Initially called the Porsche 60 by Ferdinand Porsche, it was officially named the KdF-Wagen when the project was launched. The name refers to Kraft durch Freude (Strength Through Joy), the official leisure organization in the Third Reich. It was later known as the Type 1, but became more commonly known as the Beetle after World War II.
Prototypes appeared from 1931 onwards; the first prototypes were produced by Zündapp in Nürnberg, Germany, the Porsche Type 12. Next prototype series (Porsche Typ 32) was built in 1933 by NSU, another motorcycle company.
In October 1935 the first Type 60 was ready. 1935 the testing of the “V 3” started. The “VW30” Prototypes awaited further testing in 1937. All cars already had the distinctive round shape and the air-cooled, rear-mounted engine, except for the Type 12, Zündapp preferred a 5-cylinder radial watercooled engine.
The factory had only produced a handful of cars by the time war started in 1939. Consequently, the first volume-produced versions of the car’s chassis were military vehicles, the Kübelwagen Typ 82 (approx. 52,000 built) and the amphibious Schwimmwagen Typ 166 (approx. 14,000 built).
The car was designed to be as simple as possible mechanically, so that there was less to go wrong; the aircooled 985 cc 25 horsepower (19 kW) motors proved especially effective in actions of the German Afrika Korps in Africa’s desert heat. This was due to the built-in oil-cooler, and the superior performance of the flat-4 engine configuration. The innovative suspension design used compact torsion bars instead of coil or leaf springs.
The city of Stadt des KdF-Wagens was created in Lower Saxony in 1938 for the benefit of the workers at the factory.
A handful of civilian-specific Beetles were produced, primarily for the Nazi elite, in the years 1940–1945, but production figures were small. In response to gasoline shortages, a few wartime “Holzbrenner” Beetles were fueled by wood pyrolysis gas producers under the hood. In addition to the Kübelwagen, Schwimmwagen, and handful of others, the factory managed another wartime vehicle: the Kommandeurwagen; a Beetle body mounted on the Kübelwagen chassis.
A total of 669 Kommandeurwagens were produced until 1945, when all production was halted due to heavy damage sustained in Allied air raids on the factory. Much of the essential equipment had already been moved to underground bunkers for protection, allowing production to resume quickly once hostilities had ended.