VW recaps 70 years since the Beetle's U.S. arrival

  • Volkswagen is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its arrival on U.S. shores.

    Volkswagen is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its arrival on U.S. shores. Photos Courtesy of Volkswagen

  • 1949 Beetle and 2019 Beetle Final Edition

    1949 Beetle and 2019 Beetle Final Edition

  • 1973 Type 3 Squareback, 2019 Golf Alltrack and 2019 Tiguan

    1973 Type 3 Squareback, 2019 Golf Alltrack and 2019 Tiguan

  • 1973 Thing

    1973 Thing

  • 1984 Mk1 Rabbit GTI and 2019 GTI Rabbit Edition

    1984 Mk1 Rabbit GTI and 2019 GTI Rabbit Edition

  • 2019 Jetta and 1982 Mk1 Jetta

    2019 Jetta and 1982 Mk1 Jetta

  • 1954 Type 2 Bus

    1954 Type 2 Bus

Updated 12/24/2019 8:57 AM

Volkswagen's launch into the U.S. market wasn't an easy one. The feat was first attempted by a Dutch businessman, Ben Pon, in 1949.

Pon eagerly arrived in New York with two shiny new Volkswagen Type 1 vehicles -- later known simply as the Beetle. While showing them at the April German Exhibition show, the reception was less than lukewarm.


Ben struggled to find buyers. It took two months just to move that first pair. But, little by little, American drivers became charmed by the cute lil' Beetle.

By 1953, Volkswagen had sold 1,000 Beetles in the U.S., a number that jumped to 8,000 in 1954. In 1955, Volkswagen of America was established to organize its network of dealers. Soon clever and crafty marketing campaigns began to appear, including the iconic "Think Small" ad that debuted in 1959.

1949 Type 1 Beetle
1949 Type 1 Beetle -

More and more VW models were added to the lineup, each rocking their own funky, yet functional, personalities.

Next to the fleet was the Type 2 bus, which has been around as long as the Beetle and is certainly every bit as iconic. The mighty mover generated its own loyal following, grooving through the 1960s and '70s, hauling everything from hippies to hydrangeas.

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The VW Bus morphed into a variety of useful flavors, ranging from utility pickups to panel vans to pop-top campers. Versions of it lasted here in the states until the early 2000s.

The Type 3 "Squareback" showed how VW worked wagons, boasting not only space in the rear but up front, too, under the hood. That front "trunk" was possible because of VW's traditional rear-mounted engine, tucked away under the load floor.

1967 Type 2 21-window Bus and 2019 Atlas
1967 Type 2 21-window Bus and 2019 Atlas -

Two other Type 3 body styles were offered, including a notchback coupe and fastback hatch -- both aimed at taking on Chevy's Corvair model. Type 3s were available in the states from 1966 through 1973.


Along its 70-year journey, VW teed up for performance, releasing fast, affordable, fun stuff like its Mk1 Rabbit GTI -- cars that would go on to define the hot hatchback segment. Boasting chops like 90-horsepower engines and a five-speed manual transmission, these Rabbit pocket rockets could haul, all while staying practical and affordable.

That DNA lives on to today with GTIs continuing to be the ride of choice for enthusiasts who want some pep in their city commutes or track-day adventures.

What would the world be without the Euro-styled Jetta -- and who can forget the quirky cool Thing? Arriving on U.S. shores in 1973, the hope for this rough 'n' tough military vehicle was to mix it up in the mud, taking on contenders like the legendary Jeep. However, the Thing's splashy colors, open-top design and zippy personality proved to be a far bigger hit with surfers and sun-seekers than those hard-core off-roaders.

1963 Karmann Ghia
1963 Karmann Ghia -

Other notable nameplates from VeeDub days-gone-by include Scirocco, Super Beetle and Karmann Ghia, all evoking a sense of whimsy, glee and motoring fun.

It's been a quite a ride for the brand, chalking up seven decades of hard work staying true to its reputation of producing the "people's car." And the "people" certainly love what Volkswagen makes, as evidenced by passionate fan bases and car clubs prevalent the world over.

These motorists and fans celebrate the achievement and can't wait to see what comes in the next 70 years.

• Share your car's story with Matt at auto@dailyherald.com or www.COPOthebook.com.

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