Series production of the Volkswagen Beetle began 75 years ago in Wolfsburg

(December 31, 2020) HERNDON, Va. — On Dec. 27, 1945 series production of the Volkswagen Limousine began. Referred to internally as “Type 1,” and later becoming world-famous as the “Beetle,” the vehicle’s unique success story started in Wolfsburg thanks to the strategic vision of British Major Ivan Hirst.

In June 1945, the British Military Government Series assumed the trusteeship over Volkswagenwerk GmbH. Following the end of World War II, production of the Volkswagen Type 1 began with a plan to use the vehicle to perform urgently needed transport tasks within their occupation zone. Senior Resident Officer Major Hirst played a key role in this development, and it was this British pragmatism that finally protected the plant against impending demolition.

Hirst’s farsightedness and talent for improvisation made it possible to start automobile production in the years of rationing, under conditions dominated by shortages. With his enthusiasm for technology and cars, his purposefulness, and distinct attitude, he succeeded in transforming a former armaments plant into a civilian industrial company in an impressively short space of time.

The British Military Government issued an order for 20,000 vehicles in August 1945. The start of production was a visible sign of a new beginning and hope at the factory, which had been largely destroyed by the end of World War II. This solution was in line with British policy for Germany, which saw financial security and future prospects for the population as key elements in the development of democratic structures. Democracy found its way into the Volkswagenwerk, and on November 27, 1945 the Works Council elected in a democratic ballot held its constituent meeting.

Nevertheless, there were considerable problems in supplying the workforce with food and living space, and production was hampered by raw material and energy supply bottlenecks. Despite these difficult conditions, the first Volkswagen sedan left the production line shortly after Christmas. By the end of 1945, 55 vehicles had been produced.

From 1946 up to the currency reform, about 1,000 vehicles were produced per month. It was not possible to produce more vehicles with the material shortages, rationing, and lack of personnel. The trustees responsible laid the foundations for further growth of the company by beginning to export the Volkswagen sedan in 1947, and establishing a sales and after-sales service system.

The decision to develop a civilian factory and to start series production of the Volkswagen Type 1 was the starting point of a unique success story. Thanks to the early restart, Volkswagenwerk GmbH was ideally positioned for the economic upswing after the introduction of the D-Mark. Under the unofficial designation of “VW Beetle”, the car became more popular than almost any other automobile model throughout the world. It was also a record breaker in terms of production, duration and volume. Volkswagen only discontinued production of the original VW Beetle in Mexico in 2003, after 21,529,464 vehicles had been manufactured, including about 15.8 million in Germany.