People forget, but the 1960s marked the decade of the Volkswagen Beetle invasion in the United States.
This January 1965 photo features a new Volkswagen showroom on Brainerd Road known then as Southland Volkswagen.
Visible behind the showroom glass are a Beetle, a VW Transporter (bus) and a Karmann Ghia, an Italian-influenced car with VW components.
The photo is part of a collection of EPB images at ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website curated by history buff Sam Hall and dedicated to preserving vintage images of the city.
By 1965 there were more than 900 Volkswagen dealerships in the United States, including this store at 5915 Brainerd Road near the South Chickamauga Creek Bridge. Southland Volkswagen had moved from its previous location at 2701 South Broad St. a few months before this photo was snapped.
VW sold more than 296,000 Beetles in the American market in 1965. U.S. sales of the iconic compact car peaked in 1968 at almost 400,000 units. That's more than today's top-selling sedan, the Toyota Camry, which sold 337,000 units in the United States, pre-pandemic, in 2019.
Owners of this 1960s-era dealership would no doubt have been surprised to learn that today, 56 years later, Chattanooga is the home of the only Volkswagen assembly plant in the United States, producing the Passat sedan, the Atlas SUV and (coming next year) the ID.4 all-electric crossover.
ChattanoogaHistory.comLaunched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available.If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives, or original non-digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.
Volkswagen's previous United States assembly plant, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, closed in 1988. Volkswagen announced in 2008 that it was building a new plant in Chattanooga, and it became operational in 2011.
Back in 1965, although the German-made VW Beetle was popular, it was also polarizing. An advertisement in the Chattanooga News-Free Press in the mid-1960s acknowledged that the VW "bug," as it was commonly called, wasn't everyone's cup of tea.
"Some people just can't see [themselves in] a VW," the ad confessed. "Even though they admire its attributes, they see themselves in something fancier."
The ad tried to steer those reluctant VW customers to the Karmann Ghia. "The Karmann Ghia is what happened to a Volkswagen when Italian designers got hold of it," the ad said.
According to newspaper archives, Southland Volkswagen was sold to new owner Burt Page in 1978, and the name was changed to Reliable Motors, Inc. Page had previously worked at Superior Motors in Nashville, then the nation's largest Volkswagen dealership, according to the Chattanooga News-Free Press.
Over time, the Brainerd Road address in this photo became home to a series of car stores including Mitsubishi, Infiniti and Volvo dealerships.
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