Manufactured by German coachbuilder Karmann (these days itself a part of the Volkswagen group), the Beetle Cabriolet (it was always ‘cabriolet’ rather than convertible) was about as far from being a simple roof chop as it’s possible to be. Extensive reinforcing in the sills, under the dash and under the rear seat contributed to a car which – thanks to its rigid platform ‘chassis’ – always feels very solid. The roof itself is a multi-layered affair and when it’s raised makes the car as weathertight as its hard-topped siblings. Certainly it’s a world away from the simple fabric roofs of MGs and Triumphs from the same period.
This example is the 1302LS model, which air-cooled VW folk will recognise immediately as being the familiar flat-screen Beetle shape and swing-axle rear end, paired with the MacPherson strut front suspension in place of the torsion bars of the original Beetle. This gives the 1302 models their slightly more bulbous front end, but does allow vastly improved space in the front ‘boot’. The ‘LS’ tag signifies the 1600 version of the familiar flat-four, which is usefully more powerful than the 1300 or 1500 and noticeably more flexible.
Sharp-eyed Torque Monkeys will already have spotted the steering wheel on the left but no, this isn’t yet another US import but an originally German-supplied car, having come here from the Fatherland in 1985. The original German registration document is with the car, as well as the British V5C.
Recent work includes a steering box replacement, plus work on the brakes and new wheels. We had a good poke around the usual trouble spots and that low mileage does seem to be reflected in an unusually solid Beetle.
ON THE ROAD
I grew up with Beetles and stepping into this one I instantly felt at home. VW saw fit to equip Beetles of this era with an automatic choke, which most enthusiasts these days convert to manual operation, but the 1302LS burst merrily into life from cold and sounded in good form – no noisy tappets or blowing heat exchangers.
Setting off from Pioneer’s premises, the gearchange felt nice and tight – that long linkage has some crucial bushes that can wear – and that new steering box gave the car the lovely steering feel a nice Beetle always has, in the mould of a Porsche 911.
I’d forgotten how simple the roof is to lower on the Beetle – just two clips at the header rail and the sturdy frame concertinas down to sit on the rear deck in that familiar way. It’s usually a one-handed operation and this one went up and down smoothly. With the top down on a sunny day, the Beetle cabriolet is more civilised than many open-topped sports cars – that folded roof on the rear keeping the buffeting away to a large extent. There’s also ample space for four adults.
Restoring a rotten Beetle Cabriolet can quickly become a really expensive business and it’s generally worth going for a solid one in the first place. The left-hand drive really isn’t a problem and a European import like this is so much better to drive than the US imports that were saddled with emissions gear and other issues. If you want a four-seater convertible then this one could be for you.
Top speed: 81mph
0-62 mph: 23 secs
Fuel consumption: 31mpg
Gearbox: 4-sp man