The 20 Most Influential People in Volkswagen History

The history of Volkswagen and its vehicles are rich with the influential minds of men and women who created the VW brand that we are all familiar with today. Undoubtedly, as more and more talented individuals continue to add to the VW legacy, the list of people who have positively impacted Volkswagen will continue to grow. Below we have compiled a list, in no particular order, of the 20 most influential people in the history of VW.

  1. Ferdinand Porsche: The creator of the Volkswagen Beetle, Ferdinand Porsche finalized the design for an air-cooled, rear engine, and rear-wheel-drive vehicle in 1938. His “car for the people” was designed to be affordable, reliable and sustain high speeds on Germany’s newly-constructed autobahn. The Volkswagen Beetle has since become one of the most widely produced, recognizable and influential cars of all time.
  2. Gene Berg: Widely considered as one of the founding fathers of high-performance VWs, Berg’s passion for the VW bug began in 1956 when he began working to make his own vehicle run faster. People took notice quickly to both the fast performance and longevity of his vehicles. Berg’s commitment to excellence in his craft resulted in not only exceptionally fast, quality VW vehicles and parts, but also a successful business dedicated to improving the performance of VWs through research and development.
  3. Joe Vittone: What started as a company that made replaceable valve guides for a 36 hp head, quickly grew into the widely successful VW parts company known as Empi. Joe Vittone’s vision for high-quality, high-performance VW parts skyrocketed Empi into a household name and the industry giant it is today.
  4. Tom Lieb: An avid VW hot rodder and founder of Scat Enterprises, Lieb has continued to push the envelope of VW performance over his 40-year career. From an early age, he saw the potential of VWs to be fast and performance oriented. He quickly took advantage of this foresight and began supplying and distributing VW parts across the U.S.
  5. Ron Flemming: Flemming is credited as being one of the originators of the “California Look” VW, popularizing the vehicle for not only gear heads across the U.S. but also everyday American consumers. Flemming and his partner Greg Aronson specialized in air-cooled and water-cooled VW engines for off-road applications.
  6. Claude Tomlinson: Tomlinson began working on VWs out of his barn in the mid-1950’s. What followed soon after was C.B Performance, an industry leader in VW restoration and high-performance VW vehicles.
  7. Bob Gilmore: An early adopter of VW restoration, Gilmore is a praised VW journalist and an original founder of the Vintage Volkswagen Club of America. This club for vintage Volkswagen owners was founded in 1976 and is still highly active to this day.
  8. Ben Pon: Pon is credited as the man who first brought the VW beetle to the American market in 1949. His insight and input into the Volkswagen Beetle Type II project, more commonly referred to as the VW Bus, has left many to consider him as the “father of the Type II.”
  9. Dean Lowry: Lowry was a high-performance VW pioneer who helped pave the way for high-performance air-cooled engines. He constantly tested and pushed the boundaries of the Volkswagen on the racetracks of Southern California while taking his research and testing into his own hands.
  10. Charles Radclyffe: Radclyffe was given the responsibility of maintaining operations at the Volkswagen factory shortly after WWII. He realized the potential of Pon’s Type II design and was instrumental in the success of the VW Bus. Radclyffe helped to advanced Volkswagen by making arguably the most important hire in the company history of Heinrich Nordhoff.
  11. Heinrich Nordhoff: Nordhoff is responsible into catapulting Volkswagen into the industry giant that it has become today. After taking the reigns of the factory from the British in 1948, he took the production and exportation of Volkswagen vehicles to levels that had never been seen before.
  12. Ivan Hirst: Hirst is considered to be a savior of sorts for the Volkswagen Beetle. He continued to believe in the principles that the Beetle was created upon, and post-WWII, cleaned the Wolfsburg factory and began to produce Volkswagens under British Control.
  13. Adolf Hitler: Though the concept for the Volkswagen Beetle was born out of pure manipulation and to create an image of unity in pre-war Germany, Hitler is solely responsible for using his influence and power to quickly push the VW Beetle from a mere concept and into mass production.
  14. Al Martinez: As an event promoter in the early days of VW, Martinez sponsored various VW car shows including the California Bug-Ins and VW Jamboree events. In addition to this, his Al Martinez body shop was one of the earlier sources for customized Volkswagen vehicles.
  15. Richard Kimball: Kimball followed in the footsteps of the likes of Martinez by promoting and sponsoring VW events across the U.S. His excellent organization skills during the early days of Bug-Ins eventually led to the creation of the largest Volkswagen event in the world, the VW Classic.
  16. Ferdinand Piëch: When Ferdinand Piëch took over Volkswagen in 1993, the company was on the verge of going under. By implementing cost-cutting practices into the production line and injecting fresh energy into the Volkswagen brand, he was able to right the ship and turn in profits that reached billions of dollars.
  17. Bill Collins: At a time when customized VW collectors prized their vehicles so much they would transport them via trailer, Collins inspired the industry to return to its roots and drive again. He started the Der Kafer Fahren, a VW owner’s club for classic VW vehicles manufactured in 1957 and earlier.
  18. Bruce Meyers: An off-road Volkswagen pioneer, Meyers paved the way for the off-road industry as we know it today. He changed the face of off-road competition forever when he entered and won the Baja 500 in his high-performance VW nicknamed the “Meyers Manx”.
  19. Bob Scott: Bob Scott was an avant-garde for vintage Volkswagen restoration. He was attracted to the simplicity and reliability that Volkswagen vehicles and their parts possessed. His passion ultimately resulted in his founding of Vintage Parts, the first all-vintage Volkswagen parts supply company in the United States.
  20. Franz Reimspeiss: Most notably known as the man behind the timeless VW logo that is still in use today. Reimspeiss, however, was much more than an artist. After designing and testing more than 20 experimental engines, Reimspeiss created an air-cooled, four-stroke engine that was cheaper and more reliable than the original. Many of his ideas are still in use today.