"This is lovely. That is crazy," says Jennifer McLeod, a second-year volunteer at the 2019 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. As she walks down the row of entrants that make up the concours' Volkswagen Coachbuilt Beetle Class, her "lovely" comment is directed at the 1965 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 1 Concept Car. This one-of-a-kind showstopper, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and owned by Volkswagen of America, not only ranks among the best-looking cars ever to wear a VW badge, it's one of the most fetching car designs I've ever seen.
Her "crazy" quip is aimed at what sits next to the Karmann Ghia: the 1969 Volkswagen Wedding Beetle. Also part of the VW Collection, the see-through, wrought-iron-bodied Bug is a curious abomination compared with its next-door neighbor. In fact, it looks like something an unhinged hoarder would somehow build from stacks of wrought-iron patio furniture sitting in his backyard.
The classic Volkswagen Beetle is a sensational blank canvasSee all photos
McLeod's reaction speaks volumes about the original Volkswagen Beetle's versatility. Here are two cars, and although they're built on the same chassis (albeit lengthened a little for the Karmann Ghia), they couldn't be any more different. Also, when you consider that Volkswagen's Type 2 Bus was also derived from the Beetle platform, you get an even grander picture of how versatile that chassis was.
Today, more than 80 years after the first Beetle was built, Volkswagen is introducing its modular electric drive matrix (MEB) platform; another versatile architecture that can spawn anything from the beyond-lovable I.D. Buggy show car all the way to the endearing I.D. Buzz Cargo van.
Now, let's have a look at some of the featured coachbuilt Beetles showcasing the bandwidth of the iconic Bug platform at this year's 24th annual Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.
1965 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 1 Concept Car
After being in production for 10 years, the Beetle-based Karmann Ghia was ripe for a redesign. Giorgetto Giugiaro, who at the time was working for Carrozzeria Ghia, was the designer behind this concept's incredibly modern lines. Despite being a convertible, this car still uses window frames, which would have kept costs down if this second-gen Karmann Ghia had made it to production. Unfortunately, it didn't, making this car one of a kind.
If Volkswagen ever does resurrect the Karmann Ghia, it should look to this design for primary inspiration. Among all the vehicles showcased in the Coachbuilt Beetle Class, this car is my favorite by a country mile.
1969 Volkswagen Wedding Beetle
I was lucky enough to drive this car not long after it was displayed at the Ritz-Carlton's Golf Club of Amelia Island. What a riot! It's like a Meyers Manx and distasteful patio furniture had a love child. It's perfect, and I am totally going to ask Volkswagen if I can borrow it for my wedding ... whenever that happens.
Only six of these were hand-built in Mexico, and each one came with a bespoke wrought-iron pattern. Out back lies a 1.5-liter, flat-four engine, good for a whopping 53 horsepower. That's 13 more horsepower than the 1964 Volkswagen Beetle I drove just an hour before taking the controls of this car, but because of its heavy wrought-iron bodywork, this Bug feels just as slow. Of course, with no windshield, you wouldn't really want to do more than 25 miles per hour, anyway.
1953 Volkswagen Rometsch Taxi
The Beetle-based Rometsch Taxi was the product of a much more frugal German economic climate post-World War II. In Karosserie Rometsch's early days, the company was known for building opulent taxis derived from the chassis of various German automakers. After World War II, an economical taxi such as this was much more appropriate for a nation in recovery.
Despite its frugality, there's a wealth of cleverness in the Rometsch Taxi's design. Designer Johannes Beeskow was able to keep the roofline undistorted, despite the car being more than 7 inches longer than the donor vehicle. That extra length, of course, means there's more room for back-seat passengers who enter through the rear suicide doors.
This taxi transformation required a brief four to six weeks to complete, adding just 55 pounds in the process. Throughout the Rometsch Taxi's two-year production run, it's estimated that merely dozens were built. Six units remain in 2019, two of which are located in the US.
1954 Volkswagen Rometsch Beeskow Coupe
Prior to 2017, it was believed that just five Rometsch Beeskow Coupes were left in existence. Two years ago, that total was increased to six, when this sophisticated machine was found dismantled on pallets in a Swedish garage, having sat for more than 30 years after an early-1980s disassembly.
Once this Beeskow Coupe was discovered, it was put back together, but only the engine's Judson's supercharger was restored. The rest of the car was left alone, aside from the headliner and carpet that had to be replaced owing to the ravages of time.
In other words, with the exception of one restored and two replaced parts, you're looking at a survivor that sits pretty much the same as it did when the second owner permanently parked it in 1972 after driving it for only four years. Could've fooled me.
1953 Volkswagen Dannenhauer & Stauss Cabriolet
In contrast to the Rometsch Beeskow Coupe above, this Porsche 356 lookalike is the product of a lengthy restoration that began in 1990 and did not end until 2006. It was a worthy undertaking, however, as this car is one of 19 Dannenhauer & Stauss Cabriolets to survive from 65 produced.
You'd be forgiven for thinking it's a Porsche. This coachbuilt special uses many Porsche-derived parts; namely the headlamps, taillights, a 50-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine and brakes to match the extra power. Aside from those mods, plus suicide doors and a custom steel body, the rest of the car is Beetle-derived.
1958 Volkswagen Rometsch Lawrence Convertible
"It's like going back in time. I get in it, you hear this old engine behind you, and yeah, it's like you just lost 40 years," says Ned Gallaher, owner of this 1958 Rometsch Lawrence Convertible. "I love taking it to a thing like this, and everybody walks up and doesn't know what it is. That's the best thing, and again, [hard] to believe that's on a Beetle chassis."
But, indeed, it is. It may look American, but it's all German underneath, although it did take 1,200 hours just to craft the all-aluminum bodywork. Penned by Bert Lawrence, a furniture designer, this attractive shape could stand proud with any Ford Thunderbird of the time. Only 13 of these were made, and only five exist to this day, this car being the earliest surviving example.
Just three years after this car was made, the building of the Berlin Wall would cause Rometsch to cease car production, because 70 percent of Rometsch employees lived in East Germany, while the workshop was located in West Berlin.
1956 Volkswagen Beetle by Dick Troutman
If you were to line up all these coachbuilt Beetles for a drag race, the undisputed winner would be this '56 Dick Troutman fire-breather. Under the rear hatch sits a 1.7-liter flat four from an Elva Porsche race car. Even by today's standards, the engine's 183 horsepower is impressive.
That prodigious power is sent through a Porsche 911 transmission to move a machine that weighs only 1,782 pounds thanks to a liberal use of aluminum body panels. If you're wondering the weight-to-power ratio, it's 9.7 pounds per horsepower, which is superior to cars like the new Toyota Supra (10.1) and the Nissan 370Z Nismo (9.9). I wonder how many of today's boy racers would cry when losing to this classic Beetle.