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Hooniverse - January 4, 2011

Speed Reads: The Battle for the Beetle by Karl Ludvigsen

It's difficult to not be fascinated by the once-ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle, from its conception as a pet project of arguably the worst person in history to its unprecedented success. It has also been a veritable primordial ooze from which thousands upon thousands of Hoon-worthy project cars, kit cars, and race cars crawled to meet their evolutionary success (Formula V or the Baja class) or ignoble failure (Bugatti anyone?). It almost didn't happen, however, as war-torn Germany was stripped of much of its industrial capacity by indignant occupying Allies. How did the Nazi's People's Car survive being swept into the dustbin?

Ludvigsen answers that question in far greater detail than anyone could possibly need, unless you're a historian writing a thesis on the beginnings of postwar Beetle production. This is partly because the author had access to Ivan Hirst, the British Army Engineer who stewarded the VW works through the British occupation and into the independent entity it became in the 1950s. It's true that towards the end of the book, this detail becomes eye-crossing minutiae. That being said, Battle for the Beetle manages to convey the real message, which is that the Beetle was by no means a sure thing to bystanders in the late 1940s. After being the most-produced car design of all time, it's hard to imagine that at the beginning very few could see the brilliance of the design. 'It's noisy, the design is outdated, and it's uneconomical,' screeched the British motor industry when it became clear the VW factory at Wolfsburg might be sold. So the British passed, and so did everyone else. The reasons won't make much sense unless you read the book, but they do give some phenomenal insight into why the Beetle's 1930s design succeeded and made VW an international juggernaut while the British automakers sputtered and died.

Whether you're a fan of the ass-engined Nazi slot cars or not, the book is worth a read.

Article from and courtesy of the Hooniverse.com January 4, 2011 - http://hooniverse.com/2011/01/04/speed-reads-the-battle-for-the-beetle-by-karl-ludvigsen/

Karl Ludvigsen
Karl Ludvigsen

In addition to his motor industry activities as an executive (with GM, Fiat and Ford) and head of a consulting company, Karl Ludvigsen has been active for over 50 years as an author and historian. As an author, co-author or editor he has some four dozen books to his credit. Needless to say, they are all about cars and the motor industry, Karl's life-long passion.

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