An icon to go off roads

Volkswagen’s Beetle will be phased out in 2019. The iconic German people’s car may slowly vanish from roads, overwhelmed by spiffy new cars, but the old Beetle will stay on the roads with a special status as a reminder of its remarkable history. It was a machine thought up by Hitler, who dictated to Ferdinand Porsche that the car should look like the insect, despite which it rose postwar into cult status. American students are likely to remember it best as their first car in which they may have driven to their maiden date. Not even the Ford Mustang could stir such nostalgia as the strangely-shaped, rear-engine car captured the imagination of youth. In India, the Beetle’s latest version was extremely overpriced so that it couldn’t become popular.

As it moves on the road with its unique shape, the Beetle still leaves a breezy impression at a time when most cars are indistinguishable from each other. In the curious early history of Indian automobiles, many imported cars like the Beetle and the Fiat made small seem not only utilitarian but also handsome by design, before India made its own Standard Herald, modelled on UK’s Triumph. The true revolution, however, came with Maruti 800 in the 1980s, since when the Indian automobile industry took off. The age of the peerless Ambassador is over, although the vintage ones still operating as taxis give the impression that any other vehicle would come off second best if it were to run into the steel tank. To borrow Dylan’s line, “The Automobiles, They Are A Changin”.

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