Take two arcs. Place them side by side, with the crest pointing upwards and the edges downwards. Draw a third arc, starting from midpoint of the crest of the arc on the left and end at the rightmost edge of the second arc.
Congratulations; you have just drawn the Volkswagen Beetle. But wait, you have also drawn EVERY Porsche 911 ever. Every Audi from 1990 to 2000. Squint, compress the height a bit and you have the Bugatti Veyron.
This, my friends, is the iconic shape informing dozens of iconic cars. The inherent balance of the shape meant that it enabled Audi to join BMW and Mercedes in the league of the world’s favourite car brands, away from the adequate-but-meh marque of the seventies and eightiess.
And it all started with the Beetle. Given that it has sold over 23 million units in 81 years and in 190 countries, symbolising love, peace and accessibility, the following two factoids will shock you.
First, it was designed by Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, THAT Porsche.
And - are you sitting down? - it was the brainchild of a little known political leader called Adolf Hitler, as a rejoinder to Ford’s Model T and the Mini. It went on to symbolise the Summer of Love and the Hippie movement in the sixties. It became a symbol of world peace – and democratised transportation for millions of families. The Beetle became hopelessly intertwined with The Beatles.
Is that the sound of your head exploding?
The Beetle began production in 1938 and then ceased, when VW became busy producing military vehicles like every other manufacturer. After the war the British took over the factory and the car began selling like hotcakes. In 1949 it was launched in the USA to a rousing reception. But what was so special about the Beetle, other than the shape?
Context. Every other car in that era was a hunk of metal and chrome, guzzling petrol and costing a fortune. The Beetle (like the Model T) did for cars what the printing press did for books and MP3s did for music. It provided a small and efficient car ideal for families, cheap to run, built like a tank and supremely reliable. Yes it looked odd at that time; but the ad campaigns run by VW celebrated that oddness and made it desirable. The 1959 advertising made the Bettle into an icon of counterculture for being so different from every other car on the market. Eight years later, Herbie the Love Bug did the rest. It represented life and the joy of making the full use of everything you have.
The original Beetle stopped production in USA and Europe, but it was still manufactured in Mexico and South America. A new version, called the New Beetle, was introduced in 1998 but didn’t quite light the world on fire, perceived as it was as a cynical grafting of a Beetle shaped body on a Golf platform. Which was exactly what it was; in the age of the internet you can’t hide laziness.
Yet, the Beetle laid the foundation of Volkswagen (now one of the biggest car companies in the world) for being a “people’s car”. Every subsequent successful VW model and arguably even the Golf, Polo and Passat, followed the same ethos: providing state-of-the-art engineering and design (and a driving experience and price that compared favourably to that of their rivals.
It was fitting that VW chose to send off the Beetle with its The Last Mile campaign; a campaign that was not about launching a new product or increasing sales, but a celebration of what had passed. The SUV beast killed this Beetle beauty.
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night. firstname.lastname@example.org