With its rolling chassis and mechanics built at Stadt des KdF-Wagens, (renamed Wolfsburg after 1945), and its body built by US-owned firm Ambi Budd Presswerke in Berlin, the Kübelwagen was for the Germans what the jeep was for the Allies.
Although Adolf Hitler discussed with Ferdinand Porsche the possibility of military application of the Volkswagen as early as April 1934, it wasn't until January 1938, that high-ranking Third Reich army officials formally approached Porsche about designing an inexpensive, light-weight military transport vehicle that could be operated reliably both on- and off-road in even the most extreme conditions, suggesting that the Beetle could provide the basis for such a vehicle.
Porsche began work on the project immediately, having a prototype of the vehicle ready within the month, but realized during development that it wouldn't be enough to reinforce the Beetle's chassis to handle the stresses that military use would put on it. In order to guarantee adequate off-road performance of a two-wheel-drive vehicle with a 1,000 cc FMCV 1 engine, it would have to be lightweight. In fact, the army had stipulated a laden weight of 950 kg (2,100 lb) including four battle-dressed troops, which meant that the vehicle itself should not weigh more than 550 kg (1,200 lb). Porsche therefore sub-contracted Trutz, an experienced military coachbuilder to help out with the body design.
Developmental testing by the military began after a presentation of the prototypes designated as Type 62 in November 1938. Despite lacking four wheel drive, a mainstay of the American military Jeeps, the vehicle proved very competent at maneuvering its way over rough terrain, even in a direct comparison with a contemporary standard German army 4x4, and the project was given the green light for further development. The vehicle's light weight and ZF self-locking differential compensated for the lack of 4x4 capabilities.
Further development of the Type 62 took place during 1939, including a more angular body design; and pre-production models were field-tested in the invasion of Poland that started in September that year. Despite their overall satisfaction with the vehicle's performance, military commanders demanded that a few important changes be made: the lowest speed of the vehicle had to be reduced from 8 km/h (5.0 mph) to 4 km/h (2.5 mph) as an adjustment to the pace of marching soldiers. Secondly it needed some improvement of its off road ability. Porsche responded to both requests by mounting new axles with gear-reduction hubs, providing the car with more torque and more ground-clearance all at once. Revised dampers, 41 cm (16 in) wheels and a limited slip differential, as well as countless small modifications completed the specification. In order to reflect the changes, the vehicle was renamed Type 82.
Full scale production of the Type 82 Kübelwagen started in February 1940, as soon as the VW factories had become operational. No major changes took place until production ended in 1945, only small modifications were implemented — mostly eliminating unnecessary parts and reinforcing some which had proved unequal to the task. Prototype versions were assembled with four-wheel-drive (Type 86) and different engines, but none offered a significant increase in performance or capability over the existing Type 82 and the designs were never implemented. As of March 1943, the car received a revised dash and the bigger 1,131 cc engine developed for the Schwimmwagen that produced more torque and power than the original 985 cc unit. When Volkswagen production ceased at the end of the war, 50,435 Kübelwagen vehicles had been produced  and the vehicle had proven itself to be surprisingly useful, reliable, and durable.
VW resurrected the basic Kübelwagen design several decades after the war as the 1969 Type 181, developed for the German Federal Armed Forces and later also produced for the civilian market known as "Thing" in the US, "Trekker" in the UK and "Safari" in Mexico. Although similar in looks and design, almost no parts were interchangeable with the Type 82.