On This Date in History: Back in the early 1930′s, the world was mired in a global depression. Europe was still reeling from the effects of the First World War. Consumer consumption of products was low. So, in 1933, the United States swore in a new president. Franklin D. Roosevelt went about trying to revive the American economy. In Europe, the leader of a nation went to a young automobile engineer with a proposal that was in the form of a demand. Ferdinand Porsche had developed a reputation as an outstanding designer during his tenure at Daimler-Benz and Auto-Union and had developed his own consulting business. He was asked to come up with a small car that seated four people, had a durable air-cooled engine that got 4o miles per gallon and was priced at less than $250 (1000 German Marks). The leader of Germany even had a name for the yet-to-be-created car: The Volkswagen which means “people’s car.”
Of course, the leader was Adolph Hitler and a few months later, he ordered 3 prototypes to be built and also more or less ordered the nation’s manufacturers to supply the parts. Porsche was in a fix. The engineering was not the problem but instead it was the economics. The man who perfected the mass production of automobiles, Henry Ford, turned out cars at a low cost but even his cars ran about $800. It was a daunting task to undercut Henry Ford by over 2/3 and still produce a quality car. Given that the request came from the German Chancellor who was gathering unrivaled political power through both legal and violent means, the pressure must have been enormous. But, old Ferdinand had a secret. See, Hitler demanded delivery of the prototypes in just 10 months but Porsche was ahead of the game. The year before he had designed a rear engine, air-cooled small car on his own. But, there was the issue of the cost. So, it was back to the drawing board.
But Porsche had other interests as he split time with his efforts to help German racing teams and he was more interested in that than in living up to Hitler’s public announcements that soon there would be an affordable car for all Germans. And the German Automobile Manufacturers Society wasn’t exactly racing to provide materials because they knew all they were doing was helping create a new competitor in the market. Porsche though was still pushed so he went to America to take notes on how the Americans mass-produced cars. He determined that there was no way that the German financial system could support the development of such an endeavor and that the government would have to do it. As it turns out, before production of the people’s car could get off the ground, Hitler started invading countries all over Europe. The factory never delivered what has become known as the Beetle. Instead, the factory was retooled and an stronger, more powerful rear engine open vehicle was created called the Kubelwagen. It had similar capabilities of the American Jeep. It also served as the German Staff Car during the war. Later, the Kubelwagen variation created by Porsche came back to life as the VW Thing.
But, the Thing came about after the Beetle and the Beetle, aka the people’s car, did not come to life until after the end of the Second World War. The factory fell into the British zone of divided post-war Germany. The British needed to keep workers busy so, after finding the blueprint of Porsche’s design, the put the factory personnel to work. By 1948, the British put BMW designer Dr. Ing. Heinz Nordhoff in charge of Volkswagen. Nordoff remained at the helm when the plant was turned over to the new West German government and by 1955, Beetle number 1,000,000 rolled off the assembly line as the first European car to ever achieve such a production level. But, they weren’t done. Americans stationed overseas had first brought the Beetle to the states as a second car. But, quickly, the car that was dwarfed by the mammoth cars put out by Detroit fulfilled Hitler’s promise to the American people. While it was slow and quite small, the Volkswagen was very durable, required little maintainance, was very miserly with gas compared to American gas guzzlers and was generally affordable for people who otherwise could not afford cars.
Henry Ford with his Model T had acheived that objective before the Beetle, before Hitler and before anyone else. But, by the 1950′s Detroit kinda moved away from that business model and the Beetle fit that nitch market quite nicely. And it continued to do so. On this date in 1972, Volkswagen put out Beetle number 15,007,034 rolled off the assembly line to surpass Ford’s Model T for the most produced car in all of history. While Volkswagen became the name of the company instead of the car, and the original Beetle model was eventually discontinued in the United State and replaced by a new, more expensive Beetle with more of the luxuries that Americans demand, the old model Beetle remains in production in Mexico. Seems that every time I’ve been in Mexico, the cab I rode in was either a Beetle or a Thing…both relics of World War II. Most people though think that Hitler came up with the Beetle and he didn’t; it was Ferdinand Porsche. And what became known as the Beetle wasn’t even offered to the public until after the war. I think the story of the People’s Car is a good metaphor for Hitler in some regards because he falsely took credit for someone else’s genius and he then made a promise to the people that he never kept.
Weather Bottom Line: I don’t have much to add today except that I had about 4.5 inches of snow at my house and the National Weather Service had an official total for the event through early Tuesday of just around 4 inches with the weather service office closer to 5 inches or so. Yet, the newspaper trumpted in it’s headlines Tuesday morning “6 Inches and Counting.” It reminds of of the flood in parts of the city in early August when the paper quoted all of these rain totals that were based on rumor and not fact as no measuring device could come close to verifying what city officials and the paper claimed. But, to be sure, some folks got a little more than 5-6 inches of snow and some got less. From driving around it seems like Jefferson County got 4-5 inches in general with the 6-8 inch totals falling north of the river or northeast of Louisville. The NWS made a very general map seen above. A few flurries on Wednesday and it stays cold. The next system seems to be falling behind with the models and there is a better than fair chance that we warm up a little and get rain for the second half of the weekend before a little snow on the tail end for Monday. But, there is no consensus with this solution except that the GFS is starting to show some consistency. We’ll have to see how it shakes out over the next few days but I strongly suspect its more of a rain event than snow.