10 cars that tell the story of America

From Paul Ingrassia's book 'Engines of Change,' the author and car aficionado tells the story of America through automobiles.

3. Volkswagen Beetle

By Jorge Silva/Reuters

The automobile's original name in German was the Kraft durch Freude Wagen ("Strength through Joy car," named after the labor movement of Nazi Germany). Adolf Hitler reportedly admired the car and, when the Russians were closing in on the eastern front in March, 1945, he took one to inspect the German troops rather than his limousine so he wouldn't be noticed. Later, the car came to America as a novelty and was identified with the coming anti-establishment mood. Volkswagen's late 1950s ads were subtle critiques of American consumer culture. One ad asked "What year car do the Jones drive?" showing a house with a Beetle in front of it. The ad copy stated that because Beetles all look the same, no one can tell what year it is, piercing the get-the-new-model consumer attitude. Later, the brand became a symbol of the hippie movement in the 1960s when Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters switched from a school bus to a more economical Volkswagen Microbus for their crosscountry jaunts.

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