Early Volkswagens

In 1928 Ferdinand Porsche chose not to renew his contract with Daimler-Benz after a vigorous debate about an economy car that he wanted to be built.  The Daimler-Benz board of directors did not want to build this car, so Porsche quit the company in disgust.  Ferdinand Porsche then worked briefly at Steyr, but he really wanted the freedom of working for himself.

Ferdinand Porsche did not go into the car manufacturing business immediately, he started a design consultancy in Stuttgart, Germany.  In those early years he took on projects for car companies.  One of his early projects was for NSU.  The car shown below is a NSU Type 32 which he worked on in 1933 in which you can see the early lines of what ultimately became the Volkswagen.  The NSU Type 32 did not go into production because of a lack of funds.  In those days NSU were heavily involved in motorcycle manufacturing.


NSU Type 32 Prototype In 1933

In June 1934 Porsche and the German government entered into a contract to build prototype Volkswagens.  By the end of 1936 Porsche had built three prototypes.  The picture below shows two prototypes parked in front of Ferdinand Porsche’s in 1936.


Two Volkswagen Prototypes – VW30 (front) and VW3 (back)

As can be seen from the photo of the two prototypes, the final Volkswagen lines borrowed from both of these VW prototypes.

While Diamler-Benz did not want to make a light car when Ferdinand Porsche was there, obviously Diamler-Benz was paying attention to what Ferdinand Porsche was doing.  The Mercedes-Benz 170H bears a strong similarity to the prototypes that Porsche had been working on.  Paul Henshall sent me the following picture of a 1938 Mercedes-Benz 170H that he saw in the Cite d’Automobiles in Mulhouse.

VW by Mercedes

Mercedes-Benz 170H Has Many Visual Similarities to the Volkswagen

The Mercedes-Benz 170H came out in 1935 but it was not particularly successful.  During that period Mercedes-Benz only sold 1,507 Mercedes-Benz 170H models.


A Contemporaneous Photo Of The Mercedes-Benz 170H

The Mercedes-Benz 170H was available either as a sedan or cabriolet.  The Mercedes-Benz 170H was the last rear-engined production car that Mercedes-Benz ever made.

Because of the heavy German government involvement in the development of the Volkswagen advertising became a blend of advertising and propaganda.  An example of this is the following cover of a German automobile magazine in July 1938.


Cover Of The July 1938 Issue of Motorschau Magazine

In the cover artwork above note the license plate “KdF Wagen”. This was the original name for the Volkswagen. “KdF” stood for “Kraft durch Freude” which means “Strength through Joy” which was part of the Nazi propaganda story.  Eventually the car became known as the “Volks” wagen or the people’s car.

The artist took some liberties with cars internal spacing, as the five people seem to fit into the car much more comfortably than I think they would in an actual car.  This could have been because the cars were so new that the artist was not that familiar with the car.


1947 Volkswagen

The 1947 Volkswagen shown above was one of the first Volkswagen imported into England.  The two-tone paint was added in England.  By 1947 the Volkswagen had 1,131cc engines that produced 25 horsepower.  The pre-war Volkswagens had 985cc engines that produced 23.5 horsepower.


1950 Volkswagen At The Porsche Museum

While at the Porsche Museum I took the following pictures of a 1950 Volkswagen which was on display to show some of the history of the cars that Ferdinand Porsche worked on.


1950 Volkswagen At The Porsche Museum

At the Lime Rock Historic Festival in 2011, the following 1952 Volkswagen was on display.

Volkswagen 1952

1952 Volkswagen

As shown in the image of the 1952 Volkswagen below and the previous 1950 Volkswagen, these early Volkswagen had split rear windows.

Volkswagen 1952 (2)

This 1952 Volkswagen Has The Split Rear Window

The dual exhausts and the dual carburetors visible in the photo of the 1952 Volkswagen suggest that this engine has more horsepower than the standard Volkswagen.

It is amazing that the Volkswagen “Beetle” design that was originally conceived in the early 1930s endured until 2003 with only relatively small changes.

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