70 years since first production Beetle

It was shortly after the first post-war Christmas 1945 that the first ever Beetle rolled off the production line. It didn’t enjoy the explosion of success you might have thought in those early days, though, and by the end of 1945 only 55 vehicles had been produced in total…

Indeed, the start of mass production was a highly ad hoc affair with material shortages hampering operations over the subsequent months. The fact that due to allied bombing the once state-of-the-art Wolfsburg factory was a total mess didn’t help.

opener first production BeetleNEW

It was the British Army’s Major Ivan Hirst who got the show back on the road again, an initial order for 20,000 saloons providing the factory and its workforce with a future and avoiding the threat of decommissioning and dismantling. The vehicles were intended mainly for use by the occupying Allies, but also to help provide health-care services in rural areas. Production remained around 1000 vehicles a month through 1946/47 and it was only after the currency reform in June 1948 that significant numbers of private buyers emerged.

early Beetle

It seems Volkswagen owes a lot to us Brits; not only did we do a big tidy up at the factory, converting it to civilian manufacturing, but we also put a big emphasis on the quality of the vehicles, saw the importance of providing a good customer service and set up a dealer network which covered all three western zones of Germany by 1948.  The first elections to the Works Council in November 1945 – barely six months after the end of the war – introduced the principles of democratic employee participation into the plant while the start of exports in October 1947 marked the Beetle’s first step onto the international stage. In fact, by the time Volkswagenwerk GmbH was placed in German hands in October 1949, it was in the perfect position to aid Germany’s economic resurgence.

We’re relieved to report that VW’s historians rightly recognise Hirst as a key element in the company’s success, describing him as a ‘skilful pragmatist’ that gave the factory and its workforce a vision, motivating British military personnel and German workers alike to turn the languishing works into a successful market-driven business. Said a Volkswagen spokesperson recently: “He knew the qualities of the Volkswagen Beetle, and was able to realise them on the road.”

lots of Beetles

The rest, as they say, is history. Production at the Beetle’s last manufacturing location in Puebla, Mexico, was discontinued at the end of July 2003 but with over 21 million vehicles built, by then it had already become an automotive icon, loved by many millions.


The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage

4 responses to: 70 years since first production Beetle

    1. Hi Marcelo, thanks for your comments.
      You are correct, the earliest Beetle’s date from 1938, however these weren’t mass produced or available for general sale – being reserved for VW staff and the military; this article focuses on when the Beetle became available for the public to buy, which was in late ’45.

  1. Hi there found info a beetle article ,I am interested in getting one but to convert in my own time to a German world war 2 vehicle for re-enactments just wondered if any re-pro parts out there to take one off and put replacement on? or any where in GB where I can find a place that will make me parts for it and where I can get a Manuel for such a project.
    I need help and guidance, and would be grateful if you can shed some light on what I am about to do. GOD HELP ME.
    Thank you for your time
    Barry Chapman

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