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The Volkswagen Beetle was not Adolph Hitler's idea. But he was involved.
Even while Ferdinand Porsche was designing fantastic Mercedes touring cars and racers, long before Hitler was elected to power in Germany, he was conjuring up schemes to mass-produce an affordable car.
Born in 1875, Porsche was already acquiring legendary status when he joined Jacob Lohner & Co. in 1898 and was nearly a certifiable genius when he left that company to go to work for Astro-Daimler (maker of Mercedes) in 1905. And it was his series of wildly successful racing cars and the astounding Mercedes SSK road cars while at Daimler that brought him world recognition. When he left that company to start his own design bureau in 1931, he was Germany's best and best-known engineer; and maybe the world's.
Daimler was never enthusiastic about building a small car and Porsche always had been. So, newly free, Porsche went out looking for a company who'd buy his idea for a popular small car. Motorcycle maker Zündapp approached him first and Porsche worked on a rear-engine car powered by a radial engine. But the radial engine's inherent problems were insurmountable and the project was cancelled. So Porsche moved on to another motorcycle manufacturer, NSU.
At NSU, Porsche developed the "Type 32" with a rear-mounted, air-cooled flat four (similar to aircraft engines Porsche had designed at Daimler) and a steel body that at least suggested the Beetle yet to be. But even though prototypes of the Type 32 were built during 1934, it turned out that NSU was barred from producing cars because of an existing contract with Italy's Fiat. So the Type 32 was stillborn.
Hitler became chancellor in 1933 and at 1934's Berlin Motor Show made a speech promoting development of just the sort of car Porsche wanted to build, and afterwards arranged a meeting with Porsche. From that meeting came the general outline for the Beetle and a commitment to build it. Prototypes quickly took shape and in 1938 the cornerstone was laid for a new factory to build the car in the new town of "KdF-Stadt" (called Wolfsburg now).
Hitler called the new car the "KdF-Wagen" the "Strength Through Joy Car" after the Nazi-led KdF (Kraft durch Freude) movement that was supposed to look after the working people. Hitler's name for the car wouldn't last and, at the cost of the most destructive war in history, neither would Hitler.
But Porsche's passion, the Beetle itself, would survive into the 21st century easily and by far, the longest production run of any single car design ever. It would evolve constantly, but always be the Beetle. Though "Beetle" was never the car's official name.
Ferdinand Porsche hated the name KdF-Wagen (he naturally preferred Volkswagen, the informal name under which the car had been developed). But even when only prototypes were skittering about in 1938, the nickname "Beetle" was already being applied by the public (the name appeared in a New York Times article that year). Considering the car's shape, how could it be called anything else?
Known by Porsche as the "Type 60," the very first production-ready Beetle debuted at the 1939 Berlin Motor Show a few months before German troops invaded Poland. As every subsequent air-cooled Beetle would be, the Type 60 rode on a chassis that was basically a stamped steel pan with the 1.0-liter (actually 985 cubic centimeters) overhead valve, flat-four engine located in the back making just 23.5 horsepower. Paired with that engine was a four-speed manual, non-synchromesh gearbox that sent power to the rear wheels that hung at the end of some rather treacherous swing axles. The front end used a trailing arm and torsion bar system that was rugged, if not particularly supple, and the steering was by a worm gear. The braking system consisted of four dinky, mechanically operated drums.
The scheme surrounding the car was that ordinary Germans could pay five reichmarks a week for savings stamps that could eventually be turned over for a Beetle. But no Beetles were ever delivered to anyone with a full book of stamps.
The German army needed a light utility vehicle, and that need would overwhelm the Beetle during the war years. The Type 62 Kübelwagen was basically a lightly modified Beetle chassis fitted with a new four-door convertible body and wearing 18- instead of the Beetle's 16-inch wheels for better ground clearance. The Kübelwagen's distinctive shape would become as identified with the Wehrmacht as the Jeep was with the American army.
Even though the factory's production would be dedicated primarily to Type 62 and Type 82 Kübelwagens, and the amphibious Type 128 and Type 166 Schwimmwagens during the war, there were still a few Beetles being turned out for use, almost exclusively, by Nazi party officials. In fact, between July 11, 1941 (the date when production officially began) and August 7, 1944 when production ceased under pressure of Allied bombing, 630 Beetle sedans and 13 cabriolet convertibles were built. During roughly that same period, somewhere around 50,000 Kübelwagens and 14,000 Schwimmwagens were built.
With the war over in May of 1945, the Beetle could have sunk into obscurity as an artifact of the darkest chapter in German history. No one could have predicted it would instead lead the industrial renaissance of a democratic West Germany.
Oh yeah, at this point, no one had yet formally used the name "Volkswagen."
Germany was in desperate shape after the war and cleaved into four sectors, each administered by one of the victorious allied nations. While the American, British and French sectors would be recombined to form West Germany, the Soviet sector became the police state of East Germany. Fortunately for automotive posterity, the KdF-Wagen factory, which was in relatively good shape for a factory that had been bombed, was in the British sector.
After surveying the damage, the British military government saw potential in the factory and the remaining stock of half-finished cars and sundry pieces. And the government itself needed transportation. So in August 1945, the British ordered up 20,000 Beetles. Also around that time, and since the KdF movement vanished along with the Nazis, the name of the town of KdF-Stadt was changed to Wolfsburg, the KdF-Wagen became, once again (and for the first time officially) the Volkswagen, and a new company, Volkswagen GmbH (managed in trust by the British until 1949), was formed to build the Beetle.
The very first post-war Beetles were essentially leftover Kübelwagen chassis fitted with the Beetle sedan bodywork (Kübelwagen bodies had been built in Berlin and that tooling was destroyed during the war). Production started in December 1945 and by the end of the month 55 cars had been built. These first cars were powered by a 1.1-liter (1131cc) version of the flat four originally developed for the Schwimmwagen.
Despite intense material shortages, production continued into 1946 with few changes to the Beetle. There's a lot of variation in those '46 Beetles, however, as the factory cobbled together things like headliners and door panels from whatever materials it could scrounge together. Despite the onerous conditions, the 10,000th Beetle came off the line in October of that year.
Export sales started in 1947 when 56 Beetle sedans were sent to the Netherlands. Bringing in critical foreign currency, 4,464 Beetles found homes in some place other than West Germany that year. Also that year the engine output leapt from 24 to a throaty 25 hp. Hey, it was a start.
The big change at Volkswagen for 1948 wasn't in the Beetle itself (though engine output skyrocketed to 30 hp), but in the management of the company as Heinrich Nordhoff took over running the plant. Transferring over from Opel, Nordhoff was no fan of the early Beetles and was convinced that it needed to become more refined if the company was to survive. Nordhoff was the driving force behind the push for constant improvement without abandoning the basic design that would define Volkswagen in the public's mind.
While a few Beetles had come over to America along with returning servicemen as early as 1947, the first official exports to the continent started in 1949 as VW introduced a Deluxe "export model" Beetle. The Deluxe had such extravagant equipment as more color choices, chrome bumpers, headlight rings, door handles and hubcaps (initially the Standard model was also sold in the U.S.).
The '49 Beetle sedan featured a new instrument panel with a single gauge in front of the driver and, in a leap of faith, deleted the hole for a hand crank to get the engine going. But the biggest change in the line was the introduction of a Karmann-built convertible which would last longer in the American market than even the sedan.
Already the Beetle was getting a little bit better every year.
Heinrich Nordhoff's influence was obvious in the 1950 Beetle's flurry of changes. Hydraulic brakes were now on board, a cloth sunroof was a new option, there were two ashtrays in the interior (one in the dash, one in the right rear quarter) and the heater was modified for quieter operation. Some time during that year the 100,000th Beetle left the Wolfsburg plant and so did the first Beetle-based Transporter microbus.
The famous Wolfsburg crest was added to the Beetle's hood just above the trunk handle for 1951 and there was some chrome trim added around the windshield, but the most interesting development was a set of kick panel vents added for better ventilation. Those vents proved too effective, however (customers complained about cold air blasting on their legs), and would only last this one model year. Prices started at $1,295 for the Standard sedan and peaked at $2,296 for the Cabriolet. VW sold a total of 390 Beetles in the U.S. sales during '51.
Opening front quarter vent windows were added to the 1952 Beetle and every forward gear except first now had synchromesh. The car also adopted 15-by-5-inch tires in '52, there was now a taillight for each rear fender and the turn signal switch moved from the dash to a stalk on the steering column.
The most significant styling change came with the 1953 Beetle as the two-piece rear window was replaced by a single oval one. The new rear window dramatically improved rearward visibility in the sense that some rearward visibility was better than none. Otherwise, except for moving the brake reservoir behind the spare tire, the changes for '53 were scant.
Still, Motor Trend was impressed with the '53 Beetle. "This is one for the connoisseur," the publication concluded. "Do you want a car that breaks sharply with tradition, and does so with undeniable competence? If so, the Volkswagen deserves your attention." Still, the magazine must in retrospect regret having entitled the portion of a seven-car test about the Beetle "Hitler's Happy Legacy."
The Beetle's engine grew to a full 1.2 liters (1192cc) for 1954, the compression ratio increased from 5.8-to-1 to 6.6-to-1 and valve sizes went up. That shot output all the way to 36 hp! Gone was the starter button as it was now possible to start your Beetle simply by twisting the ignition key.
Fender-mounted turn signals arrived on the Deluxe model (the only version coming to the U.S.) for 1955, replacing the mechanical semaphores that had been used previously. The gas tank was reshaped to increase luggage space in the front trunk and metal door stays replaced cloth ones. VW also added metal "eyelids" over the headlights which were a hit for their good looks, but aerodynamically disadvantageous. On a car with as little power as the Beetle though, such a disadvantage can be profound.
New bumpers and chrome tail pipes were part of the 1956 Beetle but the most significant change was the adoption of tubeless tires late in the model year. With a decade's worth of refinement built into it, the Beetle was now earning a reputation for being a high-quality small car but still not a quick one.
In a comparison test against the long-forgotten rear-engine Renault 4-CV, Motor Trend found the '56 Beetle Deluxe (the only model then exported to the U.S.) to be the clearly better vehicle. But it wasn't without its disadvantages. "Both have a tiny rear window and a big blind spot in each rear quarter," the magazine wrote. "The VW compounds this felony with a thick, broad-at-the-top windshield post that can be especially dangerous for taller drivers." The publication also found it to be a remarkable cruiser. "Since a horizontally opposed engine like the VW's is inherently vibration-free, a lot of driving is pleasanter than in the Renault which frequently buzzes . [The VW] is designed to cruise at its top speed, at which point the pistons are traveling no faster than a typical large American short-stroke V8.
"[T]here is a combination of civilized U.S.-type comfort and fun in the VW that the Renault doesn't approach," MT concluded. "We're even a little embarrassed about it, because we feel that in many ways it puts our own cars to shame. On the debit side are its homely looks, its tendency to break away at the rear on curves, its lack of rear seat room for adults. But in almost electric smoothness, in faithful service, and above all in the feeling it gives that all is well in the engine room and there is near-complete rapport between it and the driver, we know of few cars to beat it."
But the '56 Beetle sure was slow. MT's test had it accelerating from zero to 30 mph in 7.5 seconds and completing the quarter-mile in 23.8 seconds at a mere 52.5 mph. The top speed? Just 68 mph. The then-new Beetle-based Karmann-Ghia two-seater was no quicker.
All the 1957 Beetles had tubeless tires and there were modifications to the heater in order to distribute air more evenly through the cabin. However '57 wouldn't be remembered for any firsts in the Beetle genealogy. Instead it will always be known as the last Beetle with the small oval rear window.
The single greatest change in Beetle body design came with the 1958 model that used a new rectangular rear window with nearly twice the surface area of the oval window it replaced. The bigger rear window also meant the air intakes and engine cover were redesigned. The windshield was also enlarged, taking some of the apparent thickness out of the roof in the process. Beyond that, VW redesigned the dashboard, moved the front turn signals to the top of the fenders, added a new flat accelerator pedal and repositioned the radiator grille to face the driver. VW was also getting very good at making the Beetle in vast quantities as a stunning 451,526 cars were put on the world's roads during '58.
Chassis reinforcements, push-button door handles, additional interior insulation, softer seats and some tweaks to the suspension (anti-sway bars were added) carried the Beetle through the 1959 model year. VW made 575,407 of them that year and 120,442 VWs of all types (Beetle, Transporter and the Karmann-Ghia) were sold in the U.S.
By the end of the 1950s, the Beetle was a long-term, undeniable success. But years after a typical car would have been superseded, the Beetle was just on the verge of its greatest success.
A plastic headliner, new dished steering wheel, better shaped front seats and a passenger footrest were elements of the 1960 Beetle. Otherwise, the car carried over pretty much intact from '59.
For 1961 the Beetle engine's compression ratio leapt up to 7.0-to-1 and total output was now a full 40 hp. Also, first gear finally got synchromesh of its own, the fuel tank was redesigned again to improve luggage space, the passenger got a grab handle to hold and a sun visor to cut down the glare. VW made a startling 796,825 of them during '61 and VW sold 177,308 vehicles of all types in the United States.
A conventional fuel gauge (instead of a lever to switch to a reserve tank) and bigger taillights came aboard the Beetle for 1962. Other changes included spring loading of the front hood, revised steering and sliding covers for the heater vents.
Another change to the headliner came for 1963 as it was now made of leatherette. There was some additional insulation on the floor, the window guides were now made of durable nylon and the Wolfsburg crest disappeared from the hood for no good reason.
A sliding steel sunroof was now offered in place of the previous fabric sunroof for 1964. The leatherette upholstery was also perforated for greater comfort and the steering wheel was modified with buttons for the horn instead of a half-ring.
Both the windshield and the side windows grew on the 1965 Beetle, significantly increasing the airiness of the cabin and giving the car a distinctly different appearance from previous Beetles. The rear engine cover now opened with the push of a button instead of the twist of a T-handle, and the front seats were thinner and contoured in back to increase rear legroom. The larger windshield wipers got a new, more powerful motor and when turned off rested to the left side of the windshield instead of the right.
More power came in 1966 as the engine grew to 1.3 liters (1285cc) and a new "1300" badge on the trunk lid announced that fact. The flat four now pumped out a full 50 hp. Remember the horn buttons that replaced the half-ring honker in '64? The half-ring had its vengeance in '66 as it replaced the buttons. Go figure.
Another displacement bump came with the 1967 Beetle with the 1.5-liter (1493cc) engine now making 53 hp. The most noticeable external difference was that the headlights had moved out from under their glass covers and the fenders were slightly reshaped to accommodate that change. Backup lights were also added and, like the rest of the electrical system, they operated on a 12-volt electrical system rather than the archaic 6-volt one that had been part of every previous Beetle.
Motor Trend revisited the Beetle for '67 and still found much to love, and more to criticize. "VW's longest, strongest suit is its service and parts availability, which are on par with many domestic makes," it wrote. "This, combined with its workmanship and reliability, makes it the most practical import to own and puts many of its shortcomings in the shade." The magazine's test had the Beetle 1500 going from zero to 30 in 5.9 seconds and hitting 60 in a languorous 20.4 seconds. MT didn't report a quarter-mile time, but that may just have been a moot point the Beetle was still slow.
One-piece bumpers, larger tail lamps and (finally) an external gas filler door distinguished the 1968 Beetle from its progenitors. The door handles now had a triggerlike release mechanism, and the seats were now high-backed units incorporating the U.S.-mandated head restraints.
Mechanically, the big innovation for '68 was the new optional Automatic Stick Shift semiautomatic transmission. The Automatic Stick Shift was basically the top three gears of the regular gearbox with a power-operated clutch that disengaged whenever pressure was applied to the shift lever. In other words, the driver still had to shift but didn't have to press a clutch pedal. It didn't set the world on fire.
VW finally abandoned the Beetle's swingarm rear suspension in 1969 with the adoption of a new semi-trailing arm system that was far more compliant and forgiving (at least some '68 Beetles with the Automatic Stick Shift are rumored to have been blessed with this new suspension). A rear window defogger was now on board and so was an inside fuel filler door release.
By 1969 competition from high-quality small cars like the Toyota Corolla and Datsun 510 was moving in on the Beetle's traditional sales territory. And on the horizon were challenges like emissions and safety regulations that were going to be tough to meet with a design that dated back to the 1930s. It was apparent the Beetle's days were numbered. Or was it?
The engine grew again for 1970 hitting 1.6 liters (1585cc) and 57 hp. To go with the extra displacement there were new ventilation holes in the engine cover. The size of the head restraints shrunk for better visibility while the front turn signals were made larger so they could also incorporate side marker lights.
Car and Driver tested a '70 Beetle equipped with the Automatic Stick Shift and wasn't overly impressed. "The acceleration tests were disappointing," it wrote, "in that we couldn't feel the punch of the additional 4 hp and 3.6 pound-feet of torque. It's entirely possible you won't be able to feel it either, but can read it on the specification page. For reasons best known, and perhaps only known, to Wolfsburg, the test car was slightly slower than an identically equipped 1968 model previously tested 21.2 seconds at 61.5 mph in the quarter for the new Beetle compared to 21.0 seconds at 63.0 mph for the old one. Both cars were equipped with the A.S.S. (the internationally recognized abbreviation for Automatic Stick Shift)."
As to the chassis, Car and Driver reported, "Where old Beetles liked to tuck a wheel under and go belly up in the ditch, the new ones slew around corners in an almost predictable fashion. We pronounce the suspension an unqualified improvement."
In conclusion, the magazine wrote, "The VW's popularity isn't what it used to be. Volkswagen is still the largest selling import by a four-to-one margin over its closest competitor, Toyota, but its share of the business has dropped considerably. In 1965, VW enjoyed 67 percent of the import market, but last year it dropped below 50 percent. We wouldn't want to be accused of crying wolf or anything like that, but if this continues, along about 1987 (dune buggy pioneer) Bruce Meyers and everybody following in his footsteps will have to start looking somewhere else for parts."
For 1971 the Beetle got yet another radical suspension change with the adoption of MacPherson strut front suspension to create the "Super Beetle" model, replacing the archaic torsion bar front suspension that had been used (and was still used on the regular Beetle whose name was now, at least somewhat officially, Beetle) since the '40s doubled the luggage space. The Super Beetle's wheelbase was also extended and output from the 1.6-liter engine was now a full 60 hp.
About the only changes for the 1972 model year were the addition of an energy-absorbing steering wheel and a slightly larger rear window. The plant in New Zealand that assembled the Beetle ceased production during this model year the start of a trend.
A curved windshield, flow-through ventilation and a new padded and more modern dashboard were all part of the 1973 Super Beetle. But otherwise, changes were minimal as VW's engineering resources were directed to other, ultimately more vital and water-cooled, projects.
In 1974, the Wolfsburg plant, which was being retooled to produce the front-drive Beetle replacement called the Golf (initially sold as the Rabbit in the U.S.), stopped producing Beetles. And the front-drive, water-cooled Passat (Dasher in the U.S.) was now being sold alongside the Beetle at VW dealers. If anyone doubted the Beetle's days were numbered, they weren't paying attention.
Electronic fuel injection was added to the Beetle for 1975, but horsepower dropped to 48 as emissions regulations had their effect. Production for the U.S. was now coming from VW plants in Emden and Belgium with other plants around the world still churning Beetles out for local consumption.
Carrying over virtually unchanged through 1976, the last U.S. Beetle sedans were sold here during 1977. However, the Super Beetle convertible continued as an icon of sorority girl style through 1979. The final Beetle convertible, the 330,281st, came off Karmann's Osnabrück line on January 10th, 1979. That was that for the Beetle in the United States.
But it wasn't the end of the Beetle.
Production of the Beetle continued for Europe and the rest of the world at a plant in Puebla, Mexico. In 1981 the 20 millionth Beetle popped off the Puebla line and headed straight into a museum.
Other plants assembling the Beetle around the world for their own markets ceased production in dominolike succession. Australia, Portugal and Yugoslavia had all stopped by 1976. South Africa closed its line in 1979. Venezuela followed suit in 1981, the Philippines and Uruguay in 1982 and Peru in 1987. In Brazil, where the Beetle had been assembled as the "Fusca" from 1953, production ceased in 1986 and then was started again in 1993 and finally ended in 1996.
In 1985, Puebla stopped exporting Beetles to Europe, but the car was still popular in Mexico, particularly as a taxicab. Cab operators in Mexico City would remove the passenger side front seat and fares would sit in the back. For cab operators, the Vocho (the Beetle's local name) had the advantages of extreme reliability, a vast supply of parts and, thanks to a government decree dropping the price 20 percent, the affordability of the cheapest new car in all of Mexico. Demand was so great for the old Beetle that a third shift was added to the Puebla plant in 1990 to produce the "Sedán Clásico." And in 1990, the millionth example produced in Mexico was built. In 1992 the plant turned out the 21 millionth Beetle.
The death knell for the Beetle finally came when Mexico City enacted a law making it mandatory that all taxicabs in the future had to have four doors even though the green and white Beetle taxis had become a symbol of the city. Demand dropped precipitously as new, vastly more modern models from Nissan and others encroached on the Beetle's ultracheap turf.
The very last air-cooled, rear-engine Beetle, an "Última Edición" and the 21,529,464th one ever made, was completed on July 30th, 2003 at Puebla and was immediately shipped back to Wolfsburg to sit in VW's museum alongside so many of its ancestors.
The Beetle was long gone from most automotive markets by the 1990s, but the worldwide reservoir of goodwill toward the car had hardly diminished. Around 1991, at VW's design studio in Simi Valley, Calif., the studio's manager, J Mays, and designer Freeman Thomas began conjuring up a car that would recall the Beetle, but with a modern edge. The resulting design, the Concept 1, was displayed to huge and unprecedented acclaim at the 1994 Detroit Auto Show. So Volkswagen decided to turn it into a production vehicle.
The New Beetle, built exclusively at VW's Puebla, Mexico plant, appeared in mid-1998 more as a stylish variation on the front-drive Golf than as a lineal descendent of the original Beetle. In fact, under the evocative skin, all the mechanical bits were lifted directly from the Golf, including the transverse-mounted, water-cooled, 115-hp, 2.0-liter, SOHC, eight-valve, inline four in the nose; the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions; and the all-independent suspension. And shortly after the gasoline-fueled version was announced, the Beetle was also made available with VW's excellent 90-hp, 1.9-liter, turbodiesel four. Trim levels included base GL, midlevel GLS and loaded GLX.
"There is so much to say about the vehicle," we wrote upon our first experience with the New Beetle, "but the bottom line is that it makes everybody happy; it's a fun, refreshing car that drips personality, right down to the smile on its hood. It also comes in an array of sunny, cheerful colors including red, yellow, white and black in non-metallic finish, and silver, bright blue, (lime) green and dark blue metallic hues."
ABS brakes were added to the New Beetle's list of standard equipment for 1999. At the midyear mark, the Beetle was also offered with VW's 150-hp, turbocharged, 1.8-liter four in the 1.8T model. Besides the blown power plant, the 1.8T also featured a small spoiler that would automatically emerge from the top of the rear window as the car built speed.
Few changes came to the New Beetle 2000. An immobilizer anti-theft system was now standard and the 1.8T acquired traction control.
High-intensity discharge headlights were added to the 2001 New Beetle options list, the standard equipment list grew for the GLX and the sideview mirrors grew in size, but otherwise it was a carryover year.
The big news for 2002 was the addition of the sportiest New Beetle yet, the Turbo S. "For power, this fired-up Bug sports VW's venerable 1.8T turbocharged engine," we reported in a three-car comparison test with Ford's SVT Focus and Honda's Civic Si. "It's a 20-valve DOHC four-cylinder design, with an iron block and aluminum cylinder head. Thanks to upgrades and optimization of the air intake, ignition timing and fuel mixture, along with a less-restrictive exhaust system, the engine makes 180 hp at 5,500 rpm and 173 pound-feet of torque from 1,950 rpm to 5,000 rpm. These numbers are considerably more than the 150 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque provided by the 1.8T in the GLX. To get the Turbo S' power to the front wheels, VW has installed an exclusive six-speed manual transmission.
"This powertrain gives the turbos an advantage over the Civic Si and SVT Focus. Not only does it have more horsepower, but considerably more torque, too. During instrumented testing, however, the Turbo S did little to back up its specs. Zero to 60 mph took 8.0 seconds, just a smidge faster than the Civic and slower than we expected. Its fastest quarter-mile time was 16.1 seconds at 87.5 mph. While these are certainly respectable numbers, one usually doesn't want 'respectable' when spending more than $20,000. However, we will say it's possible that our test car was under-producing: The Jetta GLS 1.8T from the Econosport Comparison test was faster, and Volkswagen's conservative in-house 0-to-60-mph number for the Turbo S is 7.4 seconds."
One of the three cars had to finish third in that test and that car was the New Beetle Turbo S.
Casting the New Beetle as a sports car was always kind of a stretch, however. But slicing off the roof and turning the car into a convertible seemed to be perfectly in character with the car. So it was gratifying when the New Beetle Cabriolet appeared for 2003. Available initially only with the 2.0-liter SOHC four, the Cabriolet immediately became an icon among sorority girls the world over. Later in the year, the Cabriolet became an even better car when the 1.8T version was offered. Except for new wheels and new color combinations, the New Beetle and Cabriolet began the 2004 model year almost indistinguishable from the '03 models.
Of course, New Beetle sales have cooled since the mania that occurred when the car first went on sale, but the car has undeniably been a hit for VW. Will it be as big a hit as the original Beetle was? Check back with this site in the year 2063 to find out if the new Beetle is still in production some place with more than 21 million of them having been produced.