(first posted 5/16/2017) Thanks to CC reader Martin M., who shot this rare 1956 Rometsch Beeskow in Novato, CA., We can finally give this Porsche 356/Karmann Ghia alternative its day in the CC sunshine.
Rometsch was a German coach builder, and like so many after the war, found its future on the VW Beetle platform. There was simply no alternative, as high-end cars were completely out of the picture. But it wasn’t Rometsch that actually conceived and designed this very attractive little cabriolet and coupe; that would be its model namesake, Johannes Beeskow.
Beeskow (not in this picture) had been a designer for another coach building firm before the war. he saw that the VW was the only possibility of a basis for a post-war car, and in 1949, approached Rometsch with the idea of a coupe and cabriolet he designed.
Rometsch bit, and the Sportcabriolet was unveiled at the 1950 Berlin Auto Show.
Rometsch wasn’t the only one thinking along the same lines, and the Austrian Denzel (above) beat it to the market by one year. And there were a number of others: Karmann, Dannenhauer und Stauss, Drews, Denzel, Beutler, Wendler, Hebmuller and Porsche. At this time, Porsche was just a small engineering firm, and their prototype 356 was originally a design for VW, as part of their consulting contract. The VW was seen as the way to go, and everyone was hopping aboard.
Of all of them, the Romtesch was considered the best design, and it would influence a number of German cars to come. Its “wheelbrows” were copied by Mercedes for its 300SL and 190SL. And the coupe’s influence on the original Audi TT is unmistakable, as well as admitted, by its designer Freeman Thomas.
There’s a complete story on Rometsch here, but here’s one excerpt that explains the increasing difficulties they encountered from VW, which saw them (and the others) as a threat to its own Karmann-Ghia, once they had decided to enter the market for sporty variants themselves:
At first Rometsch was able to buy the chassis and running gear directly from the VW dealer network but after a time VW cut off supply. Heintz Nordhoff, the CEO of VW, was closely following the production of various coachbuilders and realized that there was sufficient enthusiasm for a small sportier VW and decided VW should build it’s own model. From then on he prohibited the direct sale of chassis to Rometsch.
Rometsch, unable to get new chassis anymore, was forced to buy complete cars from dealers. At first they would just send a company employee to a friendly Berlin VW dealer and buy a brand new Beetle. But after a while Nordhoff even prohibited the dealers from selling cars to Rometsch. So Rometsch was forced to give cash to his employees so they could buy the cars in their names and bring them back to the Rometsch facility. Another tactic was to have the customer supply a new or used car to Rometsch as a base car.
Somce of the cars did make their way to the US too, and it would be interesting to know if this example was an original import, or a later one.
Because many of the later Beeskows were built on VW platforms bought on the open market or by its customers, there’s no definitive answer as to how many were made, but the best guess is some 175-200. So this is a very rare car today.
And there’s no sign that this has an aircooled engine under that long, graceful tail. It must have drawn its air for the blower from underneath.
The front end is not exactly brilliant; I rather prefer both the Porsche 356 and Karmann Ghia for that.
In 1957, the Beeskow was replaced by the lawrence, this time designed by Burt Lawrence (Beeskow had gone to Karmann, where he worked on the K-G cabrio, among other projects). The Lawrence had a decidedly American-inspired look, which was common in the late 50s in Germany, but as a result it found fewer buyers in America. It took some 1200 man-hours to build the bodies of these cars, and that made them increasingly expensive as labor costs increased. Too much so, for a coupe or cabrio with 36 hp. Anyway, the Berlin Wall, built in 1961, cut off a lot of its employees, and things wound down shortly thereafter.
But as a pioneer of a new breed of sporty VW-based cars, as well as its influential styling, the Rometsch has secured a place for itself in automotive history.