Long Live The Volkswagen
Once a year I find myself drawn to the cultural vacuum that is Birmingham. With so much of the big wide world yet to see, and so little time in which to explore it, there must be a reason for visiting this geographical cul de sac, no? Well, yes, yes there is, the Classic Motor Show, held at the NEC. If you have yet to experience this show I would say shame on you. Get your arsch to the next one and soak up the sight of more automotive gems than you are able to waggle a branch at.
I am as happy as a bird with a French fry meandering around the many and varied classics on display, but what always strikes me most is that with the exception of the big money cars, how terrible the vast majority of classics are when compared to a VW of the same era.
I do not declare myself to be expert on all marques, but I do count myself lucky to have driven so many Volkswagens down the ages, and therefore, have a weather gauge against which all others can be judged. And I find much of what your country produced in the 1960s and, even worse, the ‘70s to be decidedly lacking in every department.
You only have to compare the state of the UK and Germany’s motor industry today to see that the average man on the street agreed, because there is no UK motor industry today, and yet VW, which was all but destroyed in the altercation of 1939-45, has become a motoring colossus. How is that? Allow me to explain.
The big picture
That VW went on to reach such dizzying heights can be explained in just two words: quality control. From the moment you walked into a VW showroom you were buying into an ethos that came down from the top, from Volkswagen’s biggest cheese, Heinz Nordoff. This great man was VW’s Director General from 1948 until he died in 1968, which was the company’s golden age. Nordoff believed in his product 100%. For him, the air-cooled VW was the only way to go, and go, and go. Until the arrival of the Transporter in March 1950, the Beetle was the only vehicle in the company’s arsenal, and with such a tiny product line VW went all out to make its products the best most reliable, most saleable in their sectors.
As you English say, the proof of the pudding is in the consumption. And the buying public lapped the air-cooled VW up in their millions. This is because from the moment a VW left the drawing board, passed through prototype and development phase and began rolling down the production lines, it was guaranteed to be a top quality product, made using the finest materials, and each and every one subject to hundreds of rigorous quality control checks. You felt this to be the case as soon as you walked into a VW dealership, all of which were built, decorated and laid out in the same way as every other VW dealership around the world. This was brand awareness before brand awareness.
So while the workforce of your British Leyland were out on yet another strike over the roughness of toilet paper in the men’s lavatories, the VW production lines at Hanover, Wolfsburg and everywhere else were churning out thousands of vastly superior machines.
VW’s products are well regarded and loved today that, even when they are past saving, their legacy lives on. I mean, when was the last time you saw a road side café constructed from an old Ford Transit?