Friday, September 03, 2010

Porsches, Beetles, and Freedom

Today is 135th anniversary of the birth of Ferdinand Porsche, the Austrian engineer who created some of the most iconic automobiles in history. While he did design and build some of the early sportscars, the company bearing the family name was actually started by his son, Ferry. The father, on the other hand, is responsible for the greatest of the anti-sportscars, he is the brain behind the Volkswagen Beetle.

Porsche's original concept in the early 30s was a "car for everyone," a vehicle that would take automobiles from being playthings of the wealthy to standard means of transport and he had made long strides in making it. When Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, he liked the idea and brought it under the Reich's umbrella, changing the name slightly to Volkswagon -- the People's Car.

The great irony of this story is that the general who led the American troops in the World War Hitler started, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would become president and create the interstate highway system. These roads, envisioned originally in part as a means for moving military resources quickly about the country, combined with this vehicle and its microbus offspring with their facist roots to become the American symbol of life on the road, of the counter-culture with its anti-war commitments. War gave us our symbol of peace and fascism gave us our symbol of freedom.