Amid a raging debate in Germany over the future of the car, the country's president hurried to Wolfsburg to address anxious Volkswagen employees. Society had realized the world's remaining fossil fuel reserves would have to be managed more carefully, the head of state warned that November day, and "can no longer be exploited without consequence."
Resource conservation held the key to the industry's preservation, and with it an entire way of life. A bold new model designed with this very goal in mind had production only six months earlier, carrying with it the hopes of a workforce worried about flagging sales of VW's aging stalwart. By taking action now, the prominent visitor predicted that "the automobile will continue to play the major role as a means of individual mobility."
Although eerily familiar, this scene actually happened in 1974. The auto industry was in the throes of the first oil crisis and VW was neck and neck with Opel. Despite the recent arrival of the Passat, liquidity had dwindled to dangerously low levels after multiple attempts to develop a successor to the Beetle had failed.
Salvation came that year in the form of a fuel-efficient hatchback. Penned by design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro, it was compact yet roomy with four doors thanks to the new, transverse-mounted front-engine layout popularized by the smaller Morris Mini from Britain. Starting at 7,995 deutsche marks -- roughly 11,500 euros in today's terms -- the Golf became an instant hit. Just 31 months after assembly began, the 1 millionth unit left the factory gate in Wolfsburg.