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 Z├╝ndapp motorcycle company.

This Z├╝ndapp 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, Z├╝ndapp demanded.

That the radial engine was Z├╝ndapp'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. Z├╝ndapp and their damn weird radial engine. But then I'm reading the Ganz book and I hit this:

"Contrary to Z├╝ndapp'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.