It’s possible that the Volkswagen Beetle has one of the most complicated and often disturbing origin stories of any car, which is why there’s often so much fascination surrounding really early cars. Very early cars are notoriously difficult to find, which is why the restoration of this car, with a serial number of 20, is such a big deal. What’s also a big deal is the incredible level of detail and, let’s be honest, the sheer, intense VW-geekery.
The story starts back in 1988 when Czech Beetle-lover Ondrej Brom was looking for an old Beetle to restore. Brom was a student then, but was able to scrape together enough money—about 60,000 Czech Crowns—to buy an old Beetle he’d seen in a nearby yard, up to its hubcaps in mud and decaying under a tree.
The VW was a split-window Beetle, but had been modified and repaired and retrofitted so many times it was hard to tell exactly what year it was. Just trying to find the serial number of the car to determine just how old it was was proving incredibly difficult, since the car had so many layers of paint. Eventually, he reached out to a police technician:
“He came to my workshop with a number of strange things - variety of test tubes and containers full of liquids, droppers and brushes - I felt like in a small chemical lab. He gradually applied the chemicals to the hood of the car. Me and my wife were watching and examining the location where the serial number should be,” recalls Brom.
Eventually, the number 20 revealed under layers of the paint. After the diving into the archives it was clear, the first owner of the KdF was the famous Berlin composer Paul Lincke, who lived in Marianske Lazne, Czech republic since 1943. However, all the Sudeten Germans including him, were relocated after the WWII. But the car remained in Czechoslovakia and was taken by the state health official Zdeněk Krásný. Tesar family owned the car after him.
Holy crap, right? This would place the car firmly in the KdF era. “KdF” was the German acronym for the creepy-sounding name “Strength through Joy” which is what VWs were called before the Nazis were defeated.
These early production KdF cars were quite low in number, and none were actually sold to all the people who’d been buying savings stamps for them. There were some made, but nearly all of those were given to VIPs in the Nazi party or other influential people, like Lincke, the composer.
The KdF factory was soon repurposed to build VW-based wartime vehicles like the Kubelwagen, which makes a civilian passenger KdF-Wagen even more rare.
KdFs one through 19 seem to all be gone, making this car the oldest production Volkswagen in existence. And, unlike the pre-production prototypes or the cars built by the British after the war, there are essentially no surviving blueprints or documentation for these early KdF-wagens. That means restoring the car accurately was incredibly difficult.
Working with a restoration specialist and a small army of researchers and VW experts, this 1941 KdF has been completely restored, and as accurately as possible, with a level of detail that goes down to the tiniest screw and even the typographic standards used on license plates of the era.
Luckily for really hard-core VW geeks, the team compiled everything into a massive five-and-a-half-pound book, and have printed up 800 or so copies. They’re doing a Kickstarter to be able to get those books out and sold (they’re not cheap, but the book seems incredible).
This has to be the most meticulously documented full restoration of a Volkswagen ever—possibly of any car ever, and it’s absolutely fascinating to see.
I’m certain I could lose a painful amount of my productive live buried in this book, which is alarming.
Both car and book appear to be incredible achievements, and the holidays are coming up, so if you have cash to blow and a painful VW geek in your life you don’t want to talk to for a few months, maybe check out their Kickstarter.