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.
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.