Book Review: Volkswagen Beetles and Buses

by | Oct 22, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

To get some idea of my own history with Volkswagens, please see my previous post, VW Bugs and Buses before reading his review.

Volkswagen Beetles and Buses, especially the initial fascinating chapters, is a history book. It’s not like that history of The Peloponnesian War you had to read in school, although there are similarities: There are a bunch of people’s names, and important dates and there’s even a war! Looming over the whole back story are the shadows of two men: Ferdinand Porsche and Adolf Hitler, who, when seen in the perspective of time and the whole Beetle saga, are seen as midwives, rather than movers and shakers. The author, Russel Hayes, makes all of this history interesting even includes a sketch that Hitler may have drawn and that maybe was of the Beetle, or maybe not. I found his use of the term “forced labor” to describe the people who were building the Beetle (and Kubelvagans and Schwimmwagens) during WWII instead of “slaves” to be overly polite but in no way does he gloss over the Nazi origins of VW.

This early story of the Beetle and the Bus is a well written and captivating history of hardworking engineers and executives who were trying to build the best possible small car that was economic, solidly build, versatile and affordable. In reading these chapters, what surprised me most was the different models that were produced from the very beginning, although I am sure most of them never made it to the US. Similarly, I was surprised to learn about the bus (aka Kombi, Samba, Microbus) and how soon after the launch of the post-War Beetle it was developed. A 1947 sketch for a Plattenwagen that was drawn by Dutch VW importer Ben Pon is among the many wonderful illustrations that populate and truly illuminate Hayes text.

A two-page sidebar “A Tale of Two Soft Tops” explained the differences between the beautiful Hebmuller-designed Beetle two-seater and the Karmann cabriolet and their ultimate fates, detailing why Karmann was the winner in the VW ragtop sweepstakes. Similarity you’ll find information and the story behind the Type 3 as the Beetle and VW continued to grow and innovate. Illustrations and photographs throughout are reproduced to a high standard.

The chapter “Behold the Camper Van” takes you behind the scenes of this beloved icon with some amazing period photographs as well as introducing me (at least) to the Fridolin (aka Type 157 Kleinlieferwagon) commercial vehicle based on the venerable bus that bears very little resemblance to its origins. It’s tidbits like this that keeps Volkswagen Beetles and Buses constantly readable. The story gets more personal with an account of the author’s own escapades with a bus.

The beautifully printed and bound book follows the Beetle into its maturity including the last place on earth to cling to the Beetle—Mexico—where it was built and where my New Beetle was also constructed. On July, 2003, the last of 21,529,464 Volkswagen Beetles built since World War II rolls off the production line at Volkswagen’s plant in Puebla, Mexico. The kiss of death was when Mexico City passed a law that only four-door cars could be taxis. The book ultimately gets around to introduction the New Beetle and the possibilities of an electric Bus, which I will take odds will never see the light of day. But that’s just me.

While somewhat UK-centric, but not annoyingly so, Volkswagen Beetles and Buses represents a journey that takes you through all of the many ways in which VW Beetles and Buses have affected not just the history of the automobile but just how much these amazing vehicles have had an affect on our culture, not just in the US but around the world. The book is a pleasant, fun read chockablock with wonderful illustrations, many of which we’ve never seen before, and the photos and text that will teach you many interesting facts and tidbits that you probably didn’t already know—it did for me—about two seemingly simple vehicles that literally changed the world.


  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Motorbooks
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0760367663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0760367667
  • Price: $34.16 (Amazon Prime, as I write this.)