1934 to 1937 – The “German People’s Car” as a “Communal Project” of the German Automotive Industry

Chronicle 1934: VW Series 3 prototype

The introduction of tax breaks and the promotion of motorsport in 1933 regenerated the automobile market. The end of the global financial crisis was in sight. Car-makers and designers such as Ferdinand Porsche hoped that the burgeoning recovery would entail a fundamental shift towards mass motoring. On January 17, 1934, Ferdinand Porsche submitted to the Reich Ministry of Transport a “Memorandum on the construction of a German People’s Car”, setting forth a “fully practical vehicle” for four adults, “of normal size but relatively light weight”, with a cruising speed suitable for the recently built autobahn network of 100 kilometres per hour. Thanks to his technical repute, boosted by the many motorsport victories of his Silberpfeil (Silver Arrow) design, Porsche’s idea was taken up by Adolf Hitler.

Car companies including Opel, Ford, Adler, Stoewer, and also Ludwigsburg-based Standard Fahrzeugfabrik, with its “Superior” model, presented versions of a “German People’s Car” at the International Automobile and Motorcycle Exhibition in Berlin in March 1934. Disregarding all of those, in his opening speech on March 7, 1934, Hitler himself spoke out in favour of building a “low-cost car” which would bring the German automotive industry “millions of new buyers”. Public pronouncements mentioned a selling price of 990 Reichsmarks.

This placed the ball firmly in the court of the Reich Auto­motive Industry Association (RDA), which in May 1934 decided to develop a “German People’s Car” as a “communal project” among the private automotive industry. The industry association signed a contract on June 22, 1934 commissioning Ferdinand Porsche’s office to handle the engineering design. There were grave doubts among the car companies as to the economic viability of the project in view of the 990 Reichsmarks target price. Including an independent designer in the process meant that they could outsource the unresolved technical issues to an external party, who was contracted to develop a prototype within one year.

The Porsche KG company went to work at its factory in Zuffenhausen near Stuttgart, and submitted the first prototype to the RDA’s Technical Commission on July 3, 1935. Other prototypes, including a convertible, followed. Porsche’s engineers overcame innumerable technical difficulties. The body began to take shape, and the chassis and engine were developed ever closer to specification. On October 12, 1936, the three vehicles of the V3 series were each subjected to a 50,000 kilometre test, the results of which were submitted to the RDA in a 96-page final report in January 1937. The adequacy of the vehicle in principle had been proven, but lack of hard currency and shortages of raw materials undermined prospects for profitable mass production. The question of financing also remained unresolved. Despite having resolved the basic technical problems, the “People’s Car” project hung by a thread because of economic factors.

“People’s car” by Ford, 1934

Chronicle 1934: “People’s car” by Ford, 1934
Like the Ford plants, many German car makers attempt to build a “people’s car” in the 1930s – an inexpensive vehicle with low running costs and low fuel consumption. However, the small cars produced in Germany during this period never acquire the status of a people’s car due to unfavorable conditions such as high vehicle taxes and insufficient per capita income.

Porsche Type 32 (NSU prototype)

Chronicle 1934: Porsche Type 32 (NSU prototype)
To offset sales problems in the motorcycle segment, NSU Motorenwerke in Neckarsulm plans to start producing a small car. Ferdinand Porsche, an engineer from Bohemia, is commissioned to design the vehicle which is presented as a prototype in 1934. With its torsion bar suspension and air-cooled engine as well as its design lines, the car has much in common with the later Beetle. Due to financial difficulties, NSU Motorenwerke never begins production of the Porsche Type 32.

Ferdinand Porsche

Chronicle 1934: Ferdinand Porsche
On June 22, 1934 “Reichsverband der Deutschen Automobilindustrie” commissions Ferdinand Porsche to design a Volkswagen subsidized by the state. The engineer born in Maffersdorf, Bohemia in 1875 initially worked at Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, before opening his own engineering office in 1930. Porsche acquired a reputation as a brilliant engineer with his small car developed for NSU and racing cars designed for Auto Union.

VW Series 3 prototype

Chronicle 1934: VW Series 3 prototype
Ferdinand Porsche presents the first prototype of the VW Series 3 in July 1935. The chassis and body are constructed of wood and steel, common in automobile construction at the time. Numerous improvements to the vehicle, for example to the tread width and wheelbase, are made over the coming months.

VW Series 3 convertible prototype

Chronicle 1934: VW Series 3 convertible prototype
At the end of 1935, Dr. Porsche GmbH develops a prototype for a Volkswagen convertible known internally as the V2. This vehicle, together with two sedans, is presented to Reichsverband der Automobilindustrie under the name of VW Series 3 in February 1936 and technical development subsequently continues until all models are ready for testing in September 1936.

VW Series 3 test drive

Chronicle 1934: VW Series 3 test drive
The VW Series 3 prototypes are driven 50,000 kilometers between October 12 and December 18, 1936. Half of the distance is covered on freeways, the rest on mountain roads in the Black Forest. The vehicle concept proves its worth in spite of some teething troubles, and all is set for a test series of 30 vehicles.
The specified fuel consumption and emission data are determined in accordance with the measurement procedures prescribed by law. 1 January 2022, the WLTP test cycle completely replaced the NEDC test cycle and therefore no NEDC values are available for new type approved vehicles after that date. This information does not refer to a single vehicle and is not part of the offer but is only intended for comparison between different types of vehicles. Additional equipment and accessories (additional components, tyre formats, etc.) can alter relevant vehicle parameters such as weight, rolling resistance and aerodynamics, affecting the vehicle's fuel consumption, power consumption, CO2 emissions and driving performance values in addition to weather and traffic conditions and individual driving behavior. Due to more realistic testing conditions, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions measured according to WLTP will in many cases be higher than the values measured according to NEDC. As a result, the taxation of vehicles may change accordingly as of 1 September 2018. For further information on the differences between WLTP and NEDC, please visit www.volkswagen.de/wltp. Further information on official fuel consumption data and official specific CO2 emissions for new passenger cars can be found in the "Guide to fuel economy, CO2 emissions and power consumption for new passenger car models", which is available free of charge from all sales dealerships and from DAT Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH, Hellmuth-Hirth-Str. 1, D-73760 Ostfildern, Germany and at www.dat.de/co2.