• Sep 8th 2009 at 10:00AM
  • 33
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]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Just because someone had a similar IDEA as you, doesn't mean you INVENTED it before him. 'Lets make a car thats small, rear engined, and has independent suspension' is not the same as inventing the eventual finished product that someone else did the engineering and design work for.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I agree with Ian, presuming this is all that Ganz's work didn't go beyond a high level design.

        It's relatively easy to "conceptualize." It's the engineering that makes it difficult. If that wasn't the case I'd own a light saber...

        OTOH, if Ganz had really done a lot of the engineering work, then this truly is a scandal.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Unfortunately, the Porsche-Ganz story, if accurate and correct, would be nothing new. History is full of examples of many people being awarded the credit and accolades for the work done by others.

      In the U.S. it was not uncommon for African American inventors to have their ideas and designs either stolen or miscredited to whites without the slightest recognition or compensation.

      Only time and further research will tell if Schilperoord's allegations are true.
      • 6 Years Ago
      While this may be true, it is not that unusual. First off Porsche did get sued for taking liberties with engine design from steyr puch, which is very similar to the beetle bug engine.
      But I do not blame prosche to much for this. As a general rule there are very few truely revolutionary ideas. In general you are adding to ideas that have preceded you.
      A couple of cliches come to mind - "you are only standing on the sholder of Giants" meaning you are using previous giained knowledge for all new inventions, and my favorite "Good engineers create, great engineers Steal". Perhaps Porsche was a bit of a theif, he was very good.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ganz' heirs should be given Porsche AG as reparations. Flamesuit on!

      (not being serious, just want to see the uber-elites sweat bullets)
        • 6 Years Ago
        Heirs getting compensation for things their ancestors did is a load of crap.

        Just like how the Siegel family is slowly winning back the rights to superman from DC comics.
      • 6 Years Ago
      L. Di Vinci invented the airplane. It's in his drawings. No wait, that was Prof. Langley. Read about the patent battles between the Wright Brothers and Glen Curtis. The history of aviation is fraught with similar stories. Some Aussie fellow seem to have a good claim to the first powered aircraft but no one is tearing down the Wright Bros. memorial at Kitty Hawk just yet.

      BMW's famous "boxer twin" motorcycle engine of the 1920's - present has it's roots in an earlier British design. Audi built and displayed a hybrid vehicle in the late '80s or early '90s. Did Toyota steal Audi's concept and build the Prius?

      Dr. F. Porsche's engineering brilliance was shown in many ways over the years, it is not like he stole the only brilliant car he ever built. The people and ideology surrounding the original Beetle were beyond evil but that doesn't change the post-war impact of the design on Germany or the world.

      As someone said "There is nothing more rare than an original idea."

      • 6 Years Ago
      If the allegations are true, it is very shocking.
        • 6 Years Ago
        It is, such an unfortunate life for this genius of auto industry...

        P.S for all the cruel and ruthless things that Hitler has done to this world, he actually did ONE thing good! Thinking up of Volkswagen Beetle!!!
        • 6 Years Ago
        @ Serge,
        "Burned at the steak"? Shame, they should be rare or medium rare only!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Sad, yes... very sad. However, I don't find this sort of thing shocking. Unfortunately these things happen all the time, revolutionary ideas and the people who though of them are "burned at the steak" for heresy... only so the people in power can proclaim the idea as their own.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Shocking? Barely...

        Isnt it widely known that Porsche ripped off Ledwinka's T97 car and he even sued Porsche for it. After the war VW admitted it and even paid 3 million marks to shut Tatra up. So for this jewish guy claim that the beetle was his idea is just another way of saying he was the first one to ripped the idea off Ledwinka but wasnt smart enough to make money out of it. And then he dies alone and penniless... 'nuff said.

        One a more personal note, the beetle is a sh it car and I would distant myself from it as far as possible.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Javenese is not correct.

        Porsche ripped off both Ledwinka and Ganz. From Ledwinka, he took a engine design (his first small car for Zundapp had a radial engine), from Ganz he took the general design of the Beetle. Ganz even used the name Beetle for his prototypes and Volkswagen for his produced designs. The 1933 Standard Superior "Volkswagen", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Superior, which was Ganz' design, looks much closer to the VW kdf vehicle that Porsche eventually made than his own Zundapp Type 12 prototype often considered the original take on what became the Beetle.

        The major difference is that Ganz' engine was midmounted in front of the rear axle, and Porsche's design was ass-engined. Other than that, they shared a rear transaxle, rear swing arms, independent front suspension, platform frame with central tube stiffener, and aerodynamic body with removable fenders.

        We'll never be able to prove anything but Porsche, we already know from the Tatra case, was willing to borrow ideas. We also know that the Standard Superior was on display at the 1933 Berlin auto show, attended by Hitler. Ganz, whose consulting for BMW and Mercedes Benz is now acknowledged by both companies, found himself being prosecuted for blackmail when he tried to collect royalties on his patents and he fled to Switzerland.

        Ganz deserves a role in automotive history even outside his contributions to the concept of the Volkswagen. He was an expert on swing axles (invented by another Jewish engineer, Rumpler, who was also the first to make a midengine transaxled car in the early 1900s), he worked on BMW's first in house car design, the AM1, he consulted on Mercedes Benz' landmark 170, which was produced along with its variants into the 1950s.

        Shilperoord is righting a whitewashing of history.

        BTW, an argument can be made that a Jew, Friedrich Marcus, invented the automobile. Benz and Daimler may have made the first "practical" car, but Marcus in 1870 was the first to use a gasoline powered engine to drive a vehicle. The first cracking of petroleum into something like gasoline was also done by a Jew, as was the first recorded attempt to drive a vehicle with an electric motor, some 20 years before Marcus.
      • 6 Years Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I discovered the meaning of life, but forgot to write it down.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Now we wait for the Onion to write an article on how Jews are trying to re-write history. ;)

      Seriously, though, if it's true, I hope he gets all the credit he deserves.
      • 6 Years Ago
      So what? Would the story be any less true or intriguing if someone else had reported it?
      • 6 Years Ago
      "in vain".
        • 6 Years Ago
        Stupid comments system...that was supposed to be a reply to IRONFIST, not Andrew
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ever seen a Tatra?
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