Evolution of the People’s Cars

A quick journey through time…

The legendary 80s TV ad featuring the hilarious vision of SA “volk” singer David Kramer tearing down the Tierkloof Pass to Volstruis fire station on his bike with his guitar slung over his shoulder, and the broken-down fire engine being towed up the pass by the powerful new family Volksie bus, is etched into most of our memories!

And who could forget the famous Red, Yellow, Blue Citi Golf ads, or the aerial views of VW’s thousands of staff and vehicles – sprawled out in the shape of the logo – in the “People’s Cars” ads, or the father proudly handing over the keys to his beloved Beetle to his son?

The ads alone are the pop culture of a collective South African past. But a quick glance around town will tell you VW cars’ cool factor attraction is as strong now as it was ever, especially with the shiny new buses and Beetles possibly showing the most striking transformation in their modernisation.

The ads alone are the pop culture of a collective South African past. But a quick glance around town will tell you VW cars’ cool factor attraction is as strong now as it was ever

Owned by the Volkswagen Aktiengessellschaft in Germany, Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) is based in Uitenhage, an industrial town some 35 kilometres from Port Elizabeth within the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropol. Opened in 1946, the plant was initially called SAMAD (South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors) for the local assembly of Studebaker cars and commercial vehicles.

SAMAD’s first MD, Melville Steele Brooks and chairman Baron Klaus von Oertzen, couldn’t have predicted how Volkswagen would grow from a small company with big dreams, and flourish over the next 67 years – not only building Volkswagens and Audis, but also Austins, Volvos and Jeeps during the early years.

The first Beetle rolled off the production line in Uitenhage in 1951 and until the end of production in 1979, 290 000 of the iconic Beetles were sold in South Africa. For 11 of those 28 years, it was the top-selling vehicle in the country. Another legend, the Golf 1, was launched in 1979 and until the end of its life cycle in 2009, 517 384 A1 Golfs were built in Uitenhage. The Volksie passenger "Microbus" first graced us with its power to transport an extended family in the 50s and to date over 10 million of these legendary people movers in various models have been produced and sold worldwide!

Unsurprisingly, for the last seven consecutive years, VWSA has been the leader in the SA passenger vehicle market. The company’s humble cars that became giants in the motoring world have defined the lives of generations of South Africans, a trend which looks set to continue well into the future.