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“Will We Ever Kill the Bug?”

Last week while watching a snowstorm pass through a Volkswagen “Beetle” TV commercial from the 1960s came to mind which asked the question, “Have you ever wondered how the man who drives a snow plow…..gets to the snow plow?”

That commercial filmed in Germany brought to mind all of the advertisements for VW which a very clever ad agency produced that only included one or two liners for the main text. Today’s lead image “Will We Ever Kill the Bug?”was used in a 1965 ad campaign and the text began with “No. How could we?” and went on to tell of the “5,000 odd changes we have made since 1948…..that make it work better and longer.”

In this post, six more of the German automaker’s ads and postcards have been included (below the video) that where used in the 1963 to ’66 period. Share with us what you find of interest in these advertisements courtesy of Automobile Historian Alden Jewell. Follow this link to Flicker to view more of Alden’s 1960s Volkswagen “Bug” ads.

36 responses to ““Will We Ever Kill the Bug?”

  1. In Item 4 of 6 there’s something peculiar about the ’66 AMC Classic in the upper right corner…it’s missing its innermost headlights. The hood is correct, as is the grille mesh. And no, it’s not an AMC American. All the others appear to be correct ’66 models.

    • Hi Pat, I think it may have had something to do with copyright infringement. If they didn’t get AMC’s permission, they had to alter the appearance slightly.

  2. I remember those ads; my favorites. Wasn’t it Doyle, Daine and Berbach (excuse my spelling!) the ad agency? And you could make the comparison to modern day Geico commercials as being as ones that are memorable and stand out from the crowd. My first car was a ’64 Karmann Ghia, then a ’63 Beetle, and a ’64 Transporter and finally a ’72 Karmann Ghia. All very fun and easy to drive in the snow. Narrow tires dug down through the deep snow. With snow tires and studs, they were mostly unstoppable.

    • DDB was indeed the agency behind all those iconoclastic ads and had the VW account for eons.. Ultimately they merged with BBD&O and another agency to form today’s Omnicom Group. A reasonably concise account of their work can be found at historygraphidesign dot com > The Age of Information > The New York School. The DDB story “arc” (as they like to call it these days) could well have served as the model for TV’s “Mad Men.”

  3. I still remember a Beetle commercial from the seventies that mocked the 1949 Auto Show. It had an Andrews-Sisters-like group singing about the latest advances from Hudson, a pre-MASH Henry Blake touting the new Packards, and someone in a white coat standing next to Buick ventiports promising the feature of the future — “holes in the side.” And in a back corner was a skinny guy in a bow tie next to a Beetle, promising that they would keep improving the car, not to keep up with fashion, but to make it better.

    I’ve since found it online. You can see it if you Google “Classic VW Commercial 1949 auto show.”

    • It had a print ad counterpart headlined “They don’t make them like they used to” – which went on to detail the many changes to the Bug since its US debut in 1949. The last lines of the copy were great: In 1949, when we decided not to change the Beetle, some of the names making news were Nash, Hudson, and Packard. Not that we were right and they were wrong, but they don’t build them like they used to, either” (That’s from memory, so it may not exactly right.

      I work in advertising, as a strategy guy now, but I started as a copywriter. This campaign is why I wanted advertising to be my career.

    • Amen. Two friends and I drove a van (double doors on each side!) from Chicago to Miami with a stopover in Toronto to rebuild the engine. Explanation: An interlude in either Watkins Glen or Mosport for the F1 race was part of the itinerary but a rod knock at any speed over 45 mph before we even got to Detroit mandated a sidetrack. “They have DIY garages in Toronto. We can rebuild the engine there.” Bruce said. “OK?” Says Paul and I, despite the fact none of us had ever rebuilt a VW engine. “I have friends in Toronto we can stay with” says Bruce. “Deal!” we say.

      Somewhere along the way, trundling along at exactly 45mph, no more, I notice the sheet metal at my feet bears an imprint exactly the same as that on the nose of the van, only in reverse relief. While the concept of a “crush zone” had not entered the lexicon of automobile safety terminology at that point I glimpsed a sense of what that might be. And we were it. Additionally, owing to the lack of a gas gauge we were forever running out of gas so we purchased a gallon can and (good thinking!) kept that stowed behind the drivers seat.

      Having survived the trip to Miami ,we traded the VW in on a 30’ sailboat which is when we really tried to kill ourselves. Gardner McKay we weren’t

    • When I got married in ’92, I was still driving a ’66 split-window Bus with 210,000 miles on it — fourth motor that I knew of. Ruth suggested I get rid of it. She loved me and didn’t want me driving a car where my knees were part of the crash cage.

      • In ’62, when I was looking to rid myself of an abysmal ’60 Simca Aronde, my top choices for a time were a 23-window VW bus, or a Checker Marathon. Luckily, I opted for an AMC wagon instead! Like to have that bus today.

  4. I believe July, 1977 the original Beetle was killed for US production ( Mexico until 1985) after failing emission standards.

    • They could have spent the money on environmental mods, after all, Porsche used the same basic technology.
      It was more of a case of going with the Rabbit…A more modern (and safer) design with an engine easier to keep legal.
      The beetle had had its day. Just like the Model T or the Silver Ghost.
      It’s only due to old hippies wearing rose colored glasses that it’s fondly remembered today.
      If It were any other car, they’d (the enviro & safety lobby) be calling for it to be banned and all survivors scrapped.

  5. Great commercials. I have owned Beetles for the last 53 years. My split will be here when I am gone, have owned it since ’77.

  6. Easy to repair and tune ( I used a matchbook cover to set the points), easy to drive (just keep it floored on the freeway), easy to find parts, but air-cooled engines are hard to keep within emission and later, noise standards. Carbs are also a pain to stay within standards as well, one reason everyone switched to FI. A Porsche can absorb all those costs with their high prices. Still, technology moved on and the Bug was really at the end of the line in trying to keep up with all that and the increasingly stiffer safety regulations.

  7. Never liked the Beetle. I’ve worked on my fair share, and have never understood why this refugee from 1937 was so popular, other than ‘cute’ goes a long way, and it became more of a counter culture icon, than actually being a good car. I found that the Beetle devotee seemed to think that the definition of reliability was a car that ran badly longer than it ran well. Owners put up with miserable heat and defrost (always keep a rag handy) that they’d never tolerate from a domestic brand. ‘Easy to repair ‘ must have assumed everyone had the variety of special tools you needed if you were going to fix anything more than a flat tire. Mediocre brakes, oil leaks, noisy and slow. What a brilliant job of salesmanship indeed.

    • Ran badly longer than it ran well probably is somewhat accurate at times. But like a lot of old technology cars, you did have to maintain them. Valve adjustments at least every 3 to 5 thousand miles are a must. However, as a youngster out of high school, who enjoyed mechanical challenges, they were fun. And realitively easy to work on. Plus, the engine was lighter than a small block Chevy, and easy to remove if need be. Replaced a clutch in my transporter in about 2 hours on a Friday night in the garage with just a floor jack and a few metric wtenches. It has been said that VW s may run poorly when they had a problem, but would usually get you home without completely breaking down. I spent most of a weekend with a broken clutch cable 150 miles from home, and still managed to get around and returned home. Just saying they were good for the times; the sixties.

  8. Our ’66 split-window bus is still adored by all of us in the family. It began life on a 12,000 mile tour of Europe, and now lives an easy life on an island in Washington. 53,000 miles and few problems.

  9. Hmm, the snow plow ad was filmed in Germany? No wonder I could never ID the truck make. I thought it may have been a Sterling.

  10. The 2CV was a much better-engineered car. Lighter, more efficient, better handling and ride, more durable.

  11. Many of the positive reflections in this post come from a fount of emotion. Love, even. When you rationalize the Beetle, sure, it was a pre-war clunker that held on long past its time. But many of us fondly remember a car from our youth, also old clunkers that went the way of the junk yard. The Beetle is another example of that. Millions still fondly recollect their time with one, as I do.
    Beetles, like Model Ts, served a market that grew and grew from post-war need for an inexpensive car. And their humble nature was promoted with much success.
    The Beetle is still a hot market for tuners and those who want to wrench on a small and inexpensive car that is funky and fun. It is an evergreen machine. You wouldn’t believe some of the tech that has come out of speed shops dedicated to the Beetle, And there is some crossover for the 356 Porsche guys too.
    I submit that we should recognize that the Bug is one of the all-time greats of 20th century transportation.

    • Glad to read that you have something positive to say about the “bug”. I bought a ’59 bug sunroof in 1961 to go to college in Los Angeles. Drove it until 1968 when I needed a bigger vehicle to try my hand at selling real estate. Gave the VW to my little sister to use for the next 5 or 6 years. She got married and moved away so I got the bug back. Drove it off and on for several years as a second car then garaged it for about 30 years. Finally sold it about 5 years ago to a local guy who started restoring it for his wife who learned to drive on her father’s ’59 VW sunroof. His health went down hill so he just recently sold it to an airline pilot who is shipping it to his home country of Portugal. Of all the vehicles that I have owned in my 60+ years of driving I have to say I miss the VW the most. It was actually “fun” to drive. It was “fun” to change the oil, rebuild the carburetor, put brushes in the generator, replace the clutch cable, repack the wheel bearings, etc. I wish I had the money and space to buy and work on another VW.

  12. First car I ever drove – my Dad’s 53 Beetle (and crashed – into a cinder block garage wall. ) First car I ever had the driver’s seat separate from the floor while driving – 58 Beetle in Sausalito, CA. Only car I drove through Big Sur with no lights in the fog – at night – 65 Beetle (not intentional.) First car I had to rebuild the engine 4 times – 1966 Transporter. Not one that ever got warm at night or in the winter.

    • …but somehow I remember each one fondly – and left out the 71 Beetle convt. my wife left the top down for several weeks and actually had sunflowers growing in the back seat area.

  13. Regarding the “After three years…” ad, I know for a fact that when my Dad traded in our ’66 Coronet 500 in March of ’69, the Dodge dealer resold it for $2,000, not $970.

  14. Is The Bug Dead? (The Great Beetle Ad Campaign) is also a great book put out in 1982 that features well over 100 ads by Doyle Dane Bernbach.
    As VW got established in the US, word of mouth and dealer promotion was used. In about 1959 VW decided they needed an ad agency to expand their sales. They met with 4000 ad men. All the ad proposals looked like every other ad of any product—cigarette, toothpaste, an airline. Only instead of toothpaste, the image had been replaced by a VW. Only DDB understood that the VW was a different product than Detroit was pushing and they would sell it differently.
    “The “honest” advertising that came out of that meeting used realistic black-and-white photographs instead of the fanciful illustrations that were de rigueur in car ads at that time. No flattering airbrush work or lens distortion for the bug. No mansion or stable behind the car. No suave, debonair driver. And especially no admiring female. The copy treated the reader like an intelligent friend, not some anonymous moron, and it was self-deprecating rather than self-congratulatory. The overall impression was one of friendly, straightforwardness and disarming truthfulness.”

  15. I raced for 25 years with the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) in the FV class, first established in 1964. FV is an open wheel type race car (no fenders) uses only the VW 1200 engine, turned around for a mid engine design race car, using any single seat seat frame and body and connected to the original VW front suspension. With proper preparation to the engine and suspension, with only stock VW parts, you are capable of racing a FV at 100 to 120 mph! The engine has to turn 6,500 RPM and a typical 30 min. Race is run at close to or at wide open throttle the whole race, even around the turns due to the excellent grip provided by the 1930s designed suspension! The FV pulls higher Gs in a turn on skinny original size tires then all but the most modern, fattest tired race cars!! While running in packs of 20 to 40 cars drafting off each other to go even faster! The class is still very popular today, with only the Miada class passing FV in entries! The FV 1200 engines prove very reliable at these crueling conditions needing only minor freshening every few years! Trannies and brakes last forever!! I’ve never had more fun in my life the racing in the FV class! Many call it like playing chess at a 100 MPH! And am very thankful VW built these unique little Bugs!

  16. Started working on VW’s after by my own fault I blew the engine in mine. Once I found how easy it was, I rebuilt them to sell. Got totally into almost all phases of repairs on these great cars and vans. Made a pretty good living at it.
    Loved the auto stick trans,was one of the few who understood how it operated so other repair shops would send me ones which they didn’t want to mess with.
    The good old days, recently bought a super beetle convert to restore.

  17. I worked in a VW Dealership in the mid 60’s. The cars were simple sturdy and easy to work on. The mechanics flat-rate times were very fair, the customer labor rate was $6.00 an Hr. . Thanks to VW I was able to own a Alfa Sprint and in the winter I drove a SAAB. Bug’s were good cars if you took care of them, they would run all day, foot to the floor at 72mph on flat roads.

  18. The old ones you could rebuild the engine on your kitchen table.the new bugs you need a 50 dollar tool just to change the twilight bulb.

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