Q Is For Quantity
VW CAMPER & BUS|January 2019

That air-cooled Volkswagens were a resounding international success from the 1950s to the 1970s is a matter of record. But for the real records, a proper look at the quite astonishing quantities is called for

Richard Gunn / Hans Klapp

One of the most extraordinary things aboutair-cooled VWs is how comprehensivelythey spread across the globe. What was,at the end of World War Two, effectively a ruined factory building cars many regarded as utterly worthless had become a thriving conglomerate within a decade, exporting these same vehicles - and more besides - all over the world. And this was only the start. By the 1960s, VWs were sold in 136 different countries and built in 12 of them, in addition to Germany. It was a remarkable achievement for VW, and while it was the Beetle that spearheaded such impressive quantities, it was ably supported by the many other machines to bear the VW roundel

There were lots of factors involved in Volkswagen’s supremacy, not least planning, organisation, foresight, efficiency, quality, imagination, inspiration… and quite a large dollop of luck. But nothing quite tells the story like the numbers.

From summer 1945, with the war finally at an end, the Wolfsburg factory was under the control of the British Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. It had been extensively bombed and was barely capable of turning out anything at all. Nevertheless, the officer in charge, Major Ivan Hirst saw potential in both the plant and its product; he demonstrated a wartime Beetle to his army bosses who were impressed enough to place an order for 20,000 of these strange little things. Post-war VW manufacture was underway. That first year, amid the bomb craters, shattered windows, caved in roofs, material shortages and general shortages and poverty, 1,785 Beetles somehow made it out of the doors. The next year, 1946, was the first full year of production - with the magic 10,000 just broken (the actual tally was 10,020). This was despite work having to stop whenever it rained, as the factory was so decrepit.

While production dropped in 1947 to 8,987, this year also saw the first civilian exports (although 50 Beetles had gone off to the Soviet Union and 3,000 to France during 1946, albeit for military purposes). It was Holland that kick-started the international rush to buy Volkswagens, courtesy of dealer Ben Pon, who visited Wolfsburg, bought six (but only got five) and also happened to see a crudely cobbled-together motorised flatbed parts runaround, the Plattenwagen, that would inspire the Type 2 Transporter. Ultimately, 1,656 VWs would find homes beyond Germany’s borders during 1947.

Volkswagen passed into the control of the West German people in 1948, with the visionary Heinz Nordhoff as its boss. He, more than anybody else, was responsible for turning the company into a global powerhouse. Production more than doubled to 19,244 during his first year in charge, as did exports (4,464, with Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden joining Holland). And it doubled again the following year (46,154) although rather more significant - albeit only with the passing of time was that the pioneer Type 2s were built and the first Beetles made their way across the Atlantic to the USA. However, there wasn’t too much to get excited about quite yet - for a mere eight Transporters were bolted together at Wolfsburg, while America received a grand total of two Type 1s. From tiny acorns though…

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