In parallel, two military models were built, with the capacity to face the most inaccessible terrain. Such was the versatility of not only this small car but also the Volkswagen engineers and the brand itself.
With the outbreak of World War II, the popular KdF-Wagen was adapted by Ferdinand Porsche to meet the needs of the German army. Out of that came two all-terrain vehicles that stake their claim in history as Volkswagen’s first: the Kübelwagen and the Schwimmwagen.
Using the KdF-Wagen’s four-cylinder engine along with the chassis and torsion bar suspension, the Kübelwagen was developed by Ferdinand Porsche for tactical support and military transport purposes. It was widely used in combat by German forces in North Africa and the campaign on the Russian front.
Although it was known internally as Type 82, it quickly gained the nickname kübel-wagen, or the “Bucket Car,” because of its shape.
Even without the four-wheel-drive of its Jeep opponent, the Kübelwagen used the excellent traction of the KdF-Wagen chassis and drive to move over rough terrain, while the inverted wedge shape of its bodywork and tall ride height allowed it to pass unscathed over the most difficult routes.
The first prototypes, called Type 62, were presented to the German army at the end of 1938. Even without four-wheel drive, it managed to impress them with its direct steering and excellent manoeuvrability on poor ground—guaranteeing the green light to move forward with serial production.
In 1939, the first models were tested on the battlefield with the September invasion of Poland. After the first test, some changes were introduced—namely its minimum speed from 8 km/h to 4 km/h to allow it to accompany marching troops. The off-road capabilities were also improved by replacing the drive axles and hubs. New shock absorbers and a self-locking differential were also adopted, giving rise to the Type 82.
With the end of the war, Volkswagen limited production to only the Beetle, leaving aside both the Kübelwagen and Schwimmwagen which were banned due to their close connections with the army.
A total of 55,000 units of the Volkswagen Kübelwagen were produced, and very few of them survive today to remind us of a past we must never forget.