Just before Christmas I idled away an hour at the Volkswagen museum, which is based at the maker’s giant Wolfsburg plant.
The collection is satisfyingly random, covering all sorts of things from a replica of the Benz Motorwagen to VW rarities such as the late 80’s Golf Rallye and the Golf Country, which was probably the original soft-roader.
However, perhaps the most interesting display showed how the Beetle was developed during the second half of the 1930s. The Museum has one of the two pre-production prototype ‘people’s cars’ which show how, what became the world’s best-selling single model, it was developed during those turbulent times.
Although, it’s pretty widely accepted that Ferdinand Porsche was more than a little inspired by Tatra models of the early 1930s, the Beetle story goes right back to 1931 and the Auto für Jedermann ("car for everyone") project.
Porsche worked with motorcycle manufacturer Zündapp to produce the Porsche Type 12, which established the rear engine layout and art deco-streamliner styling.
The second attempt by Porsche was the Type 32, on display at Wolfsburg, which was produced for NSU in 1934. This extraordinary machine is getting much nearer to the Beetle we know and was powered by a 1.5-litre flat-four motor developing just 26bhp.
Also on display was this amazing period shot of the Type 32 on test. (I had to wonder whether this was a factory shot or pre-war scoop photography).
The next prototype is this rather attractive red car from 1936 and powered by a rather smaller 958cc, 22bhp, motor. The final, pre-war, incarnation of the Beetle was called Type 60 or VW V3 and this black and white period shot show it testing on the demanding Grossglockner pass in Austria, which is still used by car makers today.
The last picture I snapped off the museum TV screen was of a group of Beetles pounding one of Hitler’s new autobahns. There’s something disturbingly ‘brave new world’ about this picture with its arrow-straight road, neat semi-modernist architecture and ultra-modern ‘people’s car’.
It’s rather odd to think that, less than six years later, this scene was probably in ruins.