On Jan. 17, 1949, the Holland America Line Westerdam pulled into New York Harbor from Rotterdam carrying the seed of an automotive empire. It had been only four years since Volkswagen resurrected operations in Wolfsburg, the factory heavily ruined by Allied forces and now under the command of Major Ivan Hirst. The Wolfsburg plant itself was nearly dismantled under war reparations until Hirst persuaded the British Army to use its product as light transport. Successfully bowled over, the British placed an order for 20,000, the first of which went to occupying forces. 1,785 Type 1s were made that first year in 1945.
The Type 1 Beetle was a car that the British, in an official report, had deemed too ugly and noisy, "...quite unattractive to the average motorcar buyer." Hell, the Brits had tried to unload Volkswagen to Ford—for free. The response from a Mr. Ernest Breech, chairman of the Ford board, was: "I don't think what we're being offered here is worth a damn!"
Oh, how they laugh now.
You might have heard of Max Hoffman, importer of all Europe's glamour, and he started the first Volkswagen dealership in America. But you might not have heard of Ben Pon, the unsung hero—race car driver, Olympian, winemaker, and the first to sell Volkswagens outside Germany, in his native Netherlands. And on that wintry day in January 1949, Pon actually beat Hoffman to the chase.
Check out Autoweek.com to see the full story and more photos—including mention of a very special, equally beloved Volkswagen that Pon singlehandedly created.