You know what is deceptively interesting? Badges. Car badges, specifically. Car badging is its own very specific and peculiar art, and while in modern times it’s largely been standardized to just camaker name/model name, there have been times where badges were seen as ways to call out esoteric technical details about your car, perhaps under the illusion that the people behind you actually care how many camshafts your engine has. So I think this will be an irregular series where we focus on some fascinating, two-fisted tales of car badging, or attempt to unlock the arcane logic and culture behind car badges. To start us off, I want to bring to your attention a really strange car badging event, one of the exceedingly rare times a carmaker has deliberately removed their own name from a car that they were actively building and selling and, seemingly, were not ashamed of. Volkswagen did this, not once but twice. I’ll explain.
First, a quick bit of history: based on some earlier research I’ve done, the first car to ever use the standard badging convention as we generally understand it today (badging that includes carmaker company name and model name) first appeared on the Peugeot Bebe in 1913:
Sure, the order is wrong as we grammatically understand car names (carmaker comes first, then model, unlike here) but it’s basically the kind of badging you’d expect. Badging didn’t really catch on in any consistent way until around the 1950s, possibly because adding all those letters was a good reason to add more chrome to a car.
Volkswagen had been pretty lackadaisical about badging the Beetle for most of the first half of its life. Beetles had round VW logos at the tops of their hoods, just before the windshield, but VW never had a badge that actually said VOLKSWAGEN until 1967. And when they finally did add it, they treated it with the same gravity they talked about all the other new features on the ’67 Beetle:
Now here’s where it gets weird. You’d think after making such a big deal out of finally badging a car, you’d stick with it. But, in 1968, the very next year, if you ordered a Beetle with the then-new semi-automatic transmission, you would have received a car with no VOLKSWAGEN badge at all, but instead this badge on the hood:
That’s a cool-looking badge, sure, with that vibrant and cavalier script for Stickshift, contrasting with the more regular AUTOMATIC. But, now the car didn’t say the manufacturer name on it at all, with only the VW logos on the hubcaps and hood to identify it.
Of course, if there ever was a car that did not need identifying, it was the Beetle. Which may be a factor in why this seems to be the only car this particular badging situation has happened to.
Now, even this is only a partial de-company-badging, because the Automatic Stickshift badge was only on cars ordered with that odd transmission, and even then the badge on the engine lid only lasted two years, 1968 and 1969, with the decklid badge returning to VOLKSWAGEN in 1970, for all Beetle variations.
But this only lasted five years, because once again, in 1975, VW decided to take their own name off their best-known car. And, once again, it was because of a technical innovation that I suppose they were very proud of. The VOLKSWAGEN badge came off, to be replaced with this:
Yes, FUEL INJECTION! The idea that VW had eliminated the carburetor and replaced it with a Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system was more important to VW than having their own name on the car. In fact, from this point on until the Beetle stopped being sold in America, this was the badge that the car (well, cars, Beetle and Super Beetle and Super Beetle-based convertibles) wore until the very end. Even weirder, is that VW had dropped the top-of-hood round VW badge in 1973, and in 1975 many Beetles came with the sport wheels you see there, so the only external VW badging was small and molded into those tiny black wheel hub covers. Really, for all practical purposes, US-spec Beetles from 1975 to 1979/1980 had no obvious VW branding on them at all!
That’s weird, right? I think so. Taking your own company’s badging off your car? It’s strange! Sure, we get you’re proud of injecting your fuel, but pretty much every other automaker just made little extra FI badges or EFI or something like that – they didn’t take their whole damn name off the car.
Again, though, if there was ever a car that could still be identified with nearly universal accuracy without a badge, it’s the VW Beetle. So, maybe it was a better use of the space to crow about the fuel injection.
It’s still funny to me, though.