Except for maybe Henry Ford and the Model T, no person has ever been more closely associated with the success of a single car model than Heinz Nordhoff is with the Volkswagen Beetle. Nordhoff was almost 50 before he joined Volkswagen. But that's where he flourished, and his leadership helped turn a company ravaged by war into Europe's largest automaker. That success was largely do to the Beetle, which Nordhoff initially disliked, but later nurtured. The more than 21 million Beetles that have been produced are all a tribute to Heinz Nordhoff.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several family businesses began to explore the potential of four-wheel boxes powered by steam or oil engines. But out of them all, the Peugeots have been around the longest. Fiat's Agnelli dynasty arrived in 1899, the Fords in 1905, and the Toyodas in 1935. But Armand Peugeot beat them all, setting up his car venture in 1895.
Giuseppe "Nuccio" Bertone was not a designer, though he claimed to have styled a number of one-off cars in his early years with the family company. But the drawings, he said, were lost in a fire during World War II. After the war, Nuccio became chief executive of the family business, Carrozzeria Bertone, and called upon professional designers to run the styling center. Bertone and his team created some of the most important cars of the last century. He may have been the greatest nurturer of design talent in history.
Ford of Europe came into being on a June day in 1967. Henry Ford II called a meeting at the Plaza d'Athenee hotel in Paris. Present were John Andrews, general manager of Ford of Britain; Stanley Gillen, general manager of Ford of Germany; and Walter Hayes, Ford's personal advisor and European public affairs chief. Ford told Andrews: "You're going to be in charge. Get it going. There's no sense in worrying about Dearborn. They've got enough on their plate. It's a European operation and I want to see it put together. What we need is a Ford of Europe to knock a few heads together and make things happen." Ford of Europe was the first truly pan-European auto company. Its cross-border organization was a model for other Europe-wide automakers, including General Motors Europe, formed 19 years later.