Cultural History - 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Long-Term Road Test
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2012 Volkswagen Beetle Long Term Road Test

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo: Cultural History

May 24, 2012

welcome to yr beetle.JPG

I've been reading Paul Ingrassia's excellent "Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars," which includes a chapter on the Beetle, "from Hitler to the hippies," as the author puts it.

Everyone knows that the car was Adolf Hitler's pet project, meant to be affordable, practical transport for Germans, just as Henry Ford's Model T had been for Americans. What I didn't know (though I'm sure Beetles fans did), but learned from Ingrassia's book, is that the car's original name was "Kraft durch Freude Wagen," or "Strength Through Joy Car."

Or that first reference to the car's appearance surfaced in a New York Times article in 1938, describing Hitler's vision of "great sweeps of smooth motor highways with thousands and thousands of shiny little beetles purring along..."

I also didn't know that for years, German execs hated the nickname (the car was to be called the "Volkswagen Sedan") and refused to use it until the early 1970s.

In high school, I very badly wanted a Beetle to call my own. I had one surfer-girl friend who drove a bright yellow Beetle and another who had a baby blue Microbus. And one day, my dad announced. "I got you a Beetle." I was flabbergasted. Thrilled. Over the moon. I was expecting him to give me keys, but this is what he put in my hand instead.

avon bottle.JPG

That, for those who've never seen one, is a bottle of Avon men's cologne in a VW-shaped bottle. I was devastated. I cried. I pouted.

I got over it. My passion for the Beetle passed, and an evening spent in our new one didn't reignite it. The car looks good, but it sounds all wrong and the interior is way too Passatian. It's not a proper Beetle, IMHO.

But I do wonder--and ask you, the experts--what is today's equivalent of the Beetle in terms of design, desirability and cultural importance?

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @1,626 miles


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