A three-hour drive west from VW’s HQ at Wolfsburg takes you to Osnabrück, a hive of industry and home to the Karmann Factory; potentially the birthplace of your classic Volkswagen and/ or Porsche.
More about Osnabrück
Osnabrück has a population just below 170,000 and is the one fo the largest cities in Lower Saxony in North West Germany. In recognition of playing host to the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in the late 17th century it was dubbed the ‘City of Peace’. Those with a keen eye will recognise the wagon wheel logo that originally appeared on Karmann badges as the logo found on their flag and coat of arms.
Karmann get it…
The company was founded by Wilhelm Karmann way back in 1901 and specialised in niche convertibles. The Beetle Cabriolet was produced at the factory from 1949 to 1980. As the name suggests, the styling of Carrozzeria Ghia was brought to life under this roof in the form of the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, made from the mid-1950s up until 1974. Karmann was Germany’s largest independent carmaker, until Volkswagen took over in 2010.
More than just Volkswagens
However, what makes Karmann’s factory story all the more interesting is the lesser-known models that were created here. It wasn’t just VW and Porsche that they worked on. Did you know, for instance, that before BMW took construction in-house, the 635i body was made at Osnabrück, sharing the production line at the time we presume with the MK1 Golf Cabriolet.
Porsche production at Karmann, Osnabrück
There were plenty of Porsche models to pass through these hallowed halls on their way to securing legendary status for the Stuttgart marque. The Porsche 356 kicked off the partnership before the Porsche 914 in the late sixties, the 968 in the early nineties and the 981 Porsche Boxster and Cayman albeit with the plant under VW ownership.
Wind of change
Given Karmann’s historic association with Volkswagen, it’s no surprise they also that had a big part to play in the build of bodies for its newer generation of water-cooled cars including the sporty Mk2 Scirocco and VW Corrado both of which have become classics in their own right. Celebrating this is a factory museum displaying the key models that were made in Osnabrück – as well as at Karmann’s plants elsewhere, including an example of the stylish Brazilian SP2 Sportscar.
Home from home
Karmann also turned their hands to campervan conversions from 1974. Initially, just a small number based on the Bay Window model but later the Type 25, with the clever addition of a permanent bedroom area added above the cab. These models are typically red, cream and white and known as the Gipsy. It’s reported that 741 were made between 1980-’92. Karmann also manufactured coach built campervan bodies for the LT and T4 but these came from their other factory on the Rheine, not at Osnabrück.
Karmann sadly filed for bankruptcy in April 2009 but Volkswagen became the new custodians. The factory is now referred to as Volkswagen Osnabrück GmbH. Currently, the site includes a metal press shop, manufacturing facility, training school and a centre for technical development. Interestingly, following Karmann’s demise, its North American operations were bought out by none other than Webasto – the firm that once made sunroofs for VW.
To date, more than 2.5 million Volkswagen brand vehicles, including Porsche have been produced in Osnabrück. It still specialises in convertibles and roadsters, body development and the manufacture of specialist products.
Let us know if you drive an Osnabrück built car!
Ian / Andy