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Volkswagen Classic sends off the Beetle in style in Italy’s 2019 Mille Miglia

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Images courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Volkswagen, Germany’s ever-sentimental automaker, has decided to commemorate the end of production of its current Beetle model by once again entering two of its original Type 1 models in competition in Italy’s famous Mille Miglia. This modern annual event, which set off from the traditional host city of Brescia on Wednesday, May 15, is run in tribute to the original 1,000-mile (circa 1,600-kilometer) race to Rome and back, which took place most years between 1927 and 1957. One of the most fascinating aspects of the 21st-century Mille Miglia is that it’s only open to vehicles of the type that ran in the original road race, and Volkswagen was an unlikely, yet successful, competitor.

It was in 1954 that Paul Ernst Strähle and co-pilot Viktor Spingler entered their 1948 Volkswagen Type 1 Sedan in the Mille Miglia. This car, nicknamed “Dapferle” (the little brave one), had already proven itself in races and rallies in Germany, Austria, and Yugoslavia, thanks to its upgraded Porsche components.

Paul Ernst Strähle’s Dapferle wore number 25 (far right) during the ADAC Deutschlandfahrt.

This “Pretzel” model — or, as English speakers call it, the “split window” — was vastly more powerful than when it had left the factory, thanks to the replacement of its 24-hp, 1.1-liter flat-four engine with the twin-carbureted 65-hp, 1.3-liter unit of a Porsche 356. Similarly upgraded were the Sedan’s 356-spec drum brakes behind vented wheels shod with 5-inch-wide tires, competition seats, and additional instrumentation, smart choices for a car now capable of topping 99 mph. Wearing number 347, representing the team’s start time of 3:47 a.m., Dapferle won the 1,300-cc class, and came in an impressive third in the “Sports cars up to 1.5-liters” class.

This car would continue to compete in international rallies, including that year’s Morocco Rally, before it was retired.

Volkswagen Classic built a replica of Dapferle, working from the original documentation from Strähle and Spingler, and this Reseda Green Bug first (shown below, wearing number 289) first competed for the automaker’s heritage department during the 2011 Mille Miglia.

A second, newer Type 1 was also specially constructed to run in that year’s Mille Miglia, this being the 1956 “Ovali,” or “oval window” Sedan shown at the top of this post, wearing number 342. This Diamond Green example replicates another VW that ran in the 1955 road race, right down to its 75-hp 356 engine.

Volkswagen Classic has said it’s entered these cars in the grueling event, which concludes on Saturday, May 18, to mark the closing of this latest chapter in the history of its most iconic and enduring model. Volkswagen’s release follows:

When the northern Italian city of Brescia is transformed into an open-air car museum on 15 May, two very special Volkswagen Beetles will be among the 430 vintage cars on the Piazza della Vittoria. Volkswagen will be represented by the Maggiolino”, as they are affectionately known by Italians. The Mille Miglia is by no means a gentle drive, it is a race, and a fast and uncompromising one at that: 1,600 kilometres over three days, from Brescia to Rome and back.

Racing ambition is entrenched in the history of the event: The Mille Miglia was first held in 1927 and was regarded as one of the longest and toughest races in the world until it was temporarily brought to an end in 1957. The best drivers of their era battled it out for victory and glory. In 1977, the Mille Miglia was resurrected. It is also known as the “most beautiful race in the world.” The passion, with which the “Mille” is celebrated in Italy, is legendary: Hundreds of thousands of spectators line the route to cheer the teams on.

In 2019, Volkswagen lines up with two dynamic Beetles. The 1951 Pretzel Beetle and the 1956 Ovali Beetle have been modified to replicate their historical predecessors. The regulations are strict: Only cars that can demonstrate that they were involved in the Mille Miglia between 1927 and 1957, and whose parts are all in accordance with the originals, are eligible to take part.

The Beetle’s appearance at the iconic Mille Miglia is another example of what has connected millions of people for decades: The passion for the “round Volkswagen” Beetle and its successors. This era will draw to a close in summer 2019, when the last Beetle rolls off the production line. Over 70 years after the start of production, and 21 years after the launch of the New Beetle, it is time to bid a final farewell. As with the “Última Edición” in 2003, the Volkswagen Beetle will also be given a worthy send-off — with the “Final Edition.”