The Volkswagen Beetle genesis story is easily one of the most well-known and often-told in all of motoring. I've read about it countless times, and the details almost never change. Until now. I just encountered one of my first real contradictions in the story of the Beetle, and it's making me question everything.
Actually, it's kind of a detail contradiction in a much bigger one. I was given Paul Schilperood's excellent book, The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz, the Jewish Engineer Behind Hitler's Volkswagen by my friend Jack, and that book makes a really strong case about how a lot of the ideas and designs that became the Beetle were originally Josef Ganz'.
That's really a whole full post, and I want to focus on one smaller thing here. In the usual story of the Beetle, Ferdinand Porsche is the brains behind it, and made a number of prototypes that evolved into the Beetle. One of those was made for the Zündapp motorcycle company.
This Zündapp Ur-beetle had many traits we'd come to know on the VW: backbone chassis, streamlined Beetle-like shape, rear engine, etc. It's clearly an ancestor. Everything I've ever read blamed its failure on one thing: a strange 5-cylinder radial engine that, we're told, Zündapp demanded.
That the radial engine was Zündapp's idea is always mentioned. Here's just one example:
a small sedan with a five cylinder 1.2 litre radial aircooled engine mounted in the rear, a stipulation demanded by the motorcycle manufacturer that proved less than ideal.
Seriously, this is how it always is mentioned. Zündapp and their damn weird radial engine. But then I'm reading the Ganz book and I hit this:
"Contrary to Zündapp's wishes, Porsche had given the car a star-shaped five-cylinder radial engine, for which he had also applied for a patent."
Spit-take. Mouthful-of-chili spit take.
And, sure enough, the footnote lists a German patent I can't find online.
Seriously, to a Beetle-obsessed guy like me this is like finding out Jesus was actually a taxidermist who died in 1967 in Dayton, OH.
How could every other source have gotten this wrong? What else may not be true? My world is shaken.
I need to research this more for a more real, daytime-grade story, but I thought you should know.