The People’s Car: World VW Day Philippines, Part 2

By 1934, Ferdinand Porsche already had around three decades of experience designing cars, and chief among his early work is the Lohner-Porsche Mixte gas/electric hybrid. While an absolute commercial failure – no doubt the technology available at the time could not keep up with the concept – Porsche did manage to sell a few copies, so there was proof that the engineering was solid.

So when Adolf Hitler conceived of a car for the people in 1934, Porsche was called forth to engineer it. I would wager though, that neither men even thought that their collaboration – Hitler provided the machinery, Porsche provided the engineering – would come to be so long for this world.

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The revival.

When the second-generation Beetle – named the “New Beetle” in the exceedingly cloying “retro” craze of the mid-nineties that also birthed the new Mini and the last Ford Thunderbird – came around, there was a big splash about the beloved Beetle’s return to production. The secret was that while the rest of the world was gushing over the 1997 Volkswagen New Beetle, the 1997 Volkswagen Beetle – Beetle Classic? – was still being produced in Mexico.

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While the New Beetle brought new heights of performance to the Beetle nameplate, the old Beetle was still a beloved icon. Such was the old car’s popularity that production of the old car only stopped on 2003, with independent importers sending new-old Beetles all over the world, sometimes skirting vehicle regulations to get the new-olds to the buyers.

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As the day went on, the VW logo slowly took shape. These guys were making sure that the cars were aligned perfectly, but they had made a slight miscalculation. More cars – and more space – were needed for the formation, and some of the members who had signed up to put their cars in the formation were unable to come. So, to the measuring tools they went, and over the PA system went calls for VWs to fill up the logo.

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Cars were not in short supply, that much can be said, and the parade grounds weren’t short on atmosphere. While the Beetle and Kombi are most commonly associated with 70s hippie culture, the peace sign, psychedelics and all manner of being “far out”, the 50s vibe of the event was more fitting of the Skittles-coloured cars. One reason being that the music of the 50s always sounds happy, and quickly makes one nostalgic for things that never really happened.

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Of course, Hitler’s demands for the Beetle were simple compared to the technological complexity of the Lohner-Porsche Mixte, but the price point presented its own challenge. Hitler wanted a car that could comfortably seat a family of five and transport them at 100 km/h all day long on the new Autobahns while still being frugal on fuel. Of course, it had to be dependable and cheap to operate, as this was meant to be attainable even to families living on the time’s minimum wage.

The blue Beetle above was what Hitler probably had in mind for one of his Volkwagens after it had been in use for some time. Well-kept, everything still in good order and still faithfully starting up every morning.

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Flying the national colours would probably be a welcome flourish for Hitler, but perhaps not in so festive a manner.

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All told, Porsche had to create a car to Hitler’s demands at a price point that would be crazy today. The new car was to cost little more than what a motorcycle went for in 1934 Germany.

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Time was, all VWs looked vaguely alike.

You need only look at a motorcycle and a car to get an idea of how low that price point is. Aside from all the additional materials needed to sheath four wheels instead of two and enclose five people instead of two, you also have to consider that this would be a new car, with no predecessors to help amortise development and tooling costs.

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Canted lamp shrouds = angry Beetle!

Of course, Porsche might have considered producing a car without any need for paint, but I’m guessing than even then, the aesthetics of painting a car with rust did not sit well with most people.

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While everybody else was sporting shiny paint, this one was rocking the rat rod look, only instead of a rattlecan flat black paint job, the owner decided to let chemistry paint his Beetle.

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The details on this car are just great, from the mismatched shades of rust to the various “tatoos” that rise out of the rust.

No, in some cases it isn't.

No, in some cases it isn’t.

Very little of this rust is of the car-breaking kind. Run your hands over the panels and maybe press in just a bit, and none of the panels give, so you know it’s just surface rust with good sheetmetal underneath.

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But, there are of course some panels you just don’t test, but it’s all part of the car’s charm and the rot does seem arrested.

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Some holes do need to be plugged up, like this one in the passenger door. A little unnerving to find a Barbie head poking out of the door, but nobody ever built attitude by being all sanitised.

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Not all of the panels are covered with rust, though. Some, like the tail of the main body section – the dark panel below the engine cover – are just coated in paint that evokes rust, so you can keep the look without sacrificing the car’s structural integrity too much.

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Of course, you can’t have a car like this sitting at its stock ride height. If you want to rock the rat rod look, you’re going to have to drop it into the weeds. Laying frame is completely optional.

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The front bumper is a detail I’m especially fond of. Aside from the very rough, slightly-sinister looking length of rope looped around it, I like how the plate is held on by some wire and a rusty vise grip. This probably won’t fly with the LTO’s new regulations, but who cares? Again, like the tail of the main body section, the front of it isn’t covered in surface rust, but paint.

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The car was drawing a lot of people to it, and it’s not hard to see why. This Beetle has attitude for miles and miles. It helps that not a lot of people have considered this kind of  look for their own builds, so any car built this way will quickly stand out. While I’m personally not a fan of the rat rood look in general, I can appreciate the amount of work that goes into creating this look.

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Old mixed with the new as more people came in with their old VWs and took the new ones out for a drive. The third-generation Beetle was the runaway choice for test drives; it was hardly ever at rest and the only time it was stopped for any length of time was when the salespeople were preparing it for the next test drive.

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At 10 AM, the mass to start off the day started, and for a short hour the parade grounds were silenced, except for the occasional car the rolled in.

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After the mass, the noise ticked up again, as people milled about among the cars and the treasure trove of parts available on one end of the stage.

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The green Polo wagon you see here at the end of the row of Beetles never officially made it to the Philippines, but with the import market, you only really have to wait for your dream car to come to our shores. Kind of like how a lot of new-old Beetles found their way to other countries.

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And then these two showed up: a pair of Type 3s that drove down the row of cars looking for a space to park in.

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Eventually they settled in the second row beside the other oddball VW of the event: a T4 VR6 Caravelle. The T4 was the last of the Kombi line, but this one traded the old rear-engine, rear-drive layout for the front-engine, front-drive layout. After T4 production ceased in 2003, Volkswagen had no real van until the Routan came along in 2008. With the demise of the badge-engineered Routan and the new Touran minivan, it seems unlikely the familiar breadbox silhouette of the Kombi line will make an appearance again.

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The original Kombi was so much more than a van though. Aside from becoming a quaint little motorhome, there was this flatbed variant. Made by basically cutting away the back half of the roof and putting a simple metal enclosure in its place, the Kombi pickup has the same mechanicals as the Beetle, so it’s still incredibly robust and cheap to run.

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Familiar from the front, and then you do a double-take as you get to the back. Basic as it may be, it’s not without its thoughtful touches. The rear-mounted engine leaves a lot of room for the passenger cab, but raises the bed floor, eating into the usable space. To make up for it, the space beneath the bed floor, between the passenger cab and the rear axle, was turned into lockable storage spaces.

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Like a vision from Hairspray she came, pedaling along atop her pastel yellow fixed-gear bike. Her hair flowed from the brush of Botticelli, soft waves blowing in the gentle breeze, and the dress was an English garden rendered in cloth. A quaint tingling sound from her little bell announced her presence, while the wicker basket out in front carried the cookies she was offering for sale.

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She rode up and down the rows of cars, selling her cookies and adding more 50s flair to the day.

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By that time breakfast, well brunch, was served. A caterer was on hand, serving an impressively home-style Filipino breakfast for not a lot of cash outlay. As more cars piled in during brunch, one car we noticed was conspicuously absent, it being one of the most distinctive VWs on our roads. Just as we wondered when one would show up, one rolled right in.

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Yup, the eternally beautiful Karmann Ghia.

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Basically a curvy, Italianate body on a Beetle drivetrain, the Karmann Ghia was marketed as something of a halo car for the VW range.

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Whitewalls never looked so good.

Built by the German coachbuilders Karmann, and designed by the venerable Italian styling house Carrozzeria Ghia, it was a combination that just a few decades before would have met with fierce opposition.

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With these curves though, how could anyone say no?

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Of course, with such a beautiful two-door coupe silhouette, it’s inevitable that some people might construe this as a sports car. Well, while sports cars of an older generation might have had around the same amount of power, those cars were considerably lighter.

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The truth was, it was powered by much the same engine as the workaday Beetle, and carried a heavier body. So what resulted was a sporty little coupe that was slower than the workaday car it was based on, probably one of the very few if not the only one of its kind.

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But, who cares though? Very easy it is to make a car go faster, especially one with such simple, known mechanicals as the Beetle, but it’s very hard to make a car look half as desirable as the Karmann Ghia. When it was new, the cheeky advertising created to sell the car to the American market poked fun at its – lack of – power. One commercial even had the Karmann Ghia try to punch through a large sheet of paper, the voice over going so far as to call the Karmann Ghia the only sports car that couldn’t punch its way out of a paper bag.

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On the other hand, the Beetle mechanicals allowed the Karmann Ghia to tap into the same round of modifications available to its humbler – but faster – brother. Back then, that meant performance parts from Empi and complete Porsche engines. Today, that means Subaru boxers, and far more powerful Porsche engines. That being said, it would be such a shame to blur the car’s lines with speed. So timeless is it beauty, I say let everybody enjoy it.

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Shortly after brunch, the national president of the club, Doy Bondoc, officially kicked off the celebrations with a cake to celebrate the 77th year anniversary of the Beetle’s conception. Production of the Beetle was started on the 22nd of June, 1938, which explains the date the club chose.

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In case you’re wondering, the Beetle was the very first car that Volkswagen produced, so it makes sense to celebrate the birth of Volkswagen with the birth of the Beetle. Off the top of my head, there is no other car company that can be treated the same. The nearest company, Porsche, had already had some cars to that name before the company came about. Audi was born out of the Auto Union group of cars, while the Ford Model T was not the first car to bear the Ford brand.

National president Doy's own Beetle.

National president Doy’s own Beetle.

Out of all the cars I can think of, the Beetle has one of the best-documented inceptions, whether because it was a national project, or because it was a national project spearheaded by Adolf Hitler.

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It was plain to see how much Doy loved all these cars.

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A group shot, of course, because the skies are blue and the day is perfect. Well, almost.

Up next we’ll take a look at more examples of what people love to do with their VWs: customise, personalise and share.

– Words by Kristoff Franco, pictures by Eugene Calimag

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