VOLKSWAGEN’S WAR MACHINE
TYPE 82 KUBELWAGEN
The Volkswagen (VW) brand has been through the wringer of late. The emissions scandal (it was caught using equipment that fudged the results for emission regulators) means that it’s having to dip into its rather hefty war chest to keep things trucking along. Dealers in the US are offering huge discounts on new cars; we’ve read of the group potentially selling off some of the lowerrevenue-but-still-high-profile brands (Ducati, Bugatti, Lamborghini; even Audi has been rumoured to be on the block); and, most recently, it announced a huge buy-back scheme on the affected four-cylinder diesel vehicles at the centre of the kerfuffle.
But VW will carry on, and it will most likely succeed. It’ll develop a better product, will offer a better service; people will forget about emissions, much as they forgot about that other hiccup in the company’s history (“Don’t mention the war!”); and life will continue. So, where did it all begin for this motoring behemoth?
Prior to World War II (just like John Cleese, I can’t help but reference it for the sake of the story), big, expensive cars were all the rage across the globe. But Germany’s economy, like that of most countries around the world, was deteriorating. A need was established for smaller, cheaper cars.
In 1933, Ferdinand Porsche not only had an enviable reputation as a talented engineer, but he’d also been chief designer for Daimler-benz and Auto Union. In the summer of 1933, he was summoned to the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin for a covert meeting with German dictator Adolf Hitler to learn of his plans for a new German car. Hitler outlined his intention to build a small fourseater vehicle with a reliably durable air-cooled engine that was economical to run. This car would be called ‘Volkswagen’, and Hitler stipulated it would sell below 1K Deutsche Marks (roughly equivalent to US$250). This sounded like a fairly tall order, and, in Porsche’s opinion, it wasn’t possible, considering that Henry Ford could not build a car for that price. What Porsche wasn’t aware of was that Hitler intended to use the Volkswagen as a political promise to win Germans to his regime.
At the Berlin Motor Show, less than a year later, Hitler announced to the German people the promise of a small, low-priced car, and an official order was given to Porsche to produce three prototypes ready for testing within 10 months. The German automobile manufacturers had been ordered to toe the line by providing the necessary component parts, ensuring that the entire industry would be 100 per cent behind the project. Porsche was still concerned that the stipulated price limit was not achievable but was also well aware that no one dared challenge the orders of Adolf Hitler, so work began.
four-seater body. Basically a rear-engined jeep, the advantage of the wartime VW, called the ‘Kübelwagen’, was its incredible light weight of only 499kg, which meant that two men could overturn it in the event that it rolled over. This hugely versatile vehicle could serve on all fronts, from the muddy bogs of Poland to the sub-zero temperatures of Russia or the hot sands of the African desert. A special amphibious model, the ‘Schwimmwagen’, was also built with a propeller and rudder capable of a steady 24kph in water and 80kph on land.
It was only after the war that Hitler’s promise was finally fulfilled. Using the discovered blueprints, the Volkswagen went into production, as much of the machinery had been stored in the basement and had survived the bombing. Cars were put together with old stock and whatever parts could be found.
In 1946, 13 years after Hitler’s promise, the factory was producing about 1000 cars a month, and, this time, they really were for the people. The cars went on sale, first in Germany then throughout Europe.
The car was purchased around 1963 by then-student and Kübelwagen enthusiast Mr Harold Erichsen. Harold was on the return leg from a road trip down to Czechoslovakia in his own Kübelwagen (on a post-war Beetle chassis), when he came across this Kübelwagen and its student owner, broken down in Austria. After a bit too much red wine, Harold agreed to tow the Kübelwagen 1000km back to Hamburg and, eventually, bought the car from the owner to replace his own. It was used regularly, and, at some point, the original cable brake system was replaced with early Kombi axles with hydraulic brakes. The car shared garage space with a Schwimmwagen for a time until both cars found new homes — the Kübelwagen being added to a vast collection rare of VWS belonging to Mr Graham Lees in Sydney, Australia. The car itself had not changed at all since Harold’s ownership and was running and driving but in a sad state of disrepair. After another 30 years, it was imported by a New Zealand–based collector, and Michael Chong got word that there might be an opportunity to own it.