The Volkswagen Beetle was one of Adolf Hitler’s most pressing goals. Motor power was important to the German people, especially affordable, nationally-made vehicles, which became a point of pride for Hitler — he felt machine power was important, if not integral, to the rebirth of German influence on the international stage, as well as a way for Germany to bolster itself from the inside.
But on August 7, 1944, Volkswagen was forced to stop producing the Beetle. It was a sign that Germany’s influence was waning.
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It often comes as a surprise to people that Hitler saw vehicles as a signal of his empire’s growing health; he wanted to crush the motorsport sphere that had previously been dominated by the French and, on some occasions, British. He felt that mobility was important, which meant the German people needed an affordable car, one that was preferably home-built.
Hitler tasked Ferdinand Porsche to build a small, affordable car that the average working-class German citizen could theoretically buy. What Porsche created was the Volkswagen, which was initially called the KdF-Wagen, which translated to Strength-Through Joy car. That didn’t quite roll off the tongue as well as Porsche’s preferred name, the Volkswagen. The car was ready for the Berlin Motor Show in 1939; just months later, Germany invaded Poland, and World War II was on.
During the war, the Volkswagen was transformed from a “people’s car” into a lightweight utility vehicle — and even an amphibious vehicle — that could be used in military contexts. But it was only on August 7, 1944, under the threat of Allied bombing, that Volkswagen was forced to halt production. The production plant, located in the British sector of Germany after the war, was in good enough condition that production of the Volkswagen Beetle began again in December of 1945. But the fact that it had to shut down at all was a signal that Hitler’s plans of world domination had not gone the way he’d have liked.