The Complete Book of Classic Volkswagen by John Gunnell – Review
By Liam Bird
“From humble beginnings, the classic air-cooled Volkswagen family has earned a place in the pantheon of legendary vehicles. When it finally discontinued Beetle production in Mexico in 2002, the company had built over 23 million examples of its iconic “people’s car”.
That’s how the rear cover blurb for John Gunnell’s The Complete Book of Classic Volkswagen begins, before going on to say: “Volkswagen produced many iterations of the original concept, including vans and buses, pickup trucks, Karmann Ghia sports cars…”
Indeed, the list of variants (no VW pun intended) of the original ‘People’s Car’ (or Folk’s Wagon) does seem endless. So therefore producing a book that claims to be ‘The Complete Book’ of all them is indeed no mean feat. American car writer John Gunnell – who has over forty years of experience in the classic car industry and is a prolific writer – has made a pretty good fist of it.
Full credit must be given to Quarto publishing and Motorbooks too for producing what is undeniably a beautifully printed, thick-paged publication packed full of production figures, performance statistics, period and contemporary photographs, and best of all the original and iconic advertisements for all forms of air-cooled Volkswagen; ranging from the humble Beetle to the Type2 and Type3, the Kubelwagen, the Microbus, The Thing, and all other things in between.
If early VWs are, erm, your thing, you really could get hours of enjoyment simply from turning the pages of this weighty tome whilst simultaneously marvelling at the details and variety of what was originally intended as a simple, affordable means of transport with which to mobilise the German masses.
Gunnel also delves into the history of the Beetle, from its original design by Dr Ferdinand Porsche, its backing by Adolf Hitler during his time as chancellor of Germany – during which time the car that was to find fame internationally as The Love Bug was known as the Kdf or Kraft durch Freude Wagen (strength through joy car) – to the laying of the first stone in what is now the town of Wolfsburg in 1938 just a year before the outbreak of World War II.
After a 5 year hiatus as a result of the conflict Beetle production started again under the watchful eye of the British Army, no-less. A slow start followed, after which, despite its dubious beginnings and benefactor, The Beetle went on to the most produced passenger vehicle of all-time.
Gunnell has covered virtually all of the Beetle bases since then, and he’s done very well. However… Gunnell is clearly a proud American, and so too in this case is his publisher. As a result the text used is written with a distinct American-English bias; boots are trunks, bonnets are hoods, wings are fenders, estates are station wagons. Also, all import, registration and sales figures are given and listed for the USA and prices given in dollars. For what is surely such an important and iconic European car, and even more closely to home for a European reader, it all feels a little out of context.
Nevertheless, as reference book or simply as something to enjoy going back to time and time again The Complete Book of Classic Volkswagens would make a very worthy addition to any VW fan’s bookshelf. Or, indeed, as a result of it being just so lovely to look at, their coffee table too.
‘The Complete Book of Classic Volkswagen’ is published by Motorbooks, £35