|As an aging Deadhead hippie type, I have a tremendous affinity for VW. They've built a cult following and cultivated a corporate identity unlike any other auto manufacturer in the history of automobiles. It's changed and evolved over the years, but to this day, those who drive VW tend to be the types who march to the beat of a different drummer.|
As most people know, Volkswagen has its origins as a social infrastructure program that was part of The Nazi party's Third Reich. Hitler wanted a simple and affordable car that was available to Germany's working class. It was origainally known as the Kraft durch Freude (KdF) Wagen, which literally translates to the "strength through joy car." It was after WWII when the company was privatized that it became known as Volkswagen or "people's car." The model was called the Type I, but we'll always know it as the Beetle.
The great thing about the Beetle was its utter simplicity. Ultimately history did not honor the air-cooled, rear-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive, but they were just what the doctor ordered at the time. When the Type 1 was being developed, automobiles were complex, intricate contraptions. The innovations of the Type 1 made for a small and simple package. It was inexpensive to produce and easy to maintain.
Volkswagen followed up the Type 1 with the Type 2 (while the Germans may have been innovative mechanically, they didn't have a penchant for creative names). They used the same basic engine and drivetrain and stuck it into a larger and more usable package. It became known as the "microbus" and was essentially the prototype of today's minivan. The vehicle had tremendous utility, and furthered the company's mission of minimizing complexity and maximizing utility.
The most interesting thing about VW is how it transcended its origins as a tool of the most ruthless regime in Western history to become so completely and utterly embraced by the peace generation. From a dogmatic standpoint this seems inconceivable, but in other ways it made perfect sense. Hippies had a proclivity for moving from place to place but had few resources. VW was the only manufacturer that provided camper versions of their products right from the factory, essentially making them homes on wheels. This, combined with the simplicity, efficiency, and ease of maintenance that VW provided, made a perfect fit with the flower child lifestyle. It turned out to be a match made in heaven.
Volkswagen products have changed a lot since those early days. They now employ all the same basic technologies that every other modern car does. They do still have inexpensive offerings, but it's not their primary focus like it was back in the early days. And while they have a "weekender" package for their Eurovan model, it is very expensive. The days of the VW camper are effectively over. But the VW brand still carries a certain mystique. People who drive VWs have generally owned a lot of them over the years, and tend to be socially progressive. For me it will always be a favorite manufacturer.
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