On this day in auto history – June 22nd

Tue 22nd Jun 2021

It was on this day in 1934 that renowned engineer Ferdinand Porsche signed a historic contract with the German Automobile Manufacturers Association to build three prototype “people’s cars” at the request of Adolf Hitler. The end result would be the revolutionary Volkswagen Beetle.

Austrian-born Porsche, who had forged his reputation working as chief engineer for Daimler, had already respectfully declined a similar offer from Russian dictator Joseph Stalin but found Hitler’s overtures impossible to resist with Hitler declaring him “brilliant”.

Porsche had always shared Hitler’s dream of being able to produce a small, affordable car for the masses and, though he completed his Volkswagen prototype by 1936, the outbreak of war in Europe erupted before production could begin in earnest.

Porsche was asked by Hitler to supply tanks during the war - a task he undertook willingly - but this resulted in him spending two years in a French jail as a war criminal after the Nazi regime was defeated.

By the time of his release in 1947, the Volkswagen Beetle had already gone into mass production from the specially-built city of Wolfsburg but Porsche only visited the site once in 1950, a few weeks before he suffered a massive stroke, from which he did not fully recover.