The Early History of the Beetle pt3

For the last part of this article see February's Wheelspin, meanwhile...>



The wartime Beetle, the Kubelwagen

In February 1940, a vehicle far more suited to the state of war, based on the KdF-Wagen chassis, entered production. The Kubelwagen (or bucket car, named after its seats) had its origins back in 1934 when the German Automobile Manufacturers Association, in a document relating to the Type 60's carrying capacity, added as a postscript that it should have sufficient room for three men, a machine gun and ammunition.

The 1937 proto Kubelwagen

In 1937 a spare VW30 chassis was crudely modified to take three seats and a machine gun. In 1938 a more refined version with canvas doors was under going tests in the Stuttgart area. This was rethought in 1939 and a more angular unit with steel body work was constructed. A number of these Type 62s were built and saw action in Poland, the first theatre of war. The Kubelwagen was largely the work of Ferry Porsche. It was found that the Kubels lowest speed was 8km/p (5mph) - about twice the desired speed which was geared to how fast a soldier could walk with a full pack. This was remedied by Porsche by retaining of the KdF-Wagen's gearbox intact but adding reduction gears in the rear hubs, the front suspension was also modified by lowering the position of the stub axle. This reduced the Kubels speed to an acceptable pace and also raised the ground clearance.

The 1939 second Kubelwagen prototype
Another 1939 model - closer to the production version

Pproduction during the war years totalled 50,435 which was small in comparison to the production of the Jeep, the Allied equivalent, which totalled 639,245. Derivatives of the Kubelwagen followed, including the amphibious Schwimmwagen of which only 14,283 were built. The air-cooled Kubelwagens performed well in the deserts of North Africa and the sub-zero temperatures of the Russian front. Rommel ordered 500 Kubelwagens specially modified for desert conditions with a protected ignition system and a larger than standard air filter. But due to an administrative error, the consignment was sent to Russia and Rommel had to make do with the standard model. These were fitted with smooth tyres, which were better suited in sand, of the type used on aircraft undercarriages.

The amphibious model, the Schwimmwagen

Like all German companies capable of mass production and in addition to KdF-Wagen related production, the VW factory produced wings and fuselages for the Junkers Ju 88 Bomber along with spares for BMW aero engines. Large quantities of stoves for troops bogged down in the Russian winter were also manufactured. In March 1943 Volkswagenwerk began production of a pilot less aircraft, receiving about £125 for every V1 it produced, although a projected target of 500 per month was never reached.

Due to the aircraft contracts being undertaken, on the 8th April, 1944, the American Eighth Air Force undertook the first of six bombing raids on the factory. Because of its location, exposed and easily pinpointed three quarters of the works was completely destroyed. The Allies reached the nearby village of Fallersleben on the 10th April, 1945. They didn't enter KdF-Stadt because it was not marked on their maps. Incredibly for VW a stroke of luck, the factory fell within the British military zone.

The french take delivery of post war Beetles

In 1944 the Porsche design bureau was moved to the safety of Gmünd in Austria and continued there until the war ended in 1945. When hostilities ceased members of the Porsche family were lured back to Baden Baden in the French military zone of Germany and were asked to design a "Peoples Car". No sooner had they arrived than a rival political party won power and they were arrested for assisting the German war effort. It took Porsche's daughter, Louise Piech six months to free Ferry Porsche and until 1947 to extract her father Ferdinand and her husband Anton, who had been assisting in the French "Peoples Car" project. (Professor Ferdinand Porsche died January 1951 aged 75 years.)




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