Volkswagen Beetle number 21,529,464 rolled off the production line at the VW plant in Puebla, Mexico, on this day in 2003. It was the last of the Beetles, a car that had been built since World War II. It was baby blue and destined for a museum near Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, where its oldest ancestors were made.
This was the classic VW Beetle, the real one, not the redesigned retro Beetle that Volkswagen started producing in 1998. It was first visualized back in the 1930s by Austrian automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche). Adolf Hitler wanted a small, affordable passenger car to satisfy German transportation needs, something smaller than a Panzer and more family-friendly. Porsche’s auto fit the bill and was introduced in 1939 as the Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen (or “Strength-Through-Joy” car), not a moniker that would send anyone other than Nazis running to their nearest automobile dealer. A much-needed name change would later make it the “people’s car” or Volkswagen.
The Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen was quickly given the nickname “Beetle” for its funny round shape and because — well, would you call it the “Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen?” The Wolfsburg factory churned out vehicles until production was halted by Allied bombing in 1944.
Production was resumed after the war, and the Beetle was distributed throughout the world during the following years. After a slow start in the United States, the Beetle became the top import by 1960 as the result of a clever advertising campaign. In 1969, a Beetle named Herbie starred in a hit movie The Love Bug and a couple of sequels.
Hard times hit in 1977, however, as the Beetle was banned in America for failing to meet safety and emission standards. Sales throughout the world declined and, by the late 1980s, the classic Beetle was sold only in Mexico. The Beetle was doomed even in Mexico, thanks to increased competition from other compact cars and burros. And in 2003 it was adios.