender audio, and much more.

The Last Beetle 2.0T (2018 – 2019)

VW Beetle
  • Volkswagen announced the Beetle would take its final lap around the factory in 2019.
  • Since introducing the The New Beetle, Volkswagen managed to sell 500,000 Beetles all over the world.
  • The final 2.0T Beetle offered two special edition colors, Stonewashed Blue Metallic and Safari Uni, and two final edition trims, SE and SEL.
  • Cool features included in these final editions are the VW Car-Net App-Connect system, a Kaferfach heritage-inspired glovebox, Fender’s premium audio system, 18″ white alloy wheels, and leather seats.
2019 Atlas versus 2020 Tiguan

Though the Beetle will be missed, it will forever be an icon in car history. Check out Volkswagen’s ode, The Last Mile, to the Beetle and reminisce on the good times.

VW Beetle Fast Facts

  • The VW Beetle was the first vehicle to sell 20 million units.
  • The original Volkswagen Beetle floated because of its unibody construction and well-sealed doors.
  • Certainly the most popular Bug of all time is Herbie the Love Bug, a ’64 Beetle that appeared in several Disney Movies: The Love Bug (1968), Herbie Rides Again (1974), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), Herbie Goes Bananas (1980), The Love Bug (1997), Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005).

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Want your own Bug? Search Volkswagen Beetle’s on Carsforsale.com to find the best deals near you.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2016 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Erin Maxson

Erin loves nothing more than a good road trip. To her, getting behind the wheel is one of the biggest adventures you can take because it can lead to anywhere. Alongside her Toyota Tundra, you'll find her co-pilot pup, Rory, and a 1976 Airstream Argosy in tow. Her motto: Life is a scenic road, take your time and enjoy the ride.

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