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Ferdinand Porsche, Volkswagenwerk, Germany. Volkswagen Type 1 Sedan. 1959

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Ferdinand Porsche (German, born Bohemia. 1875–1951), Volkswagenwerk, Germany (founded 1938)

Volkswagen Type 1 Sedan

Volkswagenwerk AG, Wolfsburg, West Germany
59 x 60 1/2 x 13' 4" (149.9 x 153.7 x 406.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Acquired with assistance from Volkswagen of America, Inc.
MoMA Number:
Audio Program excerpt

AUTObodies: speed, sport, transport

, June 29–September 16, 2002

Curator, Peter Reed: The classic Volkswagen Sedan, with its bulbous body and pop-eyed headlights, has been nicknamed the bug—and The New York Times first called it "the beetle." But officially, it's the Volkswagen Type 1 Sedan – the most popular car in the world. More than 21 million have been produced since it came out in 1938.

Let's begin by looking at the front. See that chrome tube just above the bumper? These so-called "towel-rail bumpers" were preferred by Americans. The handle opens the trunk—in this car, the luggage goes in front of the passengers. Now, walk around to look at the side. The elegant color of this car is called mignonette green. Inside the white walls so popular on the American market, the wheels are painted a darker moss green—a beautiful contrast. The domed hubcaps are adorned with the distinctive VW logo.

Volkswagen means "people's car" in German, and this was conceived as a no frills, affordable car for everyday use. Ferdinand Porsche, the famous German automobile designer, set out in the 1920s to design a small car—in many ways a more difficult challenge than a large one. Porsche believed that small cars were not just scaled-down large cars. He took an entirely new approach. The beetle’s shape was influenced by aerodynamic studies and an efficient use of steel. Strength is provided not by the frame, but by the body itself. The rounded design provides ample headroom.

Over the years, design changes on this car were few—perhaps the most noticeable one was the rear window, enlarged for better visibility. This one is bigger than the original. From this angle you can also see the grill running across like a zipper. That's because the air-cooled engine is mounted behind—an important aspect of Porsche's innovative design. During World War II, Adolf Hitler had some Volkswagens produced for army use, but few were made for the civilian market until after the war. By 1959, the year of this model, Volkswagen had established a successful export market and begun production on other continents too.

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