Monday, January 30, 2012

New Non-fiction: The Long,Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle

Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle, by Andrea Hiott

This book is a treat for Volkswagen enthusiasts--those like me who have never owned a car that wasn’t a VW. But this history of the Volkswagen Beetle is also a great business and cultural history, a look at how the Beetle became a symbol of independence and American freedom, a household brand, and a global icon. The Beetle was a reflection of the new regime of democracy and economic freedom in post-war Germany, and became a symbol of individuality and personal mobility in American culture. The life-span of the Beetle, its trials and changes, parallel most of the major events of the 20th Century. Hiott traces the origin of the car from Ferdinand Porsche and the factories of the German Weimar Republic, through the Nazi era and into the grim years of German recovery after World War II, to the Madison Avenue campaigns that made the car an international icon. She looks at the late 20th-Century avatars of the “New Beetle” and the latest design, observing what this design and marketing campaigns have to say about contemporary culture and the present automotive market. The designers of the 2012 Beetle, the third generation of the Beetle, carefully preserved features from the previous cars that give the car a “family resemblance,” but the new design perhaps most of all will remind cognoscenti of Ferry Porsche’s original design for the first Porsche sports car, the Porsche 356. For some of us, the 2012 design may take some getting used to, for one of the attractions of the former Beetle was its air of “cuteness” and innocence. You could just tootle along. The new Bug has a sporty and mischievous edge, and looks like it maneuvers the world at a faster pace. It makes you wonder what the Beetle of 20 years from now will look like. For a car that seems to have taken on biological and genetic qualities, there's no doubt that, whatever the changes, the lineaments will remain familiar.

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