Historic Car Brands



The story of Volkswagen begins with the ubiquitous ‘Beetle’ that was the largest-selling vehicle model in history. That dazzling success was blighted in the 1970s, but VW made the transition from rear-air-cooled to front-liquid-cooled cars and became the largest vehicle producer in the world.


Volkswagen was established in 1937 by the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), which was an organisation that replaced former trade unions. One of its missions was to bring to life Adolf Hitler’s dream of a ‘volkswagen’ – a car for the people.

A people’s car concept wasn’t exclusive to the Nazis and several engineers had worked on this mission since the 1920s, including: Béla Barényi, a pioneering automotive engineer; Hanomag’s 2/10 PS ‘Kommissbrot’ and Czechoslovakia’s Hans Ledwinka had penned small Tatras; and Josef Ganz developed the Standard Superior (‘German Volkswagen’).

Interestingly, Josef Ganz was Jewish, so his ‘Volkswagen’ design was discredited. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1933 and, after his release, fled Germany. He eventually emigrated to Australia in 1951, where he later worked at GMH, until ill-health forced his retirement.

In 1965 the Federal Republic of Germany sought Australian Government permission to bestow on Josef Ganz the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, under regulations existing at that time in relation to foreign awards to Australian citizens, the request was denied.


VW Typ 83 – Zoom Viewer


Ferdinand Porsche, a well-known designer of high-end vehicles and racing cars, had also been trying for years to get a manufacturer interested in a small car suitable for a family. He built a car named the ‘Volksauto’ in 1933, using others’ ideas and several of his own, putting together a car with an air-cooled rear engine, torsion-bar suspension and a ‘beetle’ shape for better aerodynamics.

In 1934, Adolf Hitler became involved, ordering the production of a ‘People’s Car’ that would be available for the the same price as a small motorcycle. It soon became apparent that private industry could not turn out a car for that money, so Hitler chose to sponsor an all-new, state-owned factory to build cars to Ferdinand Porsche’s design. The car would also incorporate some of Hitler’s design suggestions, including an air-cooled engine. (That came in handy during World War II for military VWs operating on the Russian Front.)


1949 VW Beetle – Pfan 70


The design brief for this car had been granted to Ferdinand Porsche’s engineering business, but it had no production facilities, so the first 30 pre-production cars were built by Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart. In 1938 Hitler laid the foundation stone for a new factory at a purpose-built town, called KdF-Stadt.

This factory had produced only a handful of cars by the time the War started in 1939. Production switched rapidly to the military Type 82 Kübelwagen (‘Bucket Car’) utility vehicle and the amphibious Schwimmwagen.


VW Kuebelwagen – Dark One


The future of VW hung by a thread in mid-1945, when control of it fell to the British occupiers. The thoroughly-bombed factory was placed under the direction of Military Governor, Major Ivan Hirst. 

One of the wartime ‘KdF-Wagen’ cars had been taken to the factory for repairs and abandoned there. Hirst had it repainted green and persuaded the British Army to order 20,000 cars, for the occupation force’s transport needs. 

Hirst and Heinrich Nordhoff, who later ran the Wolfsburg facility after the military government ended in 1949, re-established production in the only partly-roofed facilties, against appalling odds. By 1946, the factory was producing 1000 cars per month.


1966 VW 1300 DeLuxe – Howard 81


The car and its town changed their Second World War-era names to ‘Volkswagen’ and ‘Wolfsburg’ respectively, but it was still unclear what was to become of the factory. Under the terms of Germany’s surrender, the entire VW operation could be snapped up by any of the Western Allies’ corporations.

It was offered to representatives from the American, Australian, British and French motor industries and, stupidly as it turned out, all rejected it. 

Heinrich Nordhoff took over VW in 1949, when Major Hirst left the company and pursued a basic ‘one-design policy’ until shortly before his death in 1968.


VW Type 2


The Volkswagen was the Type 1 and the similar-platform Type 2 commercial vehicle (from 1950), as a van, pick-up or camper, plus the VW Karmann Ghia (from 1955) sports car and the Type 3 sedans and wagons (from 1961) were the company’s staple offerings.


Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia Coupe – SV1ambo


The Type 1 was a global sensation that was exported world-wide and  produced in several major markets. Production had reached one million by the end of 1955 and in February 1972, the 15,007,034th Beetle was sold: out-selling Ford’s Model T. Volkswagen claimed the world production record for the most-produced, single make of car in history. By 1973, total production was over 16 million.


1969 Volkswagen 1600 Type 3 Squareback  – Jeremy


The 1961 Type 1 Beetle had a 36hp, 1.2-litre, four-cylinder, air-cooled, flat-four, OHV engine made of aluminium-alloy block and heads. In 1966, the Type 1 engine was enlarged to 1.3 litres. By 1967 the Type 1 had a 1.5-litre engine and that grew to 1.6 litres in 1970.


1963 Volkswagen Type 3 – Namiejr


VW expanded its product line in 1961 with the introduction of four Type 3 models – Karmann Ghia, Notchback, Fastback and Variant – based on the new Type 3 mechanical underpinnings. 

In 1964, Volkswagen acquired Auto Union and in 1969, NSU Motorenwerke AG (NSU). VW ultimately merged Auto Union and NSU to create the modern Audi company. The purchase of Auto Union and NSU was a pivotal point in Volkswagen’s history, because both companies had the technological expertise that VW needed when demand for its air-cooled models went into decline, in the early 1970s.


VW 411 – Sven Storbeck


In 1969 the larger Type 4  – 411 and 412 –  models were introduced. These differed substantially from previous vehicles, with the notable introduction of monocoque/unibody construction, the option of a fully automatic transmission, electronic fuel injection and a sturdier powerplant.

At launch, the 411 was powered by a 1.7-litre engine with twin carburettors, subsequently modified in 1969 with Bosch D-Jetronic electronic fuel injection and claimed power output increased from 68hp to 80hp. This fuel-injected engine also powered the mid-engined Porsche 914.

The 412 replaced the 411 in 1972 and a year later the engine capacity was raised to 1.8 litres and fuel management reverted to a twin-carburettor system.


VW 131 Super Beetle – Lothar Spurzem


Volkswagen added the Type 131 to its lineup in 1971. The Type 131 differed from the standard Beetle in its use of a MacPherson strut front suspension instead of torsion bars. The Super Beetle featured a new padded dash and curved windshield after 1973, and rack and pinion steering replaced recirculating ball steering gears from 1976. The front of the car was stretched 51mm to allow the spare tyre to lie flat and increase front luggage space.

However, Volkswagen was in serious trouble by 1973, because the Type 3 and Type 4 models had sold in much smaller numbers than the Beetle and Beetle sales had declined rapidly. VW’s ownership of Audi/Auto Union proved beneficial when Audi influences paved the way for a new generation of Volkswagens: the Passat, Scirocco, Golf and Polo.


1973 VW Passat – Sven Storbeck


First in the series was the Volkswagen Passat, introduced in 1973 as a fastback version of the Audi 80, using many identical body and mechanical parts. Estate/wagon versions were available in many markets. 

In 1974, the Scirocco followed. The coupe was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Based on the platform of the imminent Golf, it was built at Karmann due to capacity constraints at Volkswagen.

The pivotal model was the Volkswagen Golf in 1974,  with angular styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Its design followed trends for small family cars set by the 1959 Mini, with a transversely mounted, water-cooled engine in the front, driving the front wheels.


1973 VW Scirocco – Arcturus


Beetle production at Wolfsburg ended when the Golf was introduced. It continued in smaller numbers at other German factories, but mainstream production shifted to Brazil and Mexico.

In 1975, the Volkswagen Polo was a re-badged Audi 50 that was soon discontinued in 1978. The Polo became the base of the Volkswagen Derby, which was introduced in 1977. The Derby was for all intents and purposes a three-box design of the Polo. After a second model generation, the Derby was discontinued in 1985, although the body style lived on in the form of the polo classic/polo saloon until 1991.


VW Iltis – Gunthe Biernat


The VW Iltis 4×4 military vehicle was developed in 1978 for the German Army and its Audi driveline design later appeared in Quattro cars.

The front-wheel-drive cars built the basis for Volkswagen’s turn-around and the Golf has been the stand-out. There have been eight generations of the Golf and its chassis also spawned the Volkswagen Scirocco sport coupe, Volkswagen Jetta saloon/sedan, Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet convertible, and Volkswagen Caddy pick-up. 


Volkswagen New Beetle – OSX


In 1994, Volkswagen unveiled the J Mays-designed Concept One, retro-themed concept car with a strong resemblance to the original Beetle, based on the platform of the Polo. Due to a positive response to the concept, a production version was developed as the New Beetle, based on the Golf’s larger platform.


VW motor sport


Jim Gibson’s son, Jeff, at the wheel


In 1963, Formula Vee circuit racing, with cars built from easily available Beetle parts, started in the United States. It quickly spread to Europe and other parts of the world. It proved very popular as a low-cost route into formula racing.

Volkswagen Motorsport won the World Rally Championship with Sébastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia four years in a row, from 2013 to 2016 in the Volkswagen Polo R WRC. 

However, the Dakar Rally has been the most successful endeavour for VW. In 1980, Volkswagen competed with the Audi-developed Iltis, placing 1st, 2nd, 4th and 9th overall.

In 2003, the Hanover-based team entered with a 2WD buggy named Tarek, finishing 6th overall and 1st in the 2WD and Diesel class. In 2005, an updated Race-Touareg with slightly more power entered, with driver Bruno Saby finishing 3rd overall and 1st in the Diesel class. 

In 2006, the revised Race-Touareg entered, with driver Giniel de Villiers finishing 2nd overall and 1st in the Diesel class.

Volkswagen won the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Dakar Rally events, then held in South America.


VW Race Touareg – Zoom Viewer


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