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Follow the Iconic VW Beetle Through History In This Archival Image Gallery

See what drove 21 million sales over six decades.

Conner GoldenWriterGetty ImagesPhotographer

We're back with another round of archival deep-dives, wherein we scour photo repositories for some of the coolest old automotive imagery we can find. We did classic Land Rovers and old dealerships not too long ago, so we figured it was time to shine the light on a bona fide cultural icon—the VW Beetle. Between 1938 and 2003, over 21 million of these things were built, so its no surprise to see the Beetle popping up in almost every part of the 20th century. It's a varied group of photos; as usual, we've picked a few of our favorites to highlight, but make sure you check out the full gallery.

Too Much Woodstock—Or Maybe Not Enough

You can be sure a hefty percentage of the cars parked on the grass at Woodstock—and those stuck in the infamous traffic jam—were VW's round little Bug. Good thing there weren't many sharp corners for these Woodstock partiers to collapse onto.

Proving the VW Beetle's Waterproofing

Not much background info can be dredged up about this image, though the caption notes this Beetle crossed the very shallow Strait of Messina in Sicily as proof of its watertight construction.

Hotrod Beetle

Hopping up the People's Car is nothing new. Pictured here is a Canadian enthusiast futzing with his show-worthy Beetle carrying significant modifications. Nice wheels.

One of Many Millions

It didn't take long for VW to sell a truly astonishing number of Beetles. Volkswagen celebrated the first million of the little coupes sold at the 1955 Frankfurt auto show, but the Beetle seen here on the plinth isn't the millionth car—that special relic is painted metallic gold with rhinestone bumpers—but instead an Anniversary car.

 

No Gas? No Problem

Well, a little problem. The 1974 OPEC oil crisis was a defining moment in automotive history, and signaled a paradigm shift for many manufacturers. Essentially, it helped open the door to wider adoption of imports, especially Japanese cars, and the further popularization of small fuel-sippers like the Beetle pictured here.

Goodwood Revival—Except In-Period

Back when Goodwood was still regularly used as an actual competition circuit, members of the club could show up and take laps, as this excellent little Beetle demonstrates here.