Ferdinand Porsche, known for developing the world's first gasoline-electric hybrid, designing winning race cars and light, yet powerful airplane engines, first thought of a small car for the everyman in the early 1920s. Porsche saw an opportunity for a people's car in the economic, political, and social changes taking place in the wake of the first World War. The leaders of European auto companies did not agree with Porsche. Cars were for the well-to-do. Workers would take the bus or cycle to work.
Not seeing eye-to-eye with big automakers, in 1931 Porsche founded a consulting firm. In 1934 Porsche won a contract from Adolph Hitler to design a small people's car. This peoples car was to consume no more than seven liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers, have four seats to accommodate the family, be air-cooled to prevent the engine from freezing in cold weather, and be able to maintain a speed of 100 kilometers per hour. Working from his previous designs, Porsche completed his first two prototypes in 1935 and built subsequent iterations, until the final design was realized in 1937.
By the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939, only a handful of consumer cars had been produced, when production switched from civilian to military vehicles. Following the end of the war, the Volkswagen factory was controlled by Allied forces who tried giving it way but could find no takers. The British automakers were uninterested and said: "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car.” When Henry Ford II asked his right-hand man Ernest Breech what his thoughts were, Breech said: "What we're being offered here, Mr. Ford, isn't worth a damn!"
Not being able to give away Volkswagen, Major Ivan Hirst was put in charge of getting the bombed out factory up and running again to fill an order for 20,000 VWs for the occupational forces. By January 1948 the factory was producing 2500 cars a month when the British Army appointed Heinz Nordhoff as the General Director of Volkswagen.
Nordhoff took the reins and defying the odds, began steering Volkswagen down the road to success. In 1950, Nordhoff appointed Maximilian Hoffman to introduce the American car buyer to the Volkswagen. Hoffman sold an underwhelming 330 VWs that first year. Sales slowly increased over the years. In 1955 Volkswagen of America was established and the millionth car was produced. Out of the first million, only 9000 had made it to North America. By 1965 one million Beetles per year were being built. In 1972 the 15,007,034th Beetle rolled off the assembly line, matching Ford's Model T worldwide sales record. 1974 saw the last Beetle produced at the original factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. Production continued in other European facilities, Mexico and Brazil. The final Type 1 VW Beetle was built in Puebla, Mexico on July 30, 2003. The original VW Beetle sold over 21,000,000 units!
With the odds stacked against it, not only did the Volkswagen Beetle prove the need for an affordable reliable people's car but it garnered a cult following along the way.