This is something that I’ve been thinking about ever since I was a little kid. One of the first books I bought entirely on my own — with my own savings for doing chores, getting to the bookstore on my bike, all that — was a big coffee table book of vintage Volkswagen ads. One of them was this famous one, of a ’54 Beetle being painted so it can pass for a ’64. The image always confused me a bit, though, and I want to finally talk about it.
The ad was one in a series that VW was really playing up how it never changed the look of the Beetle, year to year, just for frivolous fashion reasons. As a result, parts remained interchangeable among many more years, resale values stayed high since they never looked really all that old, and it suggested VW was focused on more important improvements.
Doyle Dane Bernbach, VW’s ad agency at the time, had a lot of fun with this idea:
You get the idea, right? Of course you do.
Anyway, in one of these ads, the joke was all you need to do to make a VW look 10 years newer is give it a new paint job, and the ad showed the car, halfway through the process:
Nothing too unusual: paint sprayer, newspaper-covered bumpers and lights, etc. But, for some reason, my brain always focused on this:
See that? Doesn’t that bit of unfinished painting look like the profile of a bearded man?
When I was a kid, I was convinced, for some reason, that this was intentional, and that was a silhouette of some famous person that I didn’t recognize, but if I did I’d appreciate some joke in the ad on a whole new level.
Of course, I don’t still think it’s intentional, but I can’t quit seeing it. It looks like some kind of European intellectual, with a Van Dyke and a bald head and a proper collar.
Is it Lenin? Shit, it kinda looks like Lenin. But it can’t be Lenin. What sense would that make?
Anyway, I’ve been haunted by this silhouette of a man on a Beetle hood for decades, and perhaps now you are, too. Maybe you can help me identify who this is, and I can exorcise him from my mind once and for all.
Who are you, ‘54 Beetle paint man? What do you want from me?