The Volkswagen Beetle, officially the Volkswagen Type 1, or informally the Volkswagen Bug, is a two-door, four passenger, rear-engined economy car manufactured and marketed by German automaker Volkswagen (VW) from 1938 until 2003.
The need for this kind of car, and its functional objectives, were formulated by Adolf Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany, wishing for a cheap, simple car to be mass-produced for the new road network of his country. He contracted Porsche in 1934 to design and build it to his exacting standards. Ferdinand Porsche and his team took until 1938 to finalise the design. This is one of the first rear-engined cars. With over 21 million manufactured (21,529,464)in an air-cooled, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive configuration, the Beetle is the longest-running and most-manufactured car of a single design platform, worldwide.
Although designed in the 1930s, the Beetle was only produced in significant numbers from 1945 on (mass production had been put on hold during the Second World War) when the model was internally designated the Volkswagen Type 1, and marketed simply as the “Volkswagen”. Later models were designated VW 1200, 1300, 1500, 1302 or 1303, the former three indicating engine displacement and the latter two being derived from the type number and not indicative of engine capacity. The model became widely known in its home country as the Käfer (German for “beetle”) and was later marketed as such in Germany, and as the Volkswagen Beetle in other countries.
The Beetle was designed for sustained high speed on the autobahn. It ultimately gave rise to variants, including the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and the Volkswagen Type 2 bus. The Beetle had marked a significant trend led by Volkswagen, Fiat, and Renault whereby the rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout had increased from 2.6 percent of continental Western Europe’s car production in 1946 to 26.6 percent in 1956. The 1948 Citroën 2CV and other European models marked a later trend to front-wheel drive in the European small car market, a trend that would come to dominate that market. In 1974, Volkswagen’s own front-wheel drive Golf model succeeded the Beetle. In 1994, Volkswagen unveiled the Concept One, a “retro”-themed concept car with a resemblance to the original Beetle, and in 1998 introduced the “New Beetle“, built on the Golf platform with styling recalling the original Type 1.
In the 1999 Car of the Century competition, to determine the world’s most influential car in the 20th century, the Type 1 came fourth, after the Ford Model T, the Mini, and the Citroën DS.