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What about the convertible? It was Major Ivan Hirst who can be credited with setting the wheels in motion, for this far-sighted man understood better than most that, to survive in the long term, Volkswagen had to be able to offer something more than a one-model product range. Under Hirst's guidance, the factory had already taken steps to build at least two one-off open-topped Beetles: the two-seat Radclyffe Roadster and the four-seat cabriolet used by Hirst himself. While neither was ever destined for production, they did help strengthen the factory's resolve to build a convertible Beetle.

Having made the decision to build a cabriolet (convertible), Volkswagen felt that such specialist coachbuilding was not really a feasible proposition for the Wolfsburg factory to undertake. After all, the post-war production lines were struggling to keep up with demand as it was, without having to consider how best to modify an acceptable cabriolet.

At around this time, in common with many similar businesses in war-torn Germany, the coachbuilding company - or karosserie - of Wilhelm Karmann in Osnabr¸ck was desperate for work. The problem was a lack of suitable base vehicles on which to build bespoke bodies. The only car available was the Volkswagen and, unfortunately for Karmann, he was unable to buy one from the factory: as a German citizen, he was forbidden to buy a car except with an official permit. To compound matters, his company was required to carry out essential repair work, not become involved with coachbuilding, at least for the time being. Had it not been for Hirst, the future would have looked very bleak for Wilhelm Karmann.

meant - "Car of force by means of joy".  Porsche was against such a name, but the choice had come from Hitler himself and there was nothing he could do).  Most importantly, it should market at no more than £86 (I think that was around $200). It was for the latter reason that Ferdinand Porsche decided on a rear engine car, the car was then known as the Type 60. He experimented with various engine designs; flat four, vertical four cylinder, and two cylinder, but none of them proved adequate. In 1935 an Austrian engineer, who had been working for the company for less than a year, came up with a design for a flat four engine within two days of working on the project. After the accountants had checked it, it proved to be the most financially viable option. The same engine design has driven the Volkswagen Beetle for the last 60 years. Ferdinand Porsche had been working on various other cars for other manufacturers before the Volkswagen and incorporated some older designs within this new project. Other vehicle designs were utilized for this project.  The backbone chassis and the idea of independent front and rear suspension came from one and the torsion bar front suspension came from Porsche, patented back in 1931. The body styling dates back to 1931, to a car called the Wanderer which never reached production and the only prototype built was used by Ferdinand Porsche for his own personal transport. Hitler also had plans for the styling of the Volkswagen, he is reputed to have said "It should look like a Beetle, you have to look to nature to find out what streamlining is." Hence the name Beetle.

A Stuttgart based design company, owned and run by Ferdinand Porsche, in April 1934 was given the important task of designing this special car within 10 months. Hitler specified certain criteria the car must meet. The car must have a top speed of 62 mph, achieve 42 miles per gallon, must have an air-cooled engine (?) and be able to transport 2 adults and 3 children. The name chosen for the future Beetle was KDF Wagen (KDF was a German acronym which 

Once Germany picked itself up after the war, a small but worthwhile market for cars began to grow. After all, there will always be people who profit from war, even on the losing side. At the time, as far as new cars were concerned, the only choice was the Volkswagen Beetle, but even that was not made available to the general public - not that the average German worker would have been able to afford one.

When Wilhelm Karmann's thoughts turned to coachbuilding once again (after all, it was his family's business), he realised that he had only one option as far as a suitable chassis was concerned. He approached the Wolfsburg factory on a number of occasions, hoping to be able to acquire a chassis on which to resume work. Each time the answer was 'no', until eventually, in November 1946, Karmann was given the 10,000th Beetle to have been built post-war. The reason for this change of heart was Ivan Hirst's belief in the need for an expanded product range.

Soon afterwards, two prototype Volkswagen cabriolets were built at Osnabr¸ck. The first prototype had only crude, external hood hinges and wind-down windows in the doors only, while the second had wind-down door and rear quarter windows and concealed hinges. Neither had a rear window at this time. Although the prototypes were attractive - and indeed not at all dissimilar to the original KdF prototype enjoyed by Hitler - they both suffered from body flex, which led to problems with doors not shutting properly or, worse still, coming open while cornering.

<p>Although the Beetle chassis is a strong, backbone design, it is not particularly rigid torsionally. Remove the roof from a sedan and suddenly all the strength disappears. Much like slicing off the top of an eggshell.  In tact, the egg remains strong, but remove part of the structure, and it loses all of it's strength.  To solve this problem, Karmann strengthened the basic Beetle bodyshell under the sills(basically a solid "U" shaped tunnel welded to the edges on the bottom side of the floor pan) , inside the front footwells and under the back seat. Further reinforcement around the door openings completed the picture. Although this cured the lack of rigidity, it was at the expense of greater weight, for the prototypes weighed approximately 40kg (88lb) more than an equivalent sedan, resulting in slightly decreased overall performance.

Nothing further happened as far as the Karmann cabriolet was concerned until 1949, when Heinz Nordhoff, the German head of Volkswagen who had been appointed by the British Army in January 1948, expressed interest in resurrecting the project. Karmann built a third prototype, soon followed by a series of some 25 pre-production models. This batch of cars was subjected to rigorous testing over some 20,000km, a shakedown that was completed on 5 August of that year. The final report concluded that the car was satisfactory and met Volkswagen's high standards. Nordhoff then gave Wilhelm Karmann a work order for an initial batch of 2000 cars, with the only stipulation being that Karmann was to use as many original components as possible in the cabriolet's construction. The new model was given the factory designation Type 15.

Karmann began by taking delivery of sedan models direct from the factory, stripping them and slicing them off at the waistline. The new Karmann-made panels - including the much-needed strengthening - were then welded in place prior to a trip to the paint and trim shops for completion. The system worked well, despite Volkswagen's typically Germanic insistence on a bountiful supply of paper-work!

To begin with, production at Osnabr¸ck was slow, with just one or two cars being completed each day. However, by September this figure had risen to six a day, and by the end of the year no fewer than 364 cabriolets had rolled off the production line. At this rate of production, the 1000th car saw light of day in April 1950, and by the following February an order for a further 2000 cars was issued by Wolfsburg. By the end of that second year a total of 2695 cars had been built.

The cabriolet proved to be a steady, if not massive, seller and continued in production right up to January 1980, when the very last VW example rolled out of Osnabr¸ck. However, by that time the new range of water-cooled Volkswagens had become well-established and the fate of the Beetle sealed, at least in Europe. Production of the Beetle sedan had already ceased in Germany in 1978, with all examples then on sale being made in Mexico. The fact that the cabriolet outlasted the sedan is credit indeed to its endearing character. With a total production run of just 331,847 in a little over 30 years (a relatively lowly average of just over 10,000 a year), the Volkswagen Karmann cabriolet, while not quite falling into the rarest of the rare category, will always remain one of the most desirable of all Beetles.

The company had been founded in 1874, beginning life making horse-drawn carriages before receiving, in 1902, its first commission to construct a body for a motor car. This commission, from D¸rkopp, marked the beginning of a long, and ultimately profitable, business for Karmann. 

A year later, Karmann began to expand and bought the Klages carriageworks in Osnabr¸ck. Karmann gradually began undertaking work for a variety of other companies, including fulfilling a massive order for 10000 automobile bodies for AGA. Adler was another company to which Karmann owed a debt of gratitude, for this prestigious company brought a lot of work to Osnabr¸ck, resulting in the construction of many stylish cabriolets built upon a variety of Adler chassis.

Significant during this period was the construction of the Adler Autobahn, one of the earliest steps along the road to producing a car with all-steel bodywork. This relatively new technology was made available to Karmann following a visit to the USA, to examine the very latest press tooling in use at that time. 

Sadly, this boom time did not last, for the depression of the 1920s brought about the downfall of many of the large, well-established car manufacturers in Germany, including Hansa-Lloyd, which had always been such a good customer of Karmann. Fortunately, Adler managed to survive these hard times, and it was largely as a result of continuing work from that direction that Karmann was able to keep its head above water while so many others were going under for the third time.

By the time the Second World War broke out, Karmann had over 600 people working at the coachworks, making it one of the largest karosseries in Germany at the time. Unfortunately, the works sustained a great deal of damage during the war, as a result of allied bombing raids, and the coachbuilding operation seemed destined to close down for good. When peace finally came to Europe in 1945, all available factories were pressed into action to build all the unglamorous essentials that everybody needs, but takes for granted. In place of high-quality cabriolets hand-crafted on Adler chassis, the workers at Karmann began to turn out steel folding chairs, cutlery, wheelbarrows and watering cans. For most, Wilhelm Karmann included, those halcyon days of coachbuilding during the inter-war period must have seemed a long way in the past.


The idea for the Beetle came from Adolph Hitler while he was in prison in 1924 following the unsuccessful throw of the Federal German capital. Hitler conceived of an idea to solve Germany's unemployment problem. The Government would build special roads (autobahns) for motor vehicles. He would also mass-produce a car (the peoples car, the Volkswagen) which the average man in the street would be able buy. 9 Years later (February 1933) the Nazi party swept to power, and at the very first cabinet meeting Hitler raised the issue of the special roads. Work began on these roads in September 1933. The designs for the Volkswagen were not finalized until 1938 and the Volkswagen finally saw the light of day in 1939.  The ultimate place chosen for the factory was Wolfsburg, Germany.  This was the beginning of the dominance of german engineering in automotive history. Unfortunately, the Second World War ceased production.

Volkswagen Bug / Cabriolet history...

and interesting facts