We all know the story of the Volkswagen Beetle: In his vision to motorize Germany, Adolf Hitler wanted a "People's Car" of sound design and quality to transport the subjects of his Third Reich around an expanding empire. The Beetle became that car. It made automotive and world history, two of Germany's biggest automakers and Ferdinand Porsche's career. But was it really his design as history recorded? New evidence suggests otherwise.

According to Dutch author and historian Paul Schilperoord in his new book Het Ware Verhaal van de Kever ("The True Story of the Beetle"), Porsche may have taken the credit for a design from a Jewish engineer named Josef Ganz (pictured right). The Hungarian-born engineer and automotive journalist had a revolutionary idea for a new type of car which he called the Maikäfer (May Beetle), characterized by an engine mounted behind the cabin, an independent suspension and a smaller, more streamlined shape than the bloated cars that existed at the time.

The design was credited by many as the precursor to the Volkswagen Beetle, but without the financial backing to build his car, Ganz began publishing articles calling for a revolution in car design. According to Schilperoord, Antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany made him an easy target for the established automakers who viewed him as a threat, eventually leading to his arrest by the Gestapo on trumped-up blackmail charges. Ganz was eventually released and tried in vain to build his car in Switzerland, only for the Swiss government to try and steal his design themselves. Enamored of its originality, Hitler allegedly charged Porsche with building the car instead, giving no credit to its Jewish parentage.

After years of legal battles, Ganz moved to Australia where he worked for Holden and eventually died poor and in relative obscurity. Although his name remained known for generations by car designers and engineers, Schilperoord's new book is the first major publication tell the story. The publisher is currently in negotiations to produce documentary films based on the book in several languages, so stay tuned. Thanks to Peter for the tip!

[Source: Ganz-Volkswagen.org and AD.nl Autowereldtranslated]