Retrospective

Three big name brands, three Volkswagens: How VW's mid-century models shaped modern America

Domino’ started its delivery business with this Beetle.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Three brands that are modern day household names got a little help in the beginning from Volkswagen vehicles. Domino's, Ben & Jerry's, and Nike all spent their early years growing from little passion projects to formidable businesses. The brands grew up and into Volkswagens, then saw them expand far past the wheelbase limits and into major corporations.

Domino's

Volkswagen Dominio's Pizza

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The Dodge brothers aren't the only famous or successful all-male duo from the Detroit area. Brothers Tom and James Monaghan founded Domino's Pizza in 1960 when they bought a small pizzeria in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a southwest suburb of Motor City.

The store purchase cost just $900, about $600 less than the price of a new Volkswagen Beetle at the time. Dominick DiVarti, the original owner of the shop, gave the boys a 15-minute pizza making lesson then turned over the keys to DomiNick's to them.

James, who had a full-time job as a mail carrier in addition to helping run the shop, sold his share of the pizzeria to get the company a delivery vehicle, a 1959 Beetle.

In the 1950s, the Beetle had evolved from its early years into a body style with the features commonly seen in vintage models that are still on the road today. By the time the Mongahan brothers got theirs, the Beetle had larger taillights that combined the traditional taillamps and turn signals. Twin chrome tailpipes were added and U.S. models had taller bumper guards. The rear rectangular window of previous years' models was replaced with an oval one in the late '50s.

By 1965, the brothers had purchased two additional pizzerias and changed the name of the business. There was no going back. Today, there are over 17,000 Domino's locations worldwide.

According to Volkswagen, the whereabouts of Domino's first delivery vehicle is unknown. However, a replica of the original is showcased at Domino's headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ben & Jerry's

Ben & Jerry's Type 3 Vermont

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Ben & Jerry's was founded in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont by two New York City-area transplants who had taken a $5 ice cream-making correspondence course offered by Pennsylvania State University that same year.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield invested $12,000 into their first scoop shop in a converted gas station in downtown Burlington that sat across from what is now The Vermont Pub & Brewery in the space currently occupied by a public parking lot.

In the land of creemees, Ben and Jerry made a big impact, proving popular thanks to their flavorful ice cream and oversized chunks of filling. They didn't just sell scoops at their shop. The company delivered 2.5-gallon tubs of ice cream to restaurants and shops in Ben's red Volkswagen Type 3 Squareback station wagon for their first two years of business.

The Type 3 had been introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1961. It was designed to fill a hole in the VW lineup between the Beetle and the Bus, as a family-friendly auto. Volkswagen began importing the Type 3 Squareback to the U.S. in 1966 where it competed directly with the Chevrolet Corvair.

By 1980, demand took off and Vermont's harsh winters and road salt caught up with the Type 3. However, the Volkswagen lives on at Ben & Jerry's South Burlington headquarters today and their factory just down the road in Waterbury. There's a Type 2 painted on the wall at their in-office Scoop Shop and vehicle inside their shop in downtown Burlington.

Nike

Nike bus Type 2 Volkswagen

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Long before Nike was Nike, it was Blue Ribbon Sports. Founded in 1964 by University of Oregon track coach, Bill Bowerman, and U of O track star Phil Knight, the company originally set out to cater to runners, selling Onitsuka Tiger track shoes out of Knight's car at track meets.

Their first year of business they sold 1,500 pairs. The next that number grew to 8,000. Blue Ribbon Sports added a brick and mortar location in 1967 in Santa Monica, California near the intersection of Pico Boulevard and I-10.

The company's first employee, Jeff Johnson, marketed the shop and drove his personal vehicle, a Volkswagen Type 2 bus, to track meets where he sold and delivered shoes to runners. The second-generation T2 Bus stood out thanks to its gingham curtains and Onitsuka Tigers dealer sticker up front on the driver's door.

The original store closed just two years later but within a decade, the company, now retreaded as Nike, owned 50 percent of the athletic shoe market.

In 2019, Volkswagen and Nike teamed up to celebrate their shared history. The companies outfitted a Volkswagen ID. BUZZ CARGO concept van to resemble the original Blue Ribbon Sports delivery van, promoting Nike's "Reuse-A-Shoe" program and Volkswagen's electric future.

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Interesting backstory

Volkswagen Bus part inspired popular dog toy

The classic VW Bus inspired one of the most popular dog toys of all time.

Volkswagen

Product designs sometimes take inspiration from the places we expect the least. Moments of genius are driven by finding solutions to unique problems, and as it turns out, that's exactly how we ended up with KONG. The beefy, durable dog chew toy is modeled after a Volkswagen Bus part.

Joe Markham's shop Markham needed a dog for security, but he unexpectedly got a chew-crazy pet.Volkswagen

KONG's inventor, Joe Markham, adopted a German Shepherd to help with security at his auto repair shop in downtown Denver, CO. The dog, while a great addition to the shop, came with a few bad habits. The dog's most worrisome hobby was chewing, which he would do with almost anything he could find, especially rocks. As you might imagine, chewing on rocks is not good for the dog's teeth. Markham needed a durable chew toy, but nothing seemed to work, from animal bones to radiator hoses.

The solution came from an unlikely place: While working on a 1960sVW Type 2 Bus, Markham discovered that the rubber axle stop made a perfect chew toy. The dog had gotten ahold of the rubber stop, and while he was chewing viciously, neither the stop nor his teeth were damaged.

The discovery led Markham to spend the next six years experimenting with various rubbers, sizes, and shapes for his dog toy. After working with rubber experts in Germany, the design was finalized and the KONG was born. The shape for the toy ended up being very close to that of the axle stop. The funky, bulbous design meant that the toy wouldn't bounce like a ball, and would instead flop around randomly, which is similar to the way that small animals run away from predators.

VW Bus axle stop The axle stop from a VW Bus inspired KONG's shape.Volkswagen

It's worth noting that you should not intentionally let your dog chew on any part of your vehicle. Even unused automotive parts can contain chemicals and other harmful materials that could make your dog sick or worse. This isn't a pitch to buy a KONG, just a warning about the hazards of car parts being used as dog toys.

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The new Tiguan sports an all-new front-end design.

Volkswagen

The Volkswagen Tiguan is an interesting compact SUV with a fun-to-drive personality and plenty of style. After 14 years on sale, the Tiguan is just in its second generation, but VW has given it a significant update for the 2022 model year that brings new tech, updated styling, and a refreshed interior.

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan The rear has been massaged with new badging and standard LED taillights. Volkswagen

The restyled Tiguan is available in four trim levels: S, SE, and SE R-Line Black. All models get a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, but VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive can be optioned in.

Styling updates are the big story for the 2022 Tiguan. The front end is entirely new and carries design cues from the larger Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport. LED headlights are now standard, and an illuminated light line is available for the SUV's grille. On the rear liftgate, the Tiguan model name lettering also mirrors that of the Atlas, with the name spelled out underneath the VW logo.

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan Most trims get an 8-inch touchscreen.Volkswagen

Inside, the Tiguan now comes standard with heated seats, while a heated steering wheel and ventilated seats are available. Cloth upholstery is standard, while mid-range trims get leatherette. The top SEL R-Line comes with leather and a perforated leather-wrapped sport steering wheel. Front-wheel drive models come standard with three rows of seating as well, making the Tiguan one of the more family-friendly vehicles in its class.

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan The top trim gets upscale leather upholstery.Volkswagen

The base Tiguan S comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen running Volkswagen's excellent MIB 2 software, but all others get MIB 3 infotainment software running on a glass-covered 8.0-inch touchscreen. The automaker notes that it's a capacitive touch system, which functions more like a smartphone than other infotainment systems, which sometimes require pressure to register a touch input. All Tiguans get a digital gauge cluster with an 8-inch display, while the top SEL R-Line upgrades to a 10.25-inch configurable gauge cluster that offers full-screen navigation and other views.

Pricing for the 2022 Volkswagen Tiguan starts at $25,995 for the base S trim with front-wheel drive. Adding all-wheel drive pushes the prices to $27,495. All Tiguan models will see a $1,195 destination charge tacked on at the bottom line.

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