In the late '80s and early '90s, it was common to see various VW cars driving around with no more VW badges on the grille. At the time, the badge theft made international news, and as the problem escalated, even VW got involved in the action. They started replacing customers' emblems free of charge in an attempt to ease the stress it was causing car owners and mitigate the bad publicity. This was a serious risk to VW's business which had the potential to impact sales numbers sensibly.
The thefts all originated from the US rap group "The Beastie Boys", whose biggest hit at the time was (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).
Band member Mike D (Michael Diamond) had a VW badge hanging around his neck which immediately prompted fans across the world to imitate the look.
Within days the VW badge became a must-have accessory with Beastie Boys fans. When they went on tour in the UK in 1987, English car owners were even calling to deport the boys!
When asked whether VW saw the trend as positive advertising, a Volkswagen spokesperson replied: "We find the whole thing relatively distasteful. It's nice to have one of the world's best known industrial symbols copied, but it is vandalism, and people's cars are being damaged."
No exact numbers are available, but the VW representative confirmed that in the first weeks of June 1987, as many as 250 car owners a day were getting replacement badges.
Unsurprisingly, as the single ascended the top 100 charts, thefts reached dizzying heights. VW then had to step in by offering Beastie Boys fans free badges.
They even released a special advert in an attempt to stop badges from being stolen, which often resulted in the car's grille being damaged.
Mercedes, BMW, and Audi badges started to be nicked from cars as well, but their marketing wasn't quite as good as VW's at turning a negative into a positive. To an extent, the hole escalation actually lead to the Euro badge-less grille look that dominated the show scene years later.
The band made a brief comeback in 2004, but thankfully they didn't have car badges hanging around their necks anymore. To the relief of car owners and manufacturers, the fashion of wearing a car badge around the neck has long been forgotten…
Nils is a Swiss-German engineer who is obsessed with old cars and engines. He is the author of "The Ultimate Classic Car Guide - How to Buy, Maintain & Repair Classic Cars" and the founder of EVC. His passion has always been with old cars and everything that has wheels and an engine.