I’m not sure there’s ever been another ambulance used in earnest, life-saving business as small and improbable as the Volkswagen Beetle-based ambulances, or, as they like to say it in German, hilariously, krankenwagen. There have been other compact ambulances, like the Polaris-based ones used in New York City, but even those are purpose-built things with extra axles and really aren’t all that small. But using a Beetle as a basis for an ambulance is genuinely incredible. It’s not just relatively small, it’s rounded and only has two doors and no entry at all from the rear. Just figuring out how to adapt this little car to ambulance duty is a remarkable act of making do with what you have. And a number of companies did it!
These examples are from a company called Miesen, and I believe I’ve seen this same approach used on other Beetle-to-ambulance conversions, though it’s possible they all may have been Miesen originals. The methods used are very clever. First, and enclosed roof rack/storage box houses all the extra needed medical equipment, probably syringes of laudanum and glass eyes or whatever, and the inside has been adapted so the whole passenger side is taken up with the stretcher. Two medical personnel – one driver, one medic sitting behind – can ride along, too.
Getting the injured (or in the case of the photo above, napping) person into the ambulance is where this really gets clever: the passenger door has a special hinge setup to let it open almost 180°, and the stretcher is placed onto a swiveling turntable-like contraption that angles and guides the stretcher in the car, much like how you and a friend maneuver a long couch through a corner doorway:
I’m sure it’s not as quick as just shoving a person in the back of a van, but it seems to have worked!
This brochure is from 1949, which I suspect had to be about the last year these Beetle-based ambulances would have been made. They existed in various forms throughout the war years and a bit after, mostly because the Beetle was just what was available to use, at least cheaply and in any kind of quantity, but these would soon be supplanted by Volkswagen’s own much more rational ambulance offering:
Yes, after 1950, you could get all of the delicious VW air-cooled mechanicals in a much bigger box, one that was a lot easier to cram sick people into.
Oh! But I gor so sidetracked I forgot to talk about what made me think about all of this at all! Look again at that photo from up top:
What the hell is going on with those headlights? I’ve never seen that before. Based on the blackout light mounted on the top of the fender there, this must be a wartime variant. Based on that hood handle and some other details I’d guess like 1940 or so. But what was the point of replacing the integrated headlights with those strange, huge tacked-on ones? There weren’t headlight height requirements, like what caused the Fiat 500 to do that in America, right? Were these lights brighter? Were they all they had around – could they be Kübelwagen lights?
I’m really curious. Boy do they look nice and weird!