Volkswagen owes its post-war existence largely to one man, British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst, REME. In April 1945, KdF-Stadt, and its heavily bombed factory were captured by the Americans, and subsequently handed over to the British, within whose occupation zone the town and factory fell. The factory was placed under the control of Oldham-born Hirst.
At first, the plan was to use it for military vehicle maintenance. Since it had been used for military production, and had been in Hirst’s words a “political animal” rather than a commercial enterprise, the equipment was in time intended to be salvaged as war reparations. Hirst painted one of the factory’s cars green and demonstrated it to British Army headquarters.
Short of light transport, in September 1945 the British Army was persuaded to place a vital order for 20,000. The first few hundred cars went to personnel from the occupying forces, and to the German Post Office.
Some UK Service personnel were allowed to take their VW Beetles’ back to the UK when they were demobilized, and one of the very first Beetles brought back in that way (UK registration index JLT 420) is still owned by Peter Colborne-Baber, the son of the original proprietor of the UK’s first official Volkswagen Importer, Colborne Garages of Ripley, Surrey.
By 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 Volkswagen cars every month, a remarkable feat considering it was still in disrepair. Due to roof and window damage, rain stopped production and steel to make the cars had to be bartered for new vehicles.
So, what is Major Ivan Hirsts legacy? In 2008 Volkswagen is recognized as one of worlds leading automotive brands, with Volkswagen Car Services centres spanning the globe, offering new models every other year, and supporting these with Volkswage Parts and Servicing departments. They are also leading the environmental battle with their
partnership with Mercedes and other companies to market BlueTec clean diesel technology, calling it BlueMotion.
Quite some progress from such humble beginnings.