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Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle    by Andrea Hiott order for
Thinking Small
by Andrea Hiott
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

If you ever owned a Volkswagen Bug or are interested in the automotive world you'll want to read Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle.

Not only is this a fascinating account of the iconic auto's 73 year history but it also looks at the cultural events which unfolded during the same period and influenced the car's rise to popularity in one way or another. For example, Volkswagen's early years cannot be discussed without considering the rise of Nazi Germany since Adolf Hitler envisioned building such a vehicle for the masses and supported Ferdinand Porsche in creating a People's Car.

Likewise, after the conclusion of the war when the small vehicle was imported to America, it not only appealed to a new, younger and more rebellious generation of individual (the Woodstock Generation) but the way that the DoyleDane Bernbach agency advertised the VW marked a new direction for Madison Avenue also.

The way in which Andrea Hiott chronicles the history of the VW is actually not one story but two or three. Certainly it is the tale of the men who, over time, designed and manufactured the auto. Beginning with designer Ferdinand Porsche and his son Ferry, these pivotal personalities also includes Ivan Hirst, who kept the Beetle assembly plant alive in the early post war years, and the man who built the modern Volkswagen company, Heinrich Nordhof.

Another facet of the story centers on Wolfsburg, the location of the company's assembly plant and main office. This was the city where Germany's Economic Miracle started after the war ended.

'A former Nazi town, saved by the British, redefining itself by using an American (manufacturing) model, with Italian and German workers side by side on the assembly lines creating and exporting cars to all the European countries that had once been enemies it was an inspirational tale for postwar Europe,' explains the author.

In writing about the VW and its impact when it finally reached American shores, Hiott also looks at the rise of the advertising agency created by Maxwell Dane, Bill Bernbach and Ned Doyle and their employees. In so doing, she gives the reader a glimpse into how the cultural changes the country underwent were mirrored by ad agencies of the time.

Those who understand the history of the Beetle also realize there were some down years when the car lost its luster and all but disappeared from auto showrooms. That period is also addressed in a fleeting manner before the book closes with a little about the resurrection of the Beetle and the fact that this year marks the release of a new, redesigned, and bigger version VW Bug.

Sadly, the new list price is not reminiscent of those early days when the car truly was affordable for a number of individuals who couldn't otherwise purchase a new car!

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