I almost don’t want to believe that it’s over. Not that I will miss the Volkswagen Beetle or the New Beetle or whatever the hell is shaped in that curled, wood lice shape that has become iconic. I just can’t believe that Volkswagen finally pulled the plug after a combined eighty-one freaking years, with the last car rolling off of the line yesterday. That’s no joke, either:
Volkswagen Type 1 and variations: 1938-2003
Volkswagen New Beetle: 1997-2011
Volkswagen Beetle (A5 platform): 2011-2019
From early age, I could tell there was something radically different about the small little car that tweeted wherever it went. It didn’t hum like my grandfather’s comfortably optioned K-car Chrysler. It didn’t have a throaty thump like my cousin’s Newport. And it sure as hell didn’t sound as work-ready as the FE that powered my dad’s F-250 around. Beetles were small, colorful, cute. That reedy exhaust note was enough to capture the imagination of people who weren’t car people, who didn’t want long, low and luxurious barges being sold by the Big Three. They simply wanted a simple, cheap little car that didn’t feel like it would fall apart every time. I can love or hate the Beetle as much as I want, but the original air-cooled, swing-arm cars are design icons and one of the most influential cars ever made, with over 21 million of the first version alone put out into the market.
The New Beetle came out when I was in middle school, and it was without a doubt the first car that blatantly reached for the “retro” vibe. Effectively, it was a Jetta that had been dolled up to appeal to certain demographics…namely those that pronounce the word “cute” as kyoooot! Unless you got your hand on one of the 250-unit Beetle RSi cars that was packing a VR6, six-speed and 4motion all-wheel-drive system, there wasn’t much to note about the New Beetle. The A5-platform Beetle toned down the cutesy charm of the New Beetle while still utilizing the Jetta-based roots.
Someday, I might come to understand the appeal of the Volkswagen Beetle better than I do now. As it is, I write off the two newer cars as nostalgia grabs, but the longevity of the original can’t have been just an accident. It was a car designed by under the direction of the Nazi party, of all things…until Béla Barényi successfully proved that he had technical drawings as early as 1925 for the earliest forms of the Type 1, the credit was given to Adolf Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche. The idea was to make a car that anyone could afford on a reasonable budget, much like Henry Ford did with the Model T. The Volkswagen survived World War II and lived through the decades of chrome fin cars, muscle machines, the hippie movements, the frugality of the 1970s, and more. And the New Beetle and A5 Beetle happened purely because of the love that the world over had for the original.
Eighty-one years. It’s been a run for the ages. The only question now is, what’s next?