Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Origins of KdF-Wagen
In 1934 Adolf Hitler embraced Ferdinand Porsche's idea of building a “fully practical vehicle, of normal size but relatively light weight, with a cruising speed of 100 kilometers per hour suitable for the recently built autobahn network". Hitler wanted the car to be affordable for each working family in the Reich and set the price limit to RM.990 (average monthly salary of qualified factory worker was ~200). German automotive industry of that time assessed it and considered it impossible. Reich's Automotive Industry Association commissioned Ferdinand
Porsche to designed the cheap car. Prototype was ready in July 1935 and by the end of 1936 vehicles were tested in 50,000 km test and accepted. German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF) took charge of further testing (2 million km with 30 vehicles) and setting up of mass production. The state owned company - Volkswagen (people's car) was born under umbrella of DAF. The vehicle itself was named after DAF's program "Strength Through Joy" (Kraft durch Freude, KdF) - a KdF-Wagen.
Funding of manufacturing
Robert Ley, the leader of DAF had no budget to start a new car factory, so along with a few other gentlemen he came up with a great idea - make future owners of the car pre-pay the full value of the car in installments before receiving one! The rest of the funds came from seized assets of pre-1933 labor unions.
The idea of KdF-Wagen Sparkarte (saving card) was launched on 1. August 1938. Subscriber would pay at least RM.5 a week towards the value of the car. They could pay more if they could afford and wanted to.
Massive advertising campaign followed and by the end of 1939 260,000 people joined. By May 1945 700,000 joined in total and 336,000 completed their full payment.
A new factory town would be erected in the fields - Stadt des KdF-Wagens bei Fallersleben. Only factory workers would live there. Town was renamed to Wolfsburg after the war.
KdF-Wagen saving card
For each RM.5 paid subscriber would receive a stamp that was pasted onto the card. With the price of RM.990 it required 198 stamps. Each card had space for 50 stamps. So 4 cards would cover the price of the vehicle, BUT... there were extra costs:
mandatory insurance of RM.200 (additional 40 stamps)
if you chose, options (Sonderausführungen) - there was only one - "convertible" and it costed additional RM.60
transport of the car (Transportskosten) if you weren't planning on picking it up in the factory - RM.60
Therefore the fifth card was necessary with at least 38 stamps.
Nominal value of the stamps for the car and insurance was RM.5. Options (convertible) and transportation was covered by a different RM.4 stamps. In 1938 a RM.1 stamp was required for issuance of a new card. Since 1939 issue was free, but then since 1942 RM.1 was simply charged without stamp on the card to document it.
The difference between green and red stamps is still debated. One theory says the switch from red to green happened in January 1942 along with update of the card design and the collection responsibility shift from Kreis- to Gau-level of the administration. Yet there are original versions of the cards denying that theory.
Nobody from the thousands of subscribers ever received the car. In 1939 war started and VW production switched to Kubelwagen and other military vehicles. Many subscribers kept paying till 1945 believing in final victory and not wanting to lose the money they invested in the program so far. In 1950 group of subscribers sued Volkswagen demanding compensation. After 12 years of a trial, they received a credit towards a new VW that amounted to ~12% of a price of a base VW model, or 5-times less in cash.
The car production after the war itself was also hanging in the balance. Town and the factory ended up in British hands. Their decision was to dismantle the production line and ship to England for a British automotive company to use. None of the British companies was interested considering the car design unattractive and unlikely to sell. Second problem was a massive, unexploded allied bomb embedded in the middle of the production line. If detonated, it would seal the faith of the Beetle. Luckily Brits decided to remove it carefully and save the production line for local, German car manufacturing.
Krause Papierwerke offers a Saving Card and RM.5 and RM.4 savings-stamps. Card can come to you blank, or filled out to your specifications on a period German typewriter stamped with appropriate DAF Kreisleitung stamp.