Battle for the Beetle
Autoweek February 26, 2001
You would think there can't be much left to say about the iconic Volkswagen Beetle. Yet a sizable part of the car's story had never been completely told.
From spring of 1938, when the cornerstone was laid for the VW plant, until 1949, when the Beetle finally became a mass-production vehicle, that period is marked by how little we really know about it. Into that gap steps Karl Ludvigsen with a groundbreaking new book Battle for the Beetle.
To be fair, the Bug's early history has been given a sound, if relatively broad treatment before. And it's understandable that the finer and harder facts have been clouded in obscurity. As Ludvigsen relates, just when the Volkswagen appeared on the world stage as Adolph Hitler's dream to put the German people on wheels, that the world began to fall apart - the result of Hitler's other, terrifying aspirations. The giant factory, which also built the V-1 buzz bomb, narrowly escaped destruction. And in the turbulent days following the war, the factory and the Beetle design itself became game pieces on the complex chessboard of post-war European politics. The focus of Battle for the Beetle, the struggle to which its title refers, is on the powerful forces (political, industrial and economic) swirling around VW as its joint Allied and German management scrambled to put the VW into production. Ludvigsen's conclusion: The conventional wisdom - that the Beetle's world-conquering potential was dismissed or overlooked by the international automotive community - is wrong. In companies all over the world, Ludvigsen finds, there were engineers and executives who knew exactly what the Beetle meant for the redevelopment of Europe and for the industry's future.
But the book is also a history of the emerging global auto industry, including U.S. automakers' European interests, an area largely neglected by automotive historians. It's also a technical survey of all the rear-engine automobiles that came before the Beetle, and all the later cars that were inspired or influenced by it's revolutionary design.
Ludvigsen's research is exhaustive and original. In the foreword by Maj. Ivan Hirst, VW's British manager under the occupation, he says much of the material has never been published before.
Ludvigsen's view spans the entire history of the automobile, around the world and across the last century. For any enthusiast who aspires to a similar perspective, Battle for the Beetle is required reading.
Article from and courtesy of Autoweek - February 26, 2001