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THE CONTROVERSIAL HISTORY OF VOLKSWAGEN
Classic Volkswagen cars are highly sought after today, but their development and production has its roots in the German political turmoil of the 1930s.
Volkswagen was formed on 28th May 1937 as a state-owned car manufacturing company, bearing the original name of Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi-based trade union was behind the venture to produce small vehicles for those unable to afford the luxury German limousines of the time.
Enlisting the services of Ferdinand Porsche, the design of the Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen was intended to bring ‘strength through joy’ to the German people, but production was halted by the outbreak of war in 1939. The factory was partially destroyed during the war, but when hostilities ended in 1945 a British Army officer, Major Hirst, took over the American-captured factory and showed one of the remaining cars to his superiors. Short of light vehicle transport, the British Army placed an order for twenty thousand vehicles.
In 1946, the production levels at the still war-damaged factory stood at a thousand vehicles a month, but the works faced an uncertain future. The motor industries of Europe and America all refused to take over the enterprise, leaving West Germany to develop the factory and increase production alone. Major Hirst passed control of the works to Heinrich Nordhoff in 1948.
The rear engined Type 1 VW Beetle, designed in 1938 for continuous high speed autobahn driving, remains the classic Volkswagen car to this day, making its first appearance in the UK in 1953. The updated Super Beetle version was introduced in 1971, and was sold alongside its older version for a time. In 1961 another production line was added, allowing the factory to introduce the iconic VW camper-van and the VW Karmann Ghia sports car, which was one of the Type 3 models being developed. These vehicles heralded the modern Volkswagen range.
Having taken over Auto Union (Audi) in 1964, Volkswagen were able to update their ageing models, and introduced the Passat, Scirocco, Polo and Golf versions, which ensured the popularity of Volkswagen vehicles continued.
The Golf was designed by Giugiaro, and was a front-wheel drive car with a water-cooled, transerve mounted front engine. Introduced in 1974, it was joined a year later by the Polo, a super-mini car. Designed by Bertone, its Hatchback and coupe versions were added in 1981, and the model has undergone revisions ever since. The earlier models are rapidly becoming classic Volkswagen cars.
The Passat shared a production line with the Audi 80 until 2005. Introduced in 1973, the Passat was aimed at the family car market. The Scirocco was introduced as a compact sports coupe model in 1974. The designs of the 1970s are joining the earlier Beetle and Camper-van models in the classic Volkswagen vehicle range, and as their numbers decrease, good quality examples are becoming rarities, holding their value and treasured by collectors.