15 Facts About Ivan Hirst


Major Ivan Hirst, was a British Army officer and engineer who was instrumental in reviving Volkswagen from a single factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, into a major postwar automotive manufacturer.


Ivan Hirst's family had founded the Hirst Brothers Company, a manufacturer of watches, clocks and optical components in Oldham.


Ivan Hirst studied optical engineering at the University of Manchester, prior to forming his own company repairing optical instruments.


Ivan Hirst was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment on 27 June 1934, and promoted to lieutenant three years later.


Ivan Hirst transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as a Mechanical Engineering Officer on 14 November 1941, and to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers on its formation on 1 October 1942.


Ivan Hirst arrived in Germany in the summer of 1945, along with his colleague, Colonel Charles Radclyffe, when the British Army took control of the town of Wolfsburg.


Ivan Hirst then found a pre-war prototype Volkswagen in a remote workshop on the site and realised that the factory could be used for producing cars for the British Army.


Ivan Hirst was fascinated by the potential of a four-wheel drive "Commanderwagon", which he was confident would sell to the French and Canadian forestry industries.


Ivan Hirst liked the proven versatility of the Volkswagen chassis demonstrated by Ambi Budd, Karmann and other coachworks.


The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, to which Ivan Hirst belonged, has a relationship with Volkswagen which began in 1945 with a REME detachment using the factory to repair captured enemy vehicles and later to overhaul Willys MB and other British Army vehicle engines.


Ivan Hirst had strong memories of his time at Wolfsburg which he would share with local Volkswagen enthusiasts.


Ivan Hirst once showed a friend a scale model of a Volkswagen Beetle that Volkswagen had presented to him.


Ivan Hirst later joined the industry staff of the German section of the Foreign Office, where he stayed until 1955 when he joined the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation in Paris until his retirement in 1975.


Just one month earlier, he had appeared in an edition of the British Top Gear magazine, which revealed the story of how Major Ivan Hirst revived the Volkswagen car plant.


Ivan Hirst was photographed driving a new front wheel-drive, front-engined Beetle in the magazine.