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Volkswagen Beetle ever-evolving

Volkswagen Beetle ever-evolving

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Published : 2013-12-19 19:44
Updated : 2013-12-19 19:44

The latest, third-generation Volkswagen Beetle (left) and the early vintage model. (Volkswagen Korea)

The Volkswagen Beetle, best known for its arched silhouette and cheerful look, is undeniably the best-selling car of the German carmaker. Since its official debut in 1936, more than 22.5 million Beetles have been sold globally.

It is no exaggeration to say that the history of the iconic car is the very history of German automotive engineering and driving culture.

The Beetle was the ultimate expression of “Made in Germany” in the 1950s. When the economy was enjoying its heyday, it was Beetles that crowded the road. If German children drew a car, it would be shaped just like a Beetle.

Contrary to common belief, the the Beetle did not originate with Adolf Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany. Years before his dictatorship, the legendary engineer, Ferdinand Porsche had been working on a race car for mass production.

After failed attempts with two motorcycle makers, Porsche joined Daimler in 1905 but had to leave the company in 1931 as it didn’t show any interest in developing a compact car. Other collaborations also didn’t go well.

Then he met Hitler, who became chancellor in 1933. They promptly drew up the development plan, which paved the way for construction of the first Beetle assembly plant in Wolfsburg in 1938.

Hitler named the first prototype car “KdF-Wagen,” which means “strength through joy car” in German. But Porsche didn’t like the name. In the early days, people called the car “bug” due to its distinctive styling. (It was actually a New York Times article that first mentioned the car as the “beetle.”)

The first production car, project name Type 60, was unveiled in 1939 during the Berlin Motor Show. It was one of the first rear-engine cars. Its four-liter cylinder engine generated 23.5 horsepower.

After the war ended in 1945, the Beetle was almost on the verge of extinction until the early 1990s. Nobody expected its dramatic comeback.

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 model.

The vintage styling soon became an international sensation among young, hip trend-setters around the world. The cheerful look with the arched roofline especially appealed to more female drivers.

Its unique color palette, such as Salsa Red and Gecko Green Metallic, and the flower base on the dashboard also added fun to driving the car.

Last year, Volkswagen announced the latest, third-generation Beetle. Completely redesigned, the new model embraces a more aggressive styling and personality in an apparent move to lure more men.

While the new version abandoned the arched silhouette, the body is longer, wider and lower for driving performance. The more powerful turbo model is equipped with a sleeker, all-black interior fitted with red leather seats.

The Germany carmaker says the sportier, sexier Beetle is ready to make new history.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)

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