Beetle purists may wax lyrical about the first-of-breed purity of the original splitrear- window Bugs and the oval window versions of 1953 to 1957, but there is one Beetle that everybody wants—the Karmann-built Cabriolet. Its development followed that of the sedans through a bewildering series of modifications, but it always stood apart.
With its top retracted into a bulging bustle, this Beetle was not only cheerful, but chic too, a classless cruiser at home equally on Beverly Hills boulevards, Cannes, and Main Street. The final incarnation of the Karmann convertible represents the ultimate development of the Beetle theme, with the peppiest engine and improved handling. It’s strange to think that the disarming, unburstable Bug was once branded with the slogan of the Hitler Youth, “Strength through Joy.” Today, modern retro Beetles have become suburban middle-class trinkets.
Before Karmann chopped the lid off the Bug, there had been plans for a Beetle-based roadster. The prototypes inspired coachbuilders Joseph Hebmüller & Sons to build a short-lived roadster, but just 696 were built before a factory fire scuppered the project.
Front discs were introduced in 1966.
Cabriolets like this California-registered car are a mainstay of surfing culture.
The Beetle’s capacity grew from 1131cc to 1584cc; the engines have a deserved reputation as robust, rev-happy units.
The Beetle is still bare, its dash dominated by the one minimal instrument; on this model the speedo incorporates a fuel gauge. It also has a padded dash, replacing the original metal unit.
With the top raised, the Karmann cabriolet is a bit claustrophobic, but it comes into its own as a timeless top-down cruiser that is still a full four-seater. Rear vision with the top up is not much better than on early split-windowed and oval-windowed models.
Many later design changes like these “elephant footprint” rear light clusters were driven by US regulations.
In addition to the Beetle convertible, Karmann also built the Type 1 VW Karmann-Ghia, a two-seater based on Beetle running gear.
You can always tell that a Beetle is on its way before it comes into sight thanks to the distinctive buzzing of the air-cooled, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine.
The one-model policy that VW adopted in its early years was successful while Beetle sales soared, but by 1967 Fiat had overtaken VW as Europe’s biggest car manufacturer. It was not until 1974 that the Golf and Polo revived the company’s fortunes.
Curved “panoramic” windshield replaced the flat window in 1972.
First cars had semaphores; then indicators were fender-mounted.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL VW Beetle Karmann Cabriolet (1972–1980)
PRODUCTION 331,847 (Karmann Cabriolets from 1949 to 1980).
BODY STYLE Four-seater cabriolet.
CONSTRUCTION Steel-bodied, separate chassis/body.
ENGINE Rear-mounted, air-cooled flat-four, 1584cc.
POWER OUTPUT 50 bhp at 4000 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual.
SUSPENSION Front: independent MacPherson strut; Rear: independent trailing arm and twin torsion bars.
BRAKES Front discs, rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 82.4 mph (133 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 18 sec
A.F.C. 24–30 mpg (8.5–10.6 km/l)