What’s Volkswagen, and when did it start making cars?
In 1937, Germany’s ruling National Socialist German Workers’ Party (led by Adolf Hitler) created the Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH (Company for the Preparation of the German Volkswagen Ltd), which – thankfully for us – was renamed Volkswagenwerk GmbH just a year later. Yes, VW was started by the Nazis, but yer da probably already told you that.
The company’s first car, though, was already in development. At the time only one in 50 Germans owned a car and manufacturers were falling over themselves trying to build something cheap for the masses – a “people’s car” as it were. In 1933, Ferdinand Porsche built a car he called the “Volksauto” with an air-cooled, rear-mounted engine and ‘beetle’ shape.
It was when Hitler decided that the private sector couldn’t fulfil his requirements for the right price that he chose to use Porsche’s designs for his new state-owned company.
The first prototypes were tested heavily, and what became known as the KdF Wagen (Kraft durch Freude Wagen – meaning ‘Strength through Joy car’) was to be sold via a stamp book system. Unfortunately, with the break out of war in 1939, no civilian that completed their stamp book received a car.