Home » Accuracy Schmaccuracy: Cold Start

Accuracy Schmaccuracy: Cold Start

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Volkswagen’s ad campaign from the 1960s, the funny, refreshingly frank one from ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach with the clear black-and-white photography and snappy copy in the lower quarter of the page is what everyone thinks of when they think of vintage VW advertising. And that makes sense: that campaign was revolutionary. But, it wasn’t the only ad campaign VW used for the Beetle. In the 1950s, VW used a much more conventional-for-the-era sort of advertising, one that used lavish illustrations, most quite fanciful, to show the car. And the Beetle they showed, while quite lovely, was really not what you’d be driving home from the dealership. To modern eyes, it’s strange to see cars sold with a sort of Jessica Rabbit-ized version of themselves.

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These lovely illustrations were done by the very talented Bernd Reuters, who did automotive ad illustrations for a lot of German carmakers, like Opel and Adler and Wanderer. Bernd, I suspect, had a lot of ideas about what automotive beauty was, and if the Beetle didn’t really meet his standards, well, Bernd would just massage those lines until it did.

The result was a lower, wider, more bulbous and, well, sensual Beetle, with curves and lines that really weren’t part of the real thing, as you can see up there.

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I wonder if anyone who looked through these old brochures would look at the hypercurvy, voluptuous Beetles and then, say, happen to see a little line diagram like the one up there and wonder why all the window shapes were sort of off and why the fenders and roofline and everything seemed so, well, tame in the diagram.

Some skilled customizer should build a physical Beetle based on these illustrations. I’d love to see that!

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21 Responses

  1. It takes a lot of talent to make a Beetle look good. Bernd is, to my knowledge, the only one who pulled it off!
    A shame he didn’t work in the design department instead.

  2. At least Bernd got the size of tiny fifties advertising people correct.

    Diagrams and X-ray drawings also always had the seats set for those tiny people. It’s almost like they really existed.

  3. That’s some artistic sorcery right there. Compare the illustration to the real car point for point, and yeah, it looks pretty accurate. Step back and look at the whole…what are you doing to me, Bernd?

  4. Jacques Lacan would call the illustrations “objet petit a”: an idealized internal idea we have of objects of desire. Real objects always fall short of their “objet petit a” versions. This leads to conscious or unconscious disappointment when we acquire an object; it just falls short of our idea of perfection.
    This leads to “conspicuous consumption” as we chase but never catch our idealized version of consumer goods.

  5. Man, I would drive the hell out of Bernd’s beetle. Shove a 911 engine in there as well? Uffda!

    I’m sure there have been body mods that have moved the needle closer to his, I’d love to see a compilation of them.

    1. Agreed. Had a 70 Beetle as a first car and I’ve been looking at getting another one but prices are nuts. But if I COULD swing it I’d sure as hell love to have one looking like those illustrations.

      With a swapped 911 engine, of course.

      1. That’s how I would up with a Corvair a few years ago, was really trying to buy another Beetle or Type 3, but it had been years since I was last in the market, and holy crap, did prices get crazy. Even Super Beetles, which VW enthusiasts never used to like.

  6. It’s a little known fact that these drawing were originally done to-scale, with strict accuracy, but an intern named Foibles von Schnertz accidentally leaned the still-wet paintings up against a radiator for a few minutes while he ate some saumagen. The paintings bled a little, leading to the images you see in the article. Bernd reportedly loved the happy accident, and praised the intern profusely, then summarily fired poor Foibles because saumagen. Gross.

  7. One could say those Beetles had been… Bern’d.
    If that seems rather similar to a slogan used by campaigners for a particular presidential candidate in ’20, one could say these Beetles’d been Reutered but that also seems rather similar to slogans used by animal shelters.
    So one could just say those Beetles’d been “sweded” (with apologies to Mos Def & Jack Black.)

  8. “Some skilled customizer should build a physical Beetle based on these illustrations. I’d love to see that!” Sorry, no.. Beetle… but what about an optimized Citroen 2cv? I suggest the Dagonet version! http://www.citroenet.org.uk/passenger-cars/michelin/2cv/dagonet.html
    Other than the awkward grill/hood nostril, this strikes me as a graceful interpretation of the 2cv.

    As a designer, I often look at various ugly 70s Fords and Nissans (older and newer), imagining what the designers must’ve been intending before production limitations and/or shared components re-shaped the forms into atrocities.

  9. For some reason the top photo almost has a chrysler airflow look to it. Beautiful illustrations though. Like what they did with some of the 50’s american cars, make them look half as tall and twice as long.

  10. I once had a car with what I called a magic mirror. The rear view mirror wasn’t optically correct and everything looked lower and wider. I wish I could remember what car it was but every car in that mirror looked better than real life. The first Volkswagen picture brought it back to me.

  11. Show cars are such a frustration for me. What you see vs. what you get ..well, it’s enough to make a man swear off online dating (if my wife wasn’t so darned against anyhow). Anyhow the Chevy Volt is my second favorite disappointment in translation from the vision:

    The dream:

    The reality:

    My new first is now the Beetle as I would have ordered Herr Reuter’s version and gotten a Bug.

    Seriously Bishop, haven’t you ever wanted to just cut some throats for what the accountants and engineers did to you beautiful baby?

    1. Just a heads up. Neither of those links works. But the Volt I drive and the Volt concept were vastly different vehicles. I will say that my Gen 2 looks so much better than the Gen 1 at least. But the concept was not super useful at least for storing things in it.

  12. Those are some FANTASTIC illustrations. And I mean that in both senses of the word. Both as superb art, and as fanciful interpretations. I agree, someone should recreate such a graceful take on the utilitarian “people’s car”.

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