70 years sep­a­rates two sig­nif­i­cant ve­hi­cles in this month’s is­sue. Both are from the same brand, and both have ful­filled the same au­to­mo­tive func­tion that has ce­mented this brand’s rep­u­ta­tion as a maker of well-en­gi­neered, a­ord­able peo­ple’s cars.

Car (South Africa) - - EDITOR’S LETTER - Email: car@ram­say­ Steve­smithza

Much, how­ever, has changed be­tween 1949, when the Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle we drive on page 56 rst rolled off the pro­duc­tion line in Wolfs­burg, and the end of 2017, when its spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor, the sixth-gen­er­a­tion VW Polo we test on page 62, emerged from the Uiten­hage plant.

They, of course, il­lus­trate just how far au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy has come. Com­pared with that early Bee­tle, the new Polo is a bet­ter car in every way, from per­for­mance and fuel ef­f­ciency to com­fort and safety, and, cru­cially these days, in-car in­fo­tain­ment.

Per­haps what’s not al­ways so ob­vi­ous, though, is just how much these cars have changed the way we live and have been an in­stru­men­tal tool in mould­ing the mod­ern world. Mov­ing away from the mo­tor­car’s ori­gins as a toy for the rich, ve­hi­cles such as the Ford Model T and the Bee­tle cre­ated mobility on a scale never known in hu­man his­tory. Whereas be­fore you ei­ther lived and worked in a city, or lived and worked in a small town or on a farm, cars nar­rowed the gap be­tween ru­ral and ur­ban life. Sud­denly, sub­urbs were sprout­ing up ev­ery­where. Land was not just cheaper be­yond the city lim­its, but there was way more liv­ing space than was af­forded by the con­fines of crowded in­ner-city apart­ments.

More af­ford­able cars also meant more de­mand and with that came in­creased pro­duc­tion and the world­wide growth of the mo­tor in­dus­try as a cru­cial cog in the eco­nomic sys­tem. In South Africa, it’s a par­tic­u­larly vital one, em­ploy­ing more than 400 000 peo­ple and con­tribut­ing to around R250 bil­lion of our GDP.

I’m not blink­ered into be­liev­ing it’s all good news, though. All these in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion en­gines have cer­tainly had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on our en­vi­ron­ment (some 35 mil­lion Bee­tles and Po­los have been sold) but, then again, propul­sion tech­nol­ogy has be­come in­creas­ingly cleaner and more ef­f­cient. On the whole, I reckon the bene ts the au­to­mo­bile has af­forded hu­man­ity far out­weigh the neg­a­tives … and I haven’t even men­tioned how much fun it is to get be­hind the wheel and turn the key.

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