A three-hour drive west from VW’s HQ at Wolfsburg takes you to Osnabrück – the ‘City of Peace’, a name it adopted in recognition of the fact that the town played host to the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in the late 17th century. More recently, though, it’s become known for its industry – and, in particular, the fact that the Osnabrück is the birthplace of coachbuilders, Karmann.
Karmann get it…
Until Volkswagen took over in 2010, Karmann was Germany’s largest independent car maker. The company was founded by Wilhelm Karmann way back in 1901 and specialised in niche convertibles mainly, such as the Beetle Cabriolet which was made at the factory from 1949 to 1980 and svelt Karmann Ghia, made from the mid-1950s until 1974. The wagon wheel logo that originally appeared on Karmann badges represents the Osnabrück coat of arms.
Not only Volkswagens
However, what makes Karmann’s factory story all the more interesting is the lesser known models that were made under the same roof. And we’re not just talking about the VWs. Did you know, for instance, that before BMW took construction in-house, the 635i body was made at Osnabrück, sharing the production line we presume with the Golf Cabriolet. That’s not forgetting the manufacture of various historic Porsches, including the 356, 914, 968 and more recently its Boxster model.
Wind of change
Given Karmann’s historic association with VW, it’s no surprise to learn that it also that had a big part to play in the build of bodies for its newer generation of water-cooled cars such as the Mk1 and Mk2 Scirocco and the Corrado – all of which have since become classics in their own right. To emphasise the point, there’s 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 sporty Brazilian SP2. As an interesting aside, Karmann also made Complete Knock Down (CKD) kits which were then exported worldwide – a notable example being the AMC Javelin 79-K, a car that was meant to rival the Ford Mustang in the late sixties.
Home from home
Karmann also made camper van conversions from 1974, based on the Bay Window model initially. When the Type 25 arrived, a permanent bedroom area was added above the cab and it became known as the Gipsy. It’s reported that 741 were made between 1980-’92. They also went on to make camper bodies for the LT and T4. However, these were made at Karmann’s other factory on the Rheine, not at Osnabrück.
Despite all this, as they entered the new millennium, financially Karmann wasn’t in a good place and filed for bankruptcy in April 2009. Volkswagen became the new custodians, after which it became 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. From 1949 to date, 2,517,964 Volkswagen brand vehicles were produced in Osnabrück. It still specialises in convertibles and roadsters, body development and the manufacture of specialist products.
As for car production, the only VW Group models made at Osnabrück now are the Golf Cabriolet, the XL1 and the Porsche Cayman.
The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage.