1979 Volkswagen Beetle Karmann Cabriolet
In the early 1930s cars were a luxury. Most Germans could afford nothing more elaborate than a motorcycle. Only one German out of 50 owned a car. Seeking a potential new market, some car makers began independent “people’s car” projects, such as the Mercedes 170H, Adler Autobahn, Steyr 55, and Hanomag 1.3L.
The trend was not new. Béla Barényi, an Austro-Hungarian engineer is credited with having conceived the first basic design in the mid-1920s. In Germany, Hanomag produced the 2/10PS “Kommisbrot” a small, cheap, rear-engined car from 1925 – 1928 and Czechoslovakia produced the popular Tatra 7. Ferdinand Porsche had been trying for years to get a manufacturer interested in a small car suitable for a family. He built a car named the “Volksauto” from the ground up in 1933, using many popular ideas and several of his own. Key features of the car were an air-cooled rear engine, torsion bar suspension, and a “beetle” shape with the front hood rounded for better aerodynamics (necessary as it had a small engine).
In 1934 Adolf Hitler became involved. He ordered the production of a basic vehicle which needed to be able to transport 2 adults and 3 children at 100km/h. He wanted all Germans to have access to a car. The “people’s car” would be available at 990 Reichsmark. A special savings plan was introduced. A person could save 5 Reichsmark a week to realise their dream of owning their own car. Over 300,000 people participated in this savings plan, however, the whole project was financially unsound. No private industry was able to meet the requirements and produce a car which could be sold for 990 Reichsmark.
On the 28th May 1937 the “Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens GmbH“ (Company for the Preparation of the German Volkswagen Ltd) was formally established by the German Labour Front and in 1938 the first prototypes of the “KdF-Wagen” (Kraft durch Freude) started to appear. On 16th September 1938 the company was renamed to Volkswagenwerk GmbH and the company built its main plant in KdF-Stadt which later became Wolfsburg.
The outbreak of the Second World War and integration into the arms industry prevented mass production of the Volkswagen “people’s car”. Instead, military vehicles and other armaments were produced using forced labour.
In April 1945, KdF-Stadt and its heavily bombed factory were captured by the Americans, and subsequently handed over to the British, within whose occupation zone the town and factory fell. The factories were placed under the control of Saddleworth born British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst, by then a civilian Military Governor with the occupying forces.
One of the factory’s wartime “KdF-Wagen” cars had been taken to the factory for repairs and abandoned there. Hirst had it repainted green and demonstrated it to British Army headquarters. Short of light transport, in September 1945, the British Army was persuaded to place a vital order for 20,000 cars. The rest as they say is history. The Volkswagen or VW Beetle was born.
Around 1948 Volkswagen was looking at extending their model range. They asked coachbuilder Karmann to build a 4 seat convertible and another coachbuilder, Hebmüller, to build a 2 seat convertible. Both had to be based on the current Beetle and use as many Volkswagen parts as possible. This wasn’t a simple task because removing the roof caused severe chassis flexing. As a result the body and chassis had to be strengthened. Production of the convertibles started in 1949. The Hebmüller Cabriolet was only in production from 1949 through to 1953 and only 696 were built including the 3 prototypes and one pre-production model. The Karmann Cabriolet was built from 1949 through to 1980. During that period 328,697 were built.
Oldtimer Australia is delighted to offer for sale a beautiful and incredibly original 1979 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet by Karmann.
This particular example was built on October 16th 1979 and shipped to Valley Volkswagen in Stockton, California, USA on October 25th 1979. The car was sold to a Mr Gordon J O’Neil and first registered in California on 9th January 1980 with the registration 078 YWA. O’Neil was actually an Australian on holidays in America at the time. His wife saw the car in a Volkswagen showroom and she just had to have it! The car remained in the US until 1982 when it was imported into Australia by the O’Neil family. At that time the car had hardly been used. After all the import formalities were completed, the car was professionally converted to right hand drive. It is understood that the work was completed by a Volkswagen dealer. The conversion, whilst relatively simple, was professionally done using all genuine Volkswagen parts. Most of the parts used still carry the correct Volkswagen part number stickers. Even the windscreen wiper setup was changed, something that is often forgotten. After the conversion was completed, the car was registered in South Australia with the registration 2600.
In December 1987 the car was sold to a family member; Gary O’Neil, from Sydney and car was subsequently registered as ACT96Z. In 1995, the car was advertised for sale and there is a copy of the advert on file which reads “Genuine 5,800 miles guaranteed, right-hand drive conversion carried out in Australia in 1982, everything standard from factory. This VW has been kept in ‘as new’ condition, accident free, one fastidious owner. All papers and log book kept”. The car was sold in June 1996 to Robert Stomann from Melbourne, Victoria.
The car changed hands again in circa 2003. There are invoices on file for some of the work done by that owner indicating the mileage at that time as 17,000 miles.
The current owner, who is a very well respected classic car mechanic and enthusiast, acquired the car in January 2017. Shortly after, it was serviced and the service book shows the mileage as 26,320 miles at that time. Unfortunately, when the car was delivered to him the transport company had snapped the key in the ignition. The ignition barrel was replaced with a NOS item with two genuine keys. The car was parked up for a number of years and about 12 months ago its owner decided that it was time to sell. After submitting the car to a detailed inspection, he realised the car had suffered from a lack of use in recent years. There were a few oil leaks from the engine, which he insisted be repaired prior to the car being given to us to sell. Time was his enemy, however, the engine was recently removed from the car and it has been rebuilt using all new seals and gaskets.
Today the odometer reads a meagre 26,374 miles, which the history file confirms is genuine. In summary, this car is an incredible ‘time capsule’. Walking around the car makes you feel like you are back at Valley Volkswagen in Stockton, California, USA in October 1979!
The condition of the car is exactly what you expect from a car which has travelled only 26,000+ miles in the last 43 years. Yes, you will notice a few very small stone chips when you walk around the car, but overall the car is in amazing original condition. The paint work, which is most likely original, presents exceptionally well and it still has a nice deep gloss finish. All of the exterior trim and particularly the chrome work, of which there plenty, is in really good condition. The glass is all original (with a VW logo on every piece) and in excellent condition. Often with an original car of this vintage the rubbers and associated trim pieces will be showing their age. This car has most likely been garaged all of its life as the rubbers are essentially like new.
The soft top on these Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolets by Karmann are really well built and very solid. On this example, the soft top presents in near new condition. Unlike most convertibles which typically have a soft rear screen, these cars have a proper glass heated rear window, which on this car is unmarked. The soft top cover is also in really good condition. The wheels have no kerb rash and are fitted with BF Goodrich Silver Town Radial tyres. Whilst the tyres still look good, based on the date stamp they are 18 years old and due for replacement.
When you open the door all you can do is admire the interior. It’s simple, as you would expect in a Beetle, but it’s functional and in great condition. Slide in behind the steering wheel and you can’t help smile . . . what fantastic place to be! The upholstery is in excellent condition with no rips are tears and seats remain firm with excellent support. The dashboard shows no sign of wear and all the instruments work exactly as you would expect in a German car.
So, it is time to go for a drive on what is a beautiful sunny Brisbane morning. Of course we lower the soft top to ensure the best driving experience in this Beetle.
We make ourselves comfortable behind the wheel, insert the key in the ignition, turn the key and the engine fires up at first crank and it almost immediately settles into a nice smooth idle. First impressions are very positive. We press the clutch, put the car in first gear and off we go. That gives us the next positive experience. The gearbox is really smooth and oh so easy to use. The gear lever slices through the gears with great ease. Everything about this car just feels right. Being a convertible, you do expect a few squeaks, but to our surprise there are none. The suspension feels firm and the steering is precise without being heavy. The engine is surprisingly quiet, even with the top down, at 60km/h you can hardly hear it. We have to give the current owner credit for doing such a great job on rebuilding and tuning the engine . . . the 1,585cc engine in this Beetle runs like a Swiss watch.
Way too soon our test drive comes to an end!
Accompanying the car is jack, tool kit, spare wheel, owner’s manual, service manual, original sales brochures, a certificate (letter) of authenticity from Volkswagen in Germany and an excellent history file.
The one thing we can pretty much guarantee is that driving this Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet by Karmann will put a smile on your face! Judging by all the thumbs up from fellow motorists and passers-by, we also put lots of smiles on other people’s faces too!
- Original Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet by Karmann.
- Completely original, low mileage example.
- Recently rebuilt engine.
- Presented in its original colour scheme.
- Just a STUNNING car.
- Original manuals, sales brochures and documentation.
- Volkswagen Beetle Karmann Cabriolet
- 26,365 miles