Last Vee-Dub Marks the End of an Automotive Era

2003: The last "old style" Volkswagen Beetle rolls off a Mexican assembly line.

Born in Germany in 1938, the Volkswagen Type 1 was built to fit Adolf Hitler's specifications for a "people's car" that could accommodate two adults and three children while costing no more than 990 Reichsmarks. Production was under way but relatively few cars were built prior to the start of World War II.

The Volkswagen saw duty with the German army, its air-cooled engine proving particularly effective on the arid steppes of the Eastern Front and in the North African desert. Both the Wehrmacht's Kubelwagen (roughly the equivalent of the American Jeep) and its amphibious Schwimmwagen were built on the Type 1 chassis.

Following the war, Volkswagen's plant at Wolfsburg, Germany was reopened and the Type 1 went into mass production as a civilian automobile. The one-millionth Type 1 rolled off the Wolfsburg assembly line in 1955.

The Type 1 was introduced to the U.S. market in 1949 where it became known affectionately as the Vee-Dub and was soon a top seller, despite being underpowered and noisy. (Although it was superior in all respects to other comparable foreign cars like the Citroen 2CV and Morris Minor.) While it had its drawbacks, it also had the advantage of being durable, easy to customize and a cinch to repair.

The 1967 model underwent some significant changes, receiving a larger engine size and increased horsepower among other things, and is generally recognized by aficionados as the vintage Vee-Dub year. (Maybe not coincidentally, 1967 was the first year that Volkswagen itself began marketing its car by its popular nickname, "Beetle.")

In 1972, the Beetle surpassed the Ford Model T as the best-selling car of all time.

Still, by the early '70s the Beetle was in decline, facing new competition from increasingly efficient Japanese cars that also eschewed the Vee-Dub's simplicity for more bells and whistles. The last German-made Beetle left Wolfsburg in 1978 and production shifted mainly to Brazil and Mexico, where the car remained popular.

But it was all over by 2003, and on July 30 the last original Beetle, No. 21,529,464, rolled off the line at Puebla, Mexico, and was promptly shipped to the Volkswagen company museum in Wolfsburg.

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