February 17, 1972: Volkswagen’s Beetle Becomes Best-Selling Car of All Time!

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A Brief History

On February 17, 1972, misers, poor people, chicks and Adolph Hitler were all vindicated!

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find that on this date, the Volkswagen Beetle became the best-selling car of all time with number 15,007,034 pulling it ahead of the Ford Model T.

Built to satisfy Adolph Hitler’s specifications for a “people’s car,” the Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porsche.  Designed to scoot along at 62 mph and to carry 2 adults along with 3 children, the Beetle was also required to have an air-cooled engine and to meet standards of reliability and easy maintenance.  It also had to be cheap!

The original Beetle cost the average German about 30 weeks’ income, which does not sound that inexpensive today, but apparently back then it was, especially with the payment plan being authorized by the government.

After World War II, the Beetle became an export item and was sent all over the world and became especially popular in the United States where it was the darling of beatniks, hippies, surfers, youngsters, frugal types and, of course, chicks!

Girls and women thought the Beetle was adorable and by the late 1960s, it was not uncommon to see large, colorful flowers painted on the carriage of urban princesses.  A convertible model was even made.

If there was any doubt about the appeal of the Beetle (or “Bug” as some call it) to the fairer sex, Volkswagen included a receptacle for a small vase in the dashboard of the new Beetle that was introduced in 1994.

Not counting the new Beetle (a front-wheel-drive car based on the Golf), the original Beetle ended production in 2003 with over 21 million having been made, the all-time automotive record.  Toyota may claim that more Corollas have been sold, but that is just a name and not a continuous design type, as was the Beetle.

Today the Beetle is an object of veneration by many, making this once cheap car highly collectible.  Its popularity is evidenced by the motion pictures The Love Bug (1968) and its 4 sequels, starring Herbie in the title role.

Herbie proved so popular that an additional made-for-television film was produced as well as 5 episodes of Herbie the Matchmaker (1982).  Disney even named 2 of its buildings at the All-Star Movie Resort after HerbieThe animated movie Cars (2006) featured Beetles as every insect character in the movie.

Question for students (and subscribers): Still not totally convinced the Beetle is a chick car?  Well, even Barbie had one!  Please share your Beetle stories in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Gregg, Tosh, John Muir, et al.  How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot.  Rick Steves, 2001.

Hiott, Andrea.  Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle.  Ballantine Books, 2012.

Rieger, Bernhard.  The People’s Car: A Global History of the Volkswagen Beetle.  Harvard University Press, 2013.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.