Given then the sort of background issues outlined in the Articles Home page we feel that it has been both necessary and helpful to explain some fundamental aspects of European Beetle production history in order that enthusiasts can fully understand the details and significance of each SEB. This is particularly relevant when dealing with the subjects of European Volkswagen Beetle Type numbering and badging.
Most of this information is available elsewhere in books or on the internet but as far as we are aware non of it has been brought together before in a coordinated and structured way that is helpful to understanding the background to the SEB production history. We hope therefore that this helps enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic particularly – and worldwide generally.
This information is laid out in a structured way in the following sections that each build on the information given in the preceding section to make a comprehensive background overview to SEBs.
(The point has to be made here that all the information that follows applies specifically to SEB manufactured in Europe 1970-1979: SEB’s produced in the Republic of South Africa, Mexico and Brazil will have similar, specifically dedicated sections written for them)
Pertinent also to fully understanding the importance of the European SEBs in terms of Volkswagen production history is a brief resume of the 1970 -79 period for Volkswagen as a company. Perhaps now more than ever before it is easier to take a balanced view of the turbulence of the era and whirlpool of influences that were bombarding the Board of Management at Volkswagen AG during the decade 1969 -79. A decade during which the Beetle peaked to its best year and dwindled to cessation of production in Europe.
Contemporary criticisms levelled during the first half of that decade at three successive men who succeeded Prof. Nordhof can now be seen as overstated and rather polarised. Much has been written during the past few years about the evolution of Volkswagen management and the personalities that the evolution has been influenced by – most recently the high profile era of Ferdinand Piech.
It is just only necessary to say here that by 1969 the winds of change were starting to threaten the unassailable robustness of the Beetle of the Nordhof era. True the Beetle’s peak year, 1972, was still three years away but increasing legislative requirements in the USA over safety and environmental aspects of automotive design coupled with competition from manufacturers who were evolving model ranges rather than relying on an evergreen formula were starting to make to hint at a previously unthinkable possibility – the demise of the Beetle.
A substantial blow to the whole automotive industry came with the wave international fuel crisis’ – notably of 1974. These hit Volkswagenwerk as hard as anybody else. Worse still for the company it came at a time when hard, costly, decisions had been made successively since 1969 to try and pull the company out of an economic nose dive with no longterm model succession plan in place.
The peak years of the European SEBs came in 1973 and 1974 right in the middle of a whirlpool of issues besetting Volkswagenwerk. These included dramatic model range succession changes, international economic decline in the automotive industry, rationalisation and cost cutting within Volkswagen itself, rapidly increasing legislative requirements in the USA which constrained automotive design …and falling Beetle sales in both Europe and North America.
Some of the European SEBs were celebration models but most were Sales Campaign Editions intended to stimulate buyer interest in the Beetle – notably towards the end of a model year and particularly when rumours of model changes were prompting buyers to wait until revised Beetles appeared in the dealer showrooms.
For Volkswagen enthusiasts looking for a readable history of the influences and changes that beset Volkswagenwerk in the decade 1969 – 1979 “The VW STORY” by Jerry Sloniger (ISBN 0 85059 441 3) is probably the best first call. Although first published in 1980 the book was written immediately after that decade and captures much that happened during it in a way that still feels fresh. The whole book is interesting even today and very readable with Chapter 9 being particularly relevant as background reading in the context of SEB production history.