The original Volkswagen Beetle has a unique place in popular culture. Unlike many other cult cars, it was conceived as an affordable, modest vehicle and not a toy for the privileged - the name Volkswagen means 'people's car'.
Much of the Beetle's charm is due to its quirky design, which remained relatively unchanged from 1938's first models until it ceased European production in 1985 (The Beetle continued to be produced in Mexico until 2003, but the majority of cars remained in South America). It's a design that spanned decades, ignoring fads and fashions.
The Beetle's cult status (along with that of the VW camper van) grew in the 1960s and 1970s, when members of the hippy movement seized on its individual style. This fuelled the vogue for customising the car, and the Beetle served as an ideal blank canvas.
VW relaunched the Beetle brand in 1994 with the New Beetle, an up-to-date model that echoed the original car's aesthetic, if not its egalitarian ethos. In reincarnating an old classic, Volkswagen has tried hard to transfer the same characteristics to the new model, and customisation remains integral to the brand's spirit.
The Beetle Art project was commissioned by Volkswagen through advertising agency DDB London. In addition to paint and trim choices, the idea was that buyers would be able to choose from a range of decals to personalise their New Beetle.
DDB London approached a range of designers, illustrators and agencies, inviting them to make their own graphical statement that would appeal to the New Beetle's target market. Four artists were chosen, each with their own take on the New Beetle brand.
"The New Beetle has already become as iconic as the original, so that's very appealing to me as a designer," says Madeleine Rogers, one of the contributing artists. Rogers, who works under the name of MIBO, has a distinctive ornamentation style inspired by her native town of Brighton and the coast. Her designs have been used by both Liberty and Habitat.
Dutch designer Pieter 'Parra' Janssen's surreal style has attracted clients including Nike, Footlocker and 'hippy' ice-cream vendors Ben & Jerry. According to Volkswagen, his 'It's all mine' design is supposed to reflect the 'love affair' Beetle owners have with their cars.
Steve Wilson, who recently created the psychedelic artwork for the Virgin Digital music service, has designed a motif that links the old and new Beetle. Recalling the heady days of 'flower power', his design comprising rainbows, butterflies and flowers in vivid greens, yellows and pinks is something of a hippy's dream.
One of the challenges for contributor Jamie Cullen was simplifying the design for the vinyl-cutting process. "The images had to be laser cut, so I had to be careful with the smaller details as they can be lost in the cutting process," Cullen says. "This was quite difficult as my image had a lot of intricate detail within it. If the elements were too small, they would be lost."
While the psychedelic stylings might recall the summer of love, Cullen's designs reflect a more practical reality: "Unfortunately, the British weather doesn't go well with keeping your new car clean," Cullen explains. "It always seems to get splashed by oil and dirt. The idea was to embrace the fact that your car isn't going to be clean and to make the dirt marks look as beautiful as possible," he says.
Cullen's bold designs, which from a distance look like streaks of mud and oil, hide an abundance of detail. Within the seemingly random splatter is a veritable menagerie featuring wolves, a prancing horse and a roaring lion. "I wanted the mud to look bold, British and roar with pride," he enthuses. But once your New Beetle is decorated with Cullen's design, it won't matter if it gets dirty.
"The driver becomes carefree, no longer bothered about the need to keep the car clean," he says, "instead embracing the dirt and having more time to go driving."
INFO Check out the New Beetle custom vinyl decals at www.beetleart.co.uk. Prices start at £200. The New Beetle is available from £11,395 for the hatchback model. Jamie Cullen can be commissioned via Advocate Art, www.advocateart.com.