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The strange history of the Volkswagen Beetle

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:27 PM

"Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle" (Ballantine Books), by Andrea Hiott

The Volkswagen Beetle has a unique and colorful history, with principal characters that include the Nazi dictator who personified evil, the legendary designer of Germany's most celebrated race cars and the Jewish advertising executive who pioneered a creative revolution on Madison Avenue.

It's a story with twists and turns that over four decades gave rise to the oddly shaped car that came to symbolize America's 1960s counterculture and went on to become the world's top-selling car model.

Author Andrea Hiott transports readers through the most turbulent decades of the 20th century, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Allied victory that left postwar Germany in ruins, to that nation's economic rebirth epitomized by the success of the Volkswagen plant at Wolfsburg.

A car enthusiast who never drove an automobile or held a driver's license, Hitler had a vision for a "people's car" that would extend to Germans the same mobility the Model T gave Americans. The dictator set out to build a network of autobahns and erect a massive factory to build what he decreed to be The Strength Through Joy Car.

The genius chosen as its designer was Ferdinand Porsche, who was told to produce a prototype by 1935 so that 1 million cars would come off the line within three years. But with Hitler bent on war, the plant's mission shifted to arms production.

The book also features the role of Heinrich Nordhoff, a veteran of General Motors' Opel division before the war. It was his managerial talents that helped put Volkswagen on the path to prosperity as a key element of postwar Germany's "economic miracle."

This book should appeal to history buffs, car enthusiasts and readers who delight in a fascinating story.

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