Thanks to Hollywood and the propaganda machinery, we tend to believe that the German SS officers all rode in giant luxury vehicles with great rolling fenders and chromed hoods. The reality is far less attractive, in fact, almost humorous: the Nazis developed and were proud to drive what became known in the States, with affection, as the Beetle. The photographs in this tome, lovingly collected by Blaine Taylor, prove it.
In fact it was Hitler himself who conceived the term "beetle", proposing that a car built like the bug would never topple. His proposal for a "people's car" were realized by the great Ferdinand Porsche, who had been toiling over a similar design - a small, sturdy car with an air-cooled engine that would travel far, if not fast. Undoubtedly the Beetle was the finest legacy of the Third Reich.
Little known outside the rarified circles of car and war history fanatics was the Kü belwagen, which reincarnated briefly in America as "The Thing." It looked like anything but the car it was, and was remarkably useful in warfare. It could climb steep hills - up or down - and one model, the schwimmwagen, was a stable and darned cute all-terrain vehicle that converted to a boat.
In this collection of photos, with accompanying well-researched text, we see the Beetle's development as a triumph first for Hitler and, later and more importantly, as a symbol of Germany's ascension from the ashes of war and the chaos that Hitler caused. Led by a determined and far-sighted manager, the factory at Wolfsburg, where the Nazis had created an ideal worker's paradise, rose from a dank bombed-out pit of despair with broken windows and standing water to become one of the most successful industries in post-war Germany. The Beetle's international reputation was soon established and Americans, probably never knowing its dark history, caught the Bug bug bigtime.
Along with the genius of the Volkswagen was the development of the autobahn, a road system so efficient and indeed beautiful that Eisenhower, touring the war-torn country after the Allied victory, began to consider the possibilities for such a system in his country. From this vision grew our interstate highways with their marvelously engineered clover-leafs.
Anyone who loves cars will enjoy this book. The Kü bel was fitted out, tiny as it was, with such ingenious features as map tables and the ubiquitous rifle rack. The Schwimmer came complete with oars, a shovel and tire chains for getting up muddy banks. It isn't the image Hollywood wanted to promote, but in fact it's more unsettling than the notion of the big fendered intimidators. How humiliating it would have been to have been defeated by a phalanx of khaki-green Kü belwagens, or to have handed over power to uniformed officers emerging proudly, if awkwardly, from a Beetle.