The Volkswagen Kübelwagen was a light military vehicle designed by Ferdinand Porsche and built by Volkswagen during World War II for use by the German military (both Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS). Based heavily on the Volkswagen Beetle, it was prototyped as the Type 62, but eventually became known internally as the Type 82.
Kübelwagen is an abbreviation of Kübelsitzwagen, meaning “bucket-seat car” because all German light military vehicles that had no doors were fitted with bucket seats to prevent passengers from falling out. The first VW test vehicles had no doors and were therefore fitted with bucket seats, so acquiring the name VW Kübelsitzwagen that was later shortened to Kübelwagen. Mercedes, Opel and Tatra also built Kübel(sitz)wagens.
The Kübelwagen is really simple in design. With a two-wheel-drive configuration, it could easily cope with snow, ice and mud (to some extent); the vehicle surprised even those in charge of the development. In some test, it showed even superior handling characteristics than some 4x4s. This was due to a combination of a lightweight chassis and smooth, flat underbody which “surfed” on soft surfaces just like a motorized sled, allowing it to follow tracked vehicles without much trouble. It was propelled by a rear-mounted air-cooled flat-4, 985cc FMCV-1 engine, linked to a 4-speed manual transmission with a self-locking differential. With its air-cooled configuration, it was dispensed a radiator and therefore proved less sensitive to bullets, while being also highly tolerant of climates extremes. For starting in winter, a volatile fuel was required, stored in a small auxiliary fuel tank.
When Volkswagen production ceased at the end of the war, 50,435 Kübelwagen vehicles had been produced, and the vehicle had proven itself to be surprisingly useful, reliable, and durable. The Kübelwagen was for the Germans what the Jeep and GAZ-67 were for the Allies.