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17 September 2018  •  By: Perry Robb

All hail the VW ‘Beetle’ (or is it the ‘Bucket’?): by Perry Robb

What do you mean ‘the Bucket’ did I hear you say?

Well, that’s what the designer of the Volkswagen ‘Beetle’ called the very first production vehicle .  

As we all know the great Dr. Ferdinand Porsche was that designer and he was personally commissioned by Adolf Hitler to design and produce a low cost ‘People’s Car’ for the German nation.

 In the late 1930’s, under Porsches supervision the initial 30 pre production VW’s were made at the Daimler Benz factory in Sindelfingen.

The Second World War stopped their production coming on stream, but a highly successful offshoot was produced for the army using mostly VW Beetle parts, and its reliability, simplicity and strength made it one of the most successful military vehicles of the war. 

That vehicle was called the Kubelwagen, or more accurately to quote Dr.Porsche –  ‘the Bucket’.

Remarkably, despite all the chaos and destruction in Germany at the time, it was in 1945 that the VW factory in Wolfsburg was eventually started up by would you believe English army officers, and that year a 6000 strong workforce amazingly produced 917 new VW Beetles .

And we all know the rest is history.

I loved the Beetle from an early age. I particularly remember watching with awe as a chap called Robert Woodside performed miracles with his Beetle at ‘driving test’ competitions around Northern Ireland. He could make that car dance and glide from going forwards to reverse seamlessly, with hand brake turns and nose slides. It really was like watching a moving art form.

The ‘Love Bug’ movie also has a lot to answer for in the Robb household. 

That Disney epic introduced the world to ‘Herbie’, the 1963 ‘magic’ VW Beetle. It was a constant sight on our TV screens during the 70’s and 80’s and both our children were mad about it.

Around this time my father had retired and not long afterwards  my mother  passed away. This proved to be a devastating blow to him and over a fairly short period he became very reclusive.

One day I traded in an old Beetle and immediately thought ..’I wonder?’

I told Margaret my thoughts and she encouraged me to go ahead, so, I bought it for a very minimal amount , spent some time sprucing it up and making sure it was in good running order.

We then invited my father over for Sunday lunch, and made a real song and dance about it so he just had to say yes. After lunch we took him outside with his grandchildren and unveiled his ‘new’ car.  

Well, the reaction was amazing. 

Firstly the kids went mad…’it’s Herbie!! …it’s Herbie…can we have a ride in it ?? ….please Granda, please, please!!??’

Secondly, my father was over the moon. 

That old car, that 50 quids worth of old Beetle transformed him from being a recluse back to his old normal self. 

He would often thrill our children by taking them ‘out for a spin’ in the Beetle. Indeed, he frequently took them down to Ballyhalbert in County Down and into the disused Second World War airport there , sit them on his knee , let them touch the steering wheel, and show them how to ‘drive’ the car.

Indeed when my son was getting to an age where he could ‘officially’ drive, once again it was a Beetle that I thought would suit his needs :- solid, reliable, and not too fast !

So it came to pass and I bought him an old car. 

One of our ace technicians Sati Bhogal rebuilt the engine, and my son and I tidied the rest of the car up.

He duly went to university at Queens in Belfast ( even though we had moved to England some 10 years earlier ), and the peppermint green Beetle went with him.

His first term was fairly hairy. The Provisional IRA were very active in and around Belfast and there were times when both Margaret and I were very worried about him.

Several months later I was in a board meeting in St.Albans with Nick Lancaster, the boss of HROwen when the phone rang.

I had given instructions to the telephonists to not be disturbed, but she said…

“Perry, it’s your son ringing from Belfast”.

I immediately took the call, worried that something was wrong.

“Hi Neill, is everything OK ?” I asked.

“Yes thanks Dad, everything is fine, except I have a bit of a problem”.

“What is it , how can I help?” I said.

“Well Dad” he said, keeping me in suspense ….

“The car won’t start..”

“Sorry” I said, “I didn’t quite catch that”.

“The car won’t start Dad”, he repeated.

“Neill”, I said, relieved that it was nothing serious,

 “Do you think I have a set of ‘jump leads’ 340 miles long so I can start your bloody car from here?”

“You’re the one with the University education –  sort it out for yourself!” 

And I put the phone down.

You see Universities might actually be a place of learning after all.

However, I’m absolutely certain, 73 years after the first cars came off that production line in Wolfsburg , that many generations of kids and adults share equally fond memories of the great Volkswagen Beetle, the People’s Car.

As Dr.Porsche once said about those other cars he brought into production..

…. ‘It is my philosophy of the automobile which has found devotees throughout the world’.

How right he was.