The KdF Wagen savings scheme was a failed idea, but the literature produced to accompany it provides a fascinating insight into the early days of VW…

The year was 1938 and Dr. Ferdinand Porsche and accomplices had completed the strenuous testing of several series of prototype cars that would eventually become the KdF Wagen (the abbreviation coming from the German labour front slogan Kraft durch Freude, meaning Strength through Joy. These cars were the forerunners to the VW Beetle we know today.

A suitable location for the production facility was found in northern Germany and, on 26 May 1938, the cornerstone ceremony for the factory took place in the newly formed town of Stadt des KdF Wagen (City of the KdF Wagen). As history records, at the end of the Second World War, in May 1945, this was changed to Wolfsburg.

With Hitler and Dr. Porsche in attendance, three of the VW Type 38 vehicles (a dark blue sedan, a black sunroof sedan and a dark burgundy convertible) were gathered together for the people to view at this landmark occasion. The new car was presented to the wider public the following year at the Berlin Auto Show, and a special German postage stamp issued to commemorate it, depicting a happy family speeding along the equally new autobahn in their KdF Wagen.

With the idea being every German citizen should be able to own one of these new ‘cars for the people’, a savings plan was set up to help people afford to buy one. By purchasing a five Reichsmark saving stamp each week, and pasting it into a special KdF Savers booklet, eventually you would amass enough to exchange the booklet(s) for a car.

To promote the new KdF Savers programme, a special sales brochure was produced that contained information pertaining to the KdF Wagen, and with details of the plan itself. This 32-page brochure was first printed in 1938 and had a colourful front cover showing a front three quarter view of the KdF Wagen with a savings booklet (Sparkarte) in the background.

The remainder of the brochure was printed in black and white and contained a collection of interesting photographs and drawings of the KdF Wagen, just some of which are shown here.

The brochure also included an application form to be completed and returned to a local Deutsche Arbeitsfront office. When an application was filled out and submitted, upon approval of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, a confirmation postcard was mailed to the applicant informing them they were approved to purchase a KdF Wagen for 990 Reichsmark, along with the reference number of the vehicle reserved at the factory in their name.

Minimum order

The Deutsche Arbeitsfront then issued the approved saver with a Sparkarte and it was then up to the individual how quickly they tried to fill it. Five Reichsmarks per week was the minimum purchase, but it was possible to buy additional stamps at any time to speed up the arrival of your new vehicle.

Sparkarte booklets appeared in either a beige colour with red and black lettering or a grey colour with blue and black lettering. The stamps look like small postage stamps and had an embossed KdF Wagen in white with either a red or green-coloured background design. Even to this day, nobody seems to be able to explain why there were two different booklet colours, or the different stamps.

Equally oddly, they didn’t make one Sparkarte big enough to hold enough stamps to purchase a vehicle. One booklet held 250 Reichsmark worth of stamps, so you needed to fill almost four complete Sparkarte before you had amassed enough to buy one.

And that only bought you a base model sedan. On top of the 990 Reichsmark price of that, there were options available, including things like a roll-back sunroof for an additional 60 Reichsmark, and a two-year auto insurance plan, costing a further 200 Reichsmarks. It is unclear whether the latter was going to be considered a necessity prior to collection or not.

Upon completion of the purchase plan, the owner would be required to travel to the KdF factory to collect their new car. Despite the three colours shown to the public in 1938, there was no choice of colour, it was dark blue-grey only.

Bank of DAF

All funds raised by the KdF Savers programme were put in a special account of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront treasury. Over the few years the programme ran, more than 380million Reichsmarks were collected from around 700,000 Germans, of which about 336,000 completed their KdF Savers plan.

However, not a single civilian ever received their promised KdF Wagen and, after the war, the funds from the Deutsche Arbeitsfront treasury, which were held in a bank in the post-war Russian Zone, disappeared. In the end, around 630 KdF Wagens are thought to have been built at the KdF Stadt factory, but all were used by military and government officials of the Nazi party. They made sure KdF Wagens were seen by the public in order that those diligently paying into the scheme would remain hopeful of owning their own cars.

After the Second World War ended, it slowly dawned on those who had paid into the scheme that the promised KdF Wagens were a product of a fallen regime, while the Volkswagen (initially, remember, being built under British control) was a new, post-war enterprise.

Supreme challenge

It And so, in 1950, a small group of savings plan collectors, led by one Karl Stolz, presented a legal claim to VW for credit towards the purchase of a new Volkswagen. Volkswagen declined, saying the new company had no links whatsoever to the previous organisation, but Stolz persevered and, in 1954, the case was taken to the German High Court. There, it was ruled that post-war Volkswagen might be linked to the pre-war KdF organisation.

It took a further four years, and a visit to the German Supreme Court, for Volkswagen to be ruled admissible, only for its lawyers to have that ruling overturned. However, as a gesture of goodwill, VW offered completed savers 500 Deutsche Marks credit towards a new car, or a cash settlement of half that.

Kick in the teeth

The savers rejected the offer, the trial went back to the Supreme Court and, in October 1961, a settlement was finally reached whereby Volkswagen was ordered to pay a sum commensurate with the amount the savers had paid into the scheme, but in line with the then value of the Deutsche Mark, not the Reichsmark, which had been worth considerably more. It was a kick in the teeth for those who had dutifully saved what they thought was the full price of a new Volkswagen as the maximum credit offered was 600 Deutsche Marks, which amounted to approximately 12% of the value of a new VW at the time.

To make matters worse, it took until 1970 for all the 120,000 claimants to receive their meagre amounts of money. Of these, only about half chose to use it towards the purchase of a new Volkswagen Beetle. Unsurprisingly, given all the above, original Sparkarte were held onto, full ones especially, as for a while at least they were considered a form of currency.

Only those who weren’t aware of the ongoing court case, or perhaps those who wanted nothing to do with the wartime regime, gave up their cards. Consequently, original Sparkarte are very collectable. As are the KdF brochures produced to promote the scheme. These days, they can occasionally be bought from literature dealers, usually at very high prices, or you might get lucky at automotive swap meets or by searching online auction sites.

Quality repro

To the delight of vintage Volkswagen literature collectors and enthusiasts, there is a reprint of the 1938 KdF sales brochure available, which is of excellent quality, with a colour front cover and additional pages added, including English translation of the German text and photo captions. 

Just keep this in mind though before you dive in and purchase a copy being sold as an original. If you are merely interested in the history of Volkswagen, these favourably priced reproductions are highly recommended, and make a nice addition to any collection.

Post by Bob Gilmore – as published in the October ’21 issue of Volksworld magazine

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