History can have a twisted sense of humour, sometimes. One day, you wake up and are struck with a brilliant idea, one that could fundamentally change the way things have traditionally been done. You put the idea into practice, but all doesn’t go according to plan — people are sceptical, the finished product isn’t cheap, it has some flaws and to top it all, a World War comes along. The war ends, wounds heal, life starts to have a semblance of normalcy, and, you find that your idea has been adapted by someone else. Their adaptation, unlike yours, actually achieves what you had envisaged — it fundamentally changes things, sells in the millions and is hailed as an all-time classic. All you can do is smile wryly and ponder the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
I am, of course, talking about the Mercedes-Benz 130H and the Volkswagen Beetle — the former a pioneer that fell by the wayside and the latter a re-working of a theme that became one of the all-time great runaway successes. What was this theme, you ask? Before the Beetle came along and became the definitive people’s car (even before Volkswagen came into being as a company), Mercedes had come up with a concept for a, well, Volkswagen — a people’s car.
The concept, called the 130, was unveiled to the public at the 1934 Berlin Auto Show, and it was revolutionary because it was rear-engined — the first mass produced, rear-engine car ever. In fact, Mercedes had been developing a rear-engine concept years before the Berlin show, and the car was intended to be one that anybody could afford; this was unusual for Mercedes-Benz, because they were known principally for expensive, elegant cars.
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