Driving VW’s icons, the Beetle and Bulli

George Kacher:

Cruising through Berlin in a 1959 VW 1200

The perceived contrast between the cream vintage Volkswagen Beetle and the New Beetle MkII is as extreme as the difference between candle and LED, typewriter and PC, DC3 and A380. The rear-engined original, built in various forms and generations between 1949 and 2003, was an early personal mobility assistant: more spacious and less susceptible to bad weather than a motorcycle, more independent than a tram, more flexible than a train, more grown up than the Lloyd, Gutbrod and Fiat microcars it competed against.

Over time, VW sold more than 21.5 million units of its air-cooled icon: European Beetle production ceased in 1979 when the Cabriolet was phased out at Karmann, but the Mexican-made Bug continued to thrive until 2003 when crash and emission regs finally squashed it. Contrary to common belief, the Ur-Beetle was not at all about cult, image, even driving pleasure. It was a totally pragmatic A-to-B connector, virtually indestructible, totally affordable, utterly practical. The people’s car made history because it became the official personal transportation appliance of the Wirtschaftswunder generation (the hippie movement) and, eventually, if only as 1303 Cabriolet, for the nouveau riche who were not quite rich enough to obtain an MG or a Porsche.