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10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

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Although it has been more than a decade since a mariachi band serenaded the last old-style Volkswagen Beetles to roll off the assembly line, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.

1. THE RUMOR THAT THE BEETLE BEGAN WITH HITLER IS (SORT OF) TRUE.

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It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.

2. AMERICANS WEREN’T IMPRESSED.

Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.

3. VW DIDN’T ORIGINALLY CALL IT THE “BEETLE” OR THE “BUG.”

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.

4. THE CAR HAS EQUALLY ADORABLE NICKNAMES IN OTHER COUNTRIES.

The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 

5. “THINK SMALL” WAS VOTED THE TOP ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN OF THE CENTURY.

In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.

6. BEETLES AND POP CULTURE GO HAND-IN-HAND.

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.

7. THE CAR’S FAMOUS BUD VASE IS NO LONGER.

The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.

8. VW HAS MARKED SPECIAL OCCASIONS WITH ONE-OF-A-KIND BUGS.

When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.

9. BRITISH CAR MANUFACTURERS TURNED DOWN THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE THE BEETLE.

After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.

10. THE LAST OF THE BEETLES IS IN A MUSEUM.

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Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.

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Driverless Cars Could Be Hacked With Stickers on Traffic Signs, Study Suggests
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As driverless cars inch toward becoming regular sights on our streets, experts have started to warn that the connected cars could be vulnerable to hackers who can take control of the vehicles from a distance. Though most of these warnings are related to hacking into the internet-connected computer on board, there’s an analog way to disrupt the workings of a driverless car, too, as Autoblog reports. Researchers from across the U.S. recently figured out how to trick a driverless car with a set of stickers, as they detail in a paper posted on arXiv.org.

They examined how fiddling with the appearance of stop signs could redirect a driverless car, tricking its sensors and cameras into thinking that a stop sign is actually a speed limit sign for a 45 mile-per-hour zone, for instance.

They found that by creating a mask to cover the sign that looks almost identical to the sign itself (so a human wouldn’t necessarily notice the difference), they could fool a road-sign classifier like those used by driverless cars into misreading the sign 100 percent of the time.

Five different views of a stop sign with black and white block-shaped stickers seen from various angles and distances.

Evtimov et al., arXiv.org

In a test of a right-turn sign, a mask that filled in the arrow on the sign resulted in a 100 percent misclassification rate. In two thirds of the trials, the right-turn was misclassified as a stop sign, and in one third, it was misclassified as an added lane sign. Graffiti-like stickers that read “love” and “hate” confused the classifier into reading a stop sign as a speed limit sign the majority of the time, as did an abstract design where just a few block-shaped stickers were placed over the sign.

“We hypothesize that given the similar appearance of warning signs, small perturbations are sufficient to confuse the classifier,” they write.

The study suggests that hackers wouldn’t need much equipment to wreak havoc on a driverless car. If they knew the algorithm of the car’s visual system, they would just need a printer or some stickers to fool the car.

However, the attacks could be foiled if the cars have fail-safes like multiple sensors and take context (like whether the car is driving in a city or on a highway) into account while reading signs, as Autoblog notes.

[h/t Autoblog]

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This Just In
London is Using Imaginary Speed Bumps to Curb Speeding
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In London, excessive speeding isn’t defined in quite the same way as it is in the States. While drivers here may get ticketed in some areas for hitting 40 or 50 miles per hour on city streets, vehicles there are in danger of being ticketed for exceeding 20 miles per hour.  

To curb the problem, the city began a clever initiative 18 months ago. Rather than spend the money it would take to install real speed bumps, officials for Transport for London painted stencils on the road that give the illusion of being raised. There’s no actual bump, but drivers who anticipate going over one might wind up slowing down.

We say “might” because, as a pilot program, there’s no word yet on how effective the faux-bumps have been. London has been struggling with traffic threats, noting in 2015 that speeds needed to be reduced to 20 mph in main arteries to help reduce the number of cyclists and pedestrians injured or killed as the result of collisions. The city recorded 136 fatalities in 2015 and 2092 injuries. The hope is to cut this number by 50 percent by the end of this decade.

[h/t Fast Company]

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