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The descendents of Ferdinand Porsche might want to see if any of those prizes for the creation of a perpetual motion device are still outstanding. In the Beetle (or Bug), he created a car that survived the Nazis, the fifties, and Ralph Nader. If not a prize, that achievement at least has to be worthy of some kind of recognition. To call him the car's "inventor," however, might be pushing it.

As British automotive journalist Phil Patton explains in his engaging new book, Bug: The Stranger Mutations of the World's Most Famous Automobile (Simon & Schuster), it's a miracle that the car got off the ground in the first place. It was conceived of and championed by Hitler (and engineered by Porsche) as "the people's car" over and against German auto manufacturers, who carped at his unrealistic price ceiling of 1,000 marks, and its production was delayed by the war.

After the Bug was put into production in the postwar years, it had to find some way to surmount its tarnished past. Patton reminds us that the first two salesmen that Volkswagen hired to sell it in the U.S. failed utterly. People were just not interested in a funny little German car that You Know Who had dreamed up.

In fact, it was only about a decade after World War II had ended and people had settled back into their lives that the little car began to catch the American public's fancy. At first it began to be "discovered by word of mouth, like a good restaurant" but, seeing the growing interest and growing sales, then-VW boss Carl Hahn decided to try to goose sales by hiring an upstart Jewish public relations firm by the name of Doyle Dane Bernach (DDB). While their ethnicity was no doubt a factor in VW's choosing them—Patton argues that hiring "Jews to sell Hitler's car ...

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September 2002

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