Two stories in one….a fabulous story about the dedication of Volkswagen to creating the very best cars and for those of you who are intrigued the back-story about how I tracked the information down. First the story itself…
A road so bad they just had to buy it
At Ehra-Lessien, twelve and a half miles from the German city of Wolfsburg, Volkswagen has a testing facility. It covers some 2,718 hectares and in all has over 62 miles of test tracks.
There is a high speed track with a straight that runs for approximately 5.5 miles. The banked corners at both ends allow for a high entry and exit speed to and from the straight. It was here in July 2010 that a Bugatti Super Sport, a car with 1,200 bhp (890 kW) recorded the production car world speed record at an average of 267 mph.
There is a cross country track where the terrain tests suspension, tyres and steering to the limit and which is perfect for trying out new 4x4s. There are salt water crossings which can short electrical systems and leave rust forming deposits in exposed parts of any bodywork. There are skid pans across which test drivers hurl cars at breakneck speeds.
There is even a ‘mountain’ with gradients of up to 32% and hairpin bends as hairy as any in the Alps.
There are however also some urban driving tracks including an incredibly lumpy, bumpy cobbled street full of potholes, just like you might find in a nearby village …or rather exactly like the one you would have found in the nearby village of Hehlingen.
The reason being that a number of the people who worked at Ehra-Lessien used to drive through Hehlingen on the way to work. Two of them were discussing the dreadful state of the main road there and how it was at best treacherous and potentially lethal when snowy or icy.
Unbeknownst to them their conversation was overheard by one of the senior managers at the facility. He jumped in his car and set off to see if the road was really as bad as they said. Arriving, he found that it was…and it was just what he wanted.
Volkswagen opened negotiations with the local council to ‘buy’ the road, ultimately replacing it with a nice new smooth tarmac one and then building a community swimming pool as a thank you.
Volkswagen transported the old road stone by cobbled stone to Ehra-Lessein where they re-laid it there complete with ruts and pot-holes.
That was in 1967 and ever since the road has been meticulously maintained in the same dreadful condition as Volkswagen still believe that they need the worst conditions to produce the best cars.
The Back Story
About 25 years ago a senior creative team from DDB, a VW marketing manager and a young advertising executive at DDB were sent to Wolfsburg to research a campaign to be targeted as car fans which would be “The facts behind the reputation”. The trip was great success and numerous facts and stories were uncovered and a series of 6 ads were created one of which had a headline that ran “Volkswagen wanted this road so much, they bought it. And took it home.”
Fast forward 25 years and that young advertising executive is now the director of a brand consultancy and writes a blog on storytelling. He vaguely remembers a story about Volkswagen which might might a great blog but can’t remember all the details. He decided he will contact the Volkswagen customer services department and see if they can track anything done for him..
About 10 days later he gets an e-mail. It reads…
Good morning Mr Lury
Further to your recent correspondence requesting a copy of the campaign which you worked on during your time with DDB.
I am delighted that the DDB team has been able to source a copy of the advert, which I have attached.
I hope that this brings back some fantastic memories.Thank you for contacting Volkswagen UK.
Customer Relations Manager, Volkswagen Customer Services Centre
Thank you Damien. It does bring back fantastic memories and just further reinforces my loyalty to VW (I’m a Beetle driver)