Detroit had become a bloated giant churning out unreliable cars with a built in expiration date and lousy gas mileage.
Detroit cars were pretty much worn out at 60 or 70,000 miles. This is hard to imagine today but cars would fall apart around us as we drove them and we took it for granted.
Volkswagen filled a niche Detroit was generally ignoring. The VW was inexpensive, reliable, and with a gas mileage of 30 mpg was highly desirable to people not into status like college students and, later, hippie types who were tired of pouring their money into their cars.
A 1960 Beetle cost $12,000 in today’s dollars and the price was falling. Little wonder the little wondercar became ubiquitous.
Beetle was originally a derisive nickname that VW took as its own and with a slew of ingenious ads established themselves in American hearts as the little car that could. The ads have become Madison Avenue history and the Beetle became a symbol of reverse snobbery as they pushed its reliability and fuel sipping engine. The fact it was so tightly constructed it would float was a bonus. VW ads played to the car’s strengths instead of attempting to compete nose to nose with Detroit and it worked.
I was in Germany in the 60’s and of course it was bumper to bumper Beetles but I never saw one broken down. In Italy there was usually at least one Fiat parked alongside the road with its hood up with an earnest Italian peering into the engine compartment.
Its engine was so accessible and easy to work on a book came out with step by step instructions for overhauling it. I used this book to do a successful ring and valve job on one. It was easy. My uncle, an academic who was as mechanically inclined as a Chimpanzee, overhauled his and then drove it across country.
Detroit didn’t take the Beetle seriously even though it represented a warning shot across the bow so when the Toyota, followed by the other Japanese companies, moved in with their high quality offerings Detroit was caught flat footed and paid a heavy price for their greed, and lack of imagination. It took them many, many years to learn how to make quality cars.
And here’s its competition