The first VW Beetle rolled off the line at the Wolfsburg plant 70 years ago and marked a crucial step in the company’s history, as the car would subsequently be sold in more than 21 million units.
By the end of the Second World War in 1945, only 630 of the People’s Car known as the ‘KdF-Wagen’ had been built. The factory at what was to become the present-day Wolfsburg, built specially to make the vehicle, was integrated into Germany’s wartime armaments industry, producing mainly military equipment. The site was occupied by US troops on 11th April 1945, but in June the British Military took over trusteeship of the factory with its workforce of some 6,000 people.
On 22nd August 1945, the recently appointed 29-year-old Senior Resident Officer Major Ivan Hirst received an initial order for 20,000 Volkswagen Type 1s, thereby avoiding the threat of decommissioning and dismantling. The cars were intended mainly for use by the occupying Allies, but also to help provide healthcare services in rural areas. It was shortly after the first post-war Christmas 1945 that the first of the VW Type 1 rolled off the production line. However, by the end of 1945 only 55 vehicles had been produced in total. The start of mass production was a highly improvised undertaking and material shortages hampered operations over the upcoming months.
Production mostly remained stuck at around 1,000 vehicles a month through 1946/47. The launch of exports in October 1947 marked a first step onto the international stage and only after the currency reform in June 1948 significant numbers of private buyers emerged. Production at the Beetle’s last manufacturing location in Puebla, Mexico, was discontinued at the end of July 2003, with over 21 million vehicles being built until that moment.