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VW and the Karmann Connection

No Volkswagen story would be complete without reference to the Osnabruck coachbuilders, Wilhelm Karmann GmbH. Over half a century older than VW itself, Karmann was founded in 1874 and taken over by Wilhelm Karmann on August 1, 1901. The company manufactured its first car bodies, for Diirkopp, Opel and Benz, the following year. The association with Volkswagen began in 1949 with production of the Cabriolet version of the Beetle, Type 15A. Eventually, Karmann made 330,000 of these cars and one of the very first now resides in the VW Auto Museum in Wolfsburg. Karmann continued to produce specialized low-volume cars based on Beetle running gear for many years, introducing the famous VW Karmann Ghia coupe in 1955. That same year, Beetle production passed the magic 1,000,000 figure, an achievement never before recorded in German car-manufacturing history.

The entry of Volkswagen into the Brazilian market with a factory’ producing the Beetle and variants of it prompted Karmann to expand its own facilities and, in 1959, Karmann Ghia do Brazil was set up to meet VW’s needs in that potentially huge market. The links between VW and Porsche helped Karmann gain business from the latter and they began to make some of the bodies for the 356B in 1961, beginning with the short-lived hardtop coupe version and then continuing with the standard coupe shape until the end of the 356 series. The 901 prototype was presented by Porsche at the Frankfurt Show in 1963, and when it went into production as the 911 and 912, Karmann were again able to provide Porsche with much-needed additional capacity, assembling and trimming bodies in parallel with Porsche’s own Stuttgart plant. For the mid-engined 914, the joint VW-Porsche project launched in 1969, the bodyshells were all made by Karmann. In 1974, Karmann employees assembled the first of the new-generation VWs, the Scirocco.

A striking design study shown by Giugiaro at the Frankfurt Show in 1973 was a clean-cut coupe called Asso di Picche (Ace of Spades), interesting because it was based on the Audi 80 which shared its floorpan with the first Passat and provided the engine from which the GTI power unit was derived. Had this car been productionized, it would have been ahead of its time – and right in the Scirocco class. The Ace of Spades was built for Giugiaro by Karmann and now rests in the latter’s museum.

Giugiaro and Karmann co-operated again, on officially VW-sanctioned Scirocco Mk2 prototypes in 1977. A wooden study was made first, with no interior, followed by a realistic metal mock-up. Both, had the same overall shape, differing only in details like bumpers and lights. The wheelarch shapes, bumpers, and the crease in the flanks of the car echoed the Maserati Quattroporte prototype that Giugiaro showed at the Turin Motor Show the year before, under-lining how designers tend to use certain aesthetic motifs on more than one prototype before moving on. The wraparound bumpers and front indicator lights from the Scirocco II Study were adopted by VW on the production Mk1 for the 1978 model year showing how a completely different design proposal may influence a current model.

Karmann VW Scirocco
Study for a proposed Scirocco Mk1 replacement built by Karmann in 1977 to a Giugiaro design, with echoes of some of that studio's other designs of the period. This mock-up is now on display in the Karmann Museum.
A second shot at updating the Scirocco
A second shot at updating the Scirocco, also by Giugiaro, with a straight-through waistline instead of the original's rising rear side-window line. Although neither of these proposals was taken up in its entirety, VW clearly took note.
Facelifted VW Scirocco 1978
Facelifted Scirocco for 1978: bumpers and front wings were revised, with front indicators wrapped around in the manner of the Giugiaro/Karmann proposal.

The most significant Volkswagen on the company’s stand at the 1979 Geneva Motor Show was the Golf Convertible. Just as the GTI started a new trend towards hot hatchback cars, the Golf Convertible was the first in a line of drop-top versions of modern front-wheel-drive cars. It was an entirely new species; cars like the Fiat 124 Sport Spyder or the Alfa Romeo Spider no doubt had the same mechanicals as their saloon and coupe brethren and, in the case of the Fiat, the same floorpan and suspension as well, but they were sporting two-seaters with little or no rear-seat accommodation. The Golf featured a modified hatchback bodyshell and thus retained the full four-seat capability of the original car. The prototype was produced by Karmann in 1976. The company was so well entrenched in producing Cabriolet Beetles and Karmann Ghias that it was a natural progression for them to build the first Golf Cabriolet for presentation to VW’s Board, and undertake the subsequent production.

A variation on the same theme rolled out of the Osnabruck prototype shop a year after the Golf Cabriolet production line started rolling. The Jetta Cabriolet in some ways actually looked better proportioned than the Golf which had a high, stubby tail in production form. The Jetta never made it to production; the yellow prototype now sits in the Karmann Museum just sixty feet from the Golf Cabriolet study.

Karmann are coachbuilders rather than manufacturers. They may build prototypes of complete cars for manufacturers and indeed undertake the difficult transition from prototype to production for that manufacturer, but they still rely on their client for all mechanical assemblies. Thus the engine, gearbox, suspension and some interior components come from Volkswagen to be built into the Golf Cabriolets, Sciroccos and Corrados that roll out of the Karmann factories. Small-volume production is their speciality, and to give some idea of why Volkswagen sub-contracts the building of these models to Karmann, a comparison of Golf and Scirocco production figures is interesting. In 1988, VW in Wolfsburg announced that they had produced the 10 millionth Golf, 13 years after the launch of the first car. Between “1974 and 1981, Karmann produced 504,100 Scirocco Mk1s, and up to September 1989, they had made 272,000 Mk2 cars. From 1979 to September 1989, 267,000 Golf Convertibles were built. The first year of Corrado production totalled approximately 17,000 cars.

Prototype VW Golf Cabrio now in the Karmann Museum
Prototype VW Golf Cabrio now in the Karmann Museum. Note how slim its folded hood is compared with the elaborate doublelayer production version. Karmann also made this Jetta Cabriolet, below: an attractive car, it was unfortunately too close to the Golf to warrant a limited production run.

VW Golf Cabrio

VW Scirocco & VW Golf Cabriolet
Two of Karmann's envoys on the 1987 motor show circuit were this red Scirocco and subtly restyled white Golf Cabriolet.

Coachbuilders like Karmann, however, do not always wait around to take their cue from major manufacturers like VW, Ford or BMW. With major resources at their disposal, it is today possible for them to build one-off prototypes or even just present their ow n interpretations of how they see a particular model evolving. The latter case is more the norm and at major international motor shows, Karmann usually takes a stand not far from Volkswagen. Over the years, they have exhibited show cars with different spoilers, special paintwork, non-standard alloy wheels and invariably custom interiors in leather and fabric. A prime example is the red Scirocco 2 with colour-coded bumpers, Ronal alloy wheels and special half-leather interior that did the 1987 show circuit. The 1988 theme was a two-tone Scirocco and Golf Cabriolet pair, painted silver with metallic anthracite grey applied from bumper level down, extending to the wheelarches. 6J x 14in eight-spoke flat-faced alloy wheels from RII were used. The Scirocco 16V show car also had a colour-coded rear spoiler and wing mirrors, and had its rubber side protection strip removed. A different front grille with just three large horizontal slats was used. Inside, black leather with grey fabric inserts gave the cars a classy but still sporty feel.

The Frankfurt Show in 1989 was the first showing of a Karmann interpretation of the new Corrado, and the silver car that took pride of place on the revolving platform was tastefully and luxuriously appointed. The exterior was standard save for a set of attractive 7J x 15in Centra five-spoke alloy wheels which helped to fill out the arches and give the car a better stance. But the interior was upholstered in light tan and brown hide which complemented each other beautifully both in colour co-ordination and the way the two leathers were used to highlight facets of the car’s interior sculpting. This is the sort of work that a coachbuilder like Karmann excels at and it would be a shame if VW missed the opportunity to commission limited runs of such cars.

VW Corrado prepared by Karmann
Corrado prepared by Karmann and shown at the 1989 Frankfurt Show. 7 J x 15in Centra alloy wheels and 195/50VR15 tyres fill out the arches.
VW Corrado assembly at Karmann's Osnabruck plant
The final stages of assembly at Karmann's Osnabruck plant. These Corrados will now be checked over, road tested and signed off for shipment to dealers all over the world.

©Ian Kuah. This article was published with explicit permission from author Ian Kuah

Dream maker: Treser Walter

Treser is a leading supplier of aftermarket equipment for the Golf and Scirocco family. But he also deserves a special place of his own in this anthology of the GTI because, apart from Formula 3 racing cars, the Treser Sportscar is the only purpose-built special vehicle so far to use the Golf GTi powerplant. It was perhaps an obvious choice for someone who had worked at VW Audi before going independent. Along with Jorg Benzinger, Walter Treser shared joint parent-hood of the Audi quattro concept. It was these two men who realised the potential of marrying the 4WD parts of the military VW litis to an Audi 80 saloon floorpan, and managed to convince the product strategy committee to approve the car for further development.

It had seemed that Walter Treser, the son of a hotelier, was destined to enter the world of gastronomy. As a boy, however, it was technology and cars in particular that became his fixation. He taught himself to drive at eight, built himself a motorcycle at 14 and by 18 had proved he could drive his car on two wheels. In 1962, aged 22, Treser passed his exams in automotive and aeronautical engineering and went to work for Daimler-Benz and then Veith Pirelli where he was put in charge of the experimental tyre department, developing low profile tyres like the P7. Treser moved to Audi in 1977 where he worked closely with Ferdinand Piech, head of the experimental department. It was not long before his obvious talent earned him the post of Head of the Preliminary Experimental Department and he became the youngest member of the Committee for Technological Strategy. With the development of the quattro under his belt, Treser under-took the organisation of Audi’s rally sport involvement. From March 1980 to August 1981, he was head of the Audi Competition Department. On January 1, 1982, Treser founded his own company, Walter Treser Automobiltechnik und Design in Ingolstadt to develop and manufacture high-quality aftermarket components for Audi cars as well as exclusive specialized models based on Audis. On August26,1985, he founded Walter Treser Automobilbau GmbH in Berlin to develop the sports car that had been his childhood dream.

An extremely high standard of design and manufacture enabled Treser to gain independent car manufacturer’s status from the West German Federal Department of Transport soon after he started his business. Professionalism is something that he pursues relentlessly in his projects. Originality was another of his assets. Treser can never be accused of taking styling cues from other designers. He introduced blacked-out tail-lights on his quattros first. The factory’ subsequently adopted the style. His radical sculptured body-styling for Audi and VW cars has not been mimicked by anyone else.

There has been some debate as to whether the style of the Sportscar is the culmination of the design details that Treser had been working with in various Audi and VW styling kits up to that point or if indeed he was trying ideas for the Sportscar all along. The truth is probably a bit of both, but there is a clear lineage of development in his products, symbolized by a coloured drawing done for him by an employee and framed on his office wall. It shows an open door with the stylised ‘ 1’ that is the Treser logo, in the distance. That ‘1’ used to be an Audi corporate logo and Treser uses it now with their authority, which shows the high regard they have for him.

Three prototypes and a few partly finished cars and several patents are lying around in the hands of the receiver, for sadly the Sportscar is no more, killed off by politics and short-sighted bankers who jointly and severally failed to see the up-and-coming international boom in the market for reasonably priced small sportscars. Those who refused to finance Treser in 1987 must now be kicking themselves in the wake of the success of cars like the Mazda MX5 Miata and Lotus Elan, the latter very similar in concept to Treser’s ill-fated Sportscar.

In 1985, Treser’s first company was doing a brisk trade. He had a staff of 65 and an annual turnover of £10 million. The time seemed right to embark on the Sportscar project. A well sorted sty ling and tuning programme, originally based around Audi cars, had been expanded to include the ubiquitous Golf GTI , beginning with alloy wheels, black tail-lights, gearknob and steering wheel. A new front grille and then a dramatic full body kit were added, followed by engine conversions. The Sportscar required a compact and powerful engine that could be augmented by tuning parts already in the Treser programme. The logical choice was the VW GTI 16-valve unit, and the mid-engined two-seater was designed around this powerplant.

Designing, developing and manufacturing a whole new car is a very time-consuming and expensive business that must be measured in millions of Pounds, Dollars or indeed Deutsch-marks. But Treser was initially lucky. I le was given the first push away from the shore by the City of Berlin which was looking for dynamic young entrepreneurs. They delivered a factor) site, a £500,000 research grant and various tax benefits to get the company going. But a larger Malaysian investor had pulled out of the project even before this, and raising the 15 million DM capital ultimately required was a hard uphill slog.

In the meantime, the Sportscar slowly took shape. The first concept drawings existed as far back as autumn 1983. By May 1984 a wooden model had been made and wind-tunnel testing was underway. The first full-size model appeared in October 1985 and, in March the following year, the Treser stand at the Geneva Show had a full-scale half of the model mounted in a mirror wall to reflect the image of a complete car. A year later, the chassis prototypes were running, and the complete prototype was unveiled at the 1987 Frankfurt Show.

The little Sportscar was the centre of attraction on Treser’s stand and the press information given away revealed that there was far more to the car than just a thoughtfully sculptured body based on VW Golf GTI 16Y mechanicals. In his capacity as a recognized vehicle manufacturer, Treser was not content simply to sell a small number of cars to European countries. One of the serious export markets that Treser had found for his Audi con-versions was the USA. The safety and emissions regulations there are complex and very trying for even large manufacturers, and require substantial financial investment for the testing and development of components that comply. Treser was thus fortunate in being able to use the VW engine which was already certified for the USA should he decide to sell the car in that market. While motive power was not a problem, the body structure and chassis had to be designed from the outset to comply with American DO T as well as European crash and safety regulations. Clumsy impact bumpers are a thing of the past thanks to new plastics technology used by manufacturers like Porsche, and to this end the Treser Sportscar was designed with a defined crash area filled with a foam material to absorb impact energy . The foam was embedded between the covering laminate shells of the deformable zone. Elastic front and rear bumpers were integrated and were designed to absorb parking bumps without damage.

Aerodynamically, a cigar-shaped vehicle is the theoretical ideal. In the real world this is impractical and so a kamm tail is the next best thing. Although the two-seater Treser Sportscar is not a fastback in the true sense even when the top is raised, its profile resembles a wedged semicircle and gives smooth airflow over its contours, which have been sculptured in places as necessary to admit or extract air. The bodywork construction is novel. The body itself is glassfibre and Treser hold the patent for AVUS, a lightweight but very rigid aluminium composite structure which is used for the floor of the car. The material is corrosion resistant and easy to adapt to aero-dynamic requirements. One of the aluminium chassis profiles is used as a service conduit and all the ducts and pipes required for cooling, brakes, clutch, gear selection and heat run through this. The front and rear suspensions are located on their own subframes. MacPherson struts are used at both ends with progressive minibloc springs, lower wishbones and anti-roll bars. Ventilated disc brakes are used at each corner.

Convertible cars are practical only when the sun is shining. The rest of the time the disadvantages – waterproofing, noise and security – are prominent. A detachable hardtop is a good solution but you cannot take it with you wherever you go. The Treser Sportscar neatly sidesteps this problem with the design that Treser pioneered in 1983 on his quattro Roadster. An ingenious hinged hardtop with counterbalance weights disappears backwards below the rear deck when it is not needed and this solves the problem without impinging on cabin or boot space.

When the first prototype was completed on March 29, 1987, optimism in the company was high and, despite mounting financial problems, Treser announced plans for a one-make race series using a slightly modified version of the car. The plan was that 30 cars, or about a week’s production, would be committed to the series. The main championship sponsor was Hydro Aluminium, supplier of the alloy and plastic sandwich material used for the floor of the car, with co-sponsors Bilstein, Pirelli and Recaro. Just over a year later the Treser TR1 was able to give an impressive demonstration of its dynamic abilities in the first event of the planned series, held at the Avus track in Berlin. The race attracted 19 Treser owners from four countries, including Walter Treser himself. He started last on the grid and by the end of the race had worked his way up through the field to sixth position. It was a great tribute to Treser that all the cars finished the race, proving an important point about the thorough development and production-worthiness of the design. But fate took an unkind turn and a few weeks later the company was in serious trouble, with a possible last-ditch rescue attempt being negotiated with Oettinger. This fell through and on August 16 the receivers were called in. If there is a lesson to be learnt from Walter Treser’s misfortune, it is that trying to design and build a car and raise finance at the same time is not humanly possible. Compared to what it would cost a major manufacturer to design, develop and tool up for a sportscar, the £5 million that Treser needed was peanuts; Mazda and Lotus have spent much more than that on the Miata and Elan. Once again, short-sighted financial institutions have totally misjudged the fast-moving motor industry and missed being able to back a company that would have been at the leading edge of the new wave of sportscar fever that has now gripped countries across the globe.

The originality of design and high-quality standards of manufacture that characterized the Sportscar are evident too in the products of the continuing Treser Audi and VW styling and tuning operation. Treser modifications for the GTI started off in 1984 simply as an extension of the bolt-on parts available for Audis. These first parts were the distinctive alloy wheels for the Golf and Jetta Mk2 cars made only in a metric size as Treser had an agreement with Michelin. This size is known as 165TR365 and is approximated 6.5J x 14.4in. The tyre size is 200/55R365 TRX 86H – which makes our Imperial system seem simple by comparison! Also available were a Treser steering wheel and gearknob.

The next product was once again an extension of the work Treser had done on Audi cars. His black tail-light design had been picked up by Audi for the upgraded quattro and Treser released a kit for the GTI which consisted of blacked tail-light covers and a black centre piece that attached to the tailgate. Visually, this helped to break up the bulk of the rear panel and proved very popular amongst GTI owners despite the high cost. The full body styling kit which followed in 1986 was very dramatic and completely changed the appearance of the Golf. It had to be laminated to the bodywork and was no weekend DIY job. Accompanying it was an optional new tailgate with a wraparound glass design. The special glass was very expensive to manufacture, and this was reflected in the price. Wider wheels and tyres became available with this kit and were once again the Treser/Michelin design but with 180TD390 (7.1 J x 15.4in) rims and 220/45VR390 TRX tyres. Koni dampers and special springs were offered as a package to lower and stiffen the car.

By this time also, an engine modification package had been developed for the 16V and this involved re-boring and fitting new pistons to bring the capacity out to 1.87 litres. The cylinder head was polished, ported and gas flowed and a new camshaft fitted which improved torque and economy. The result of these changes was 163bhp at 6,600rpm, up from 139bhp at 6,100rpm, but more significant was an improvement in torque throughout the range, taking out the dips in the standard car’s curve, and peaking 121b/ft higher at 5,000rpm.

Latterly, a simplified styling kit has also been offered which has a slightly different front grille, and you can buy the various parts individually. With the release of the Treser Corrado styling kit at the Frankfurt Show in 1989, Treser showed a new three-spoke alloy wheel design. This answered the criticisms of owners who did not wish to be restricted to the Michelin system. The wheel is available in 7J x 15 in and 7J x 16 in sizes for 205/5OVR15 and 225/45VR16 rubber. Engine modifications that apply to the Corrado and Golf include a 240bhp turbocharged 16V engine or, for those with the G60, a useful power increase to 210bhp is achieved by modifications to the engine, supercharger and electronic fuel/ignition management.

©Ian Kuah. This article was published with explicit permission from author Ian Kuah

VW Tuning for Power and Style

Amongst European languages, English and German share many root words. The old adage that there may be something lost in the translation also holds true, though, and one of the common words that has evolved a slightly different meaning in the two vocabularies is ‘tuning’. On the British side of the Channel, ‘tuning’ means setting up correctly, as in the calibration of ignition and fuel settings to manufacturers’ specifications. It can also refer to engine modifications for power. In German parlance however, ‘tuning’ takes on a broader meaning which covers other areas of vehicle modification. Thus, we have ‘spoiler tuning’, ‘suspension tuning’ , and ‘motor tuning’. Needless to say, people everywhere have been tuning cars for years to improve engine and chassis performance, but the commercial road-car tuner outside of the motorsport field is largely a phenomenon of the last three decades. The oldest of the ‘VW tuners goes back further, though. Oettinger started off in 1946 with the Okrasa Beetle by fitting hydraulic brakes and then went on to extracting more performance from the flat-four engines.

Seven years later, Karl Meier, one of the first engineers with VW, designed the first spoiler for a road car. Enthusiasts quickly recognised the contribution this made to the stability- of the Beetle at speed and his company, Kamei, grew from there.

Both BBS and Zender started around the same time, in 1970, the former making superlative light alloy wheels and the latter, spoilers. BBS was founded by Heinrich Baumgartner and Klaus Brand. The company name comes from their surname initials and that of Schiltach, the town the company is based in. They started off with the intention of making accessories for racing cars but before long this developed into the aftermarket for road cars too. The company was floated on the German stock exchange in 1987. Hans-Albert Zender started off as a one-man show and today employs over 300 skilled people in four linked companies that cover activities from design, marketing, original equipment manufacture and restoration to new car retail.

Another contemporary firm, D&W, also started in 1970. Detlef Sokowicz and Werner Bauer, an insurance salesman and a car accessories sales-man respectively, were chatting in a pub in Dortmund about a business venture that would in time change the face of the aftermarket industry in Germany forever. They realized that the days of plastic roses and furry’ steering wheels were over and that quality and function were soon to be the industry watchwords. They withdrew their savings and opened a car accessories shop in Dortmund, carrying quality accessories from companies like BBS, Kamei and Zender. Their reputation soon spread far beyond the Ruhr and they were able to move to big new premises in nearby Bochum. The attraction for customers was a radical open-plan showroom where goods were imaginatively displayed. In the centre was a coffee bar with a selection of catalogues and motoring magazines for customers to browse through at their leisure while piped music provided a relaxed atmosphere. D&W has expanded dramatically with six of their own specialist stores in Germany and agents all over the world; nearly half a million of their specialist catalogues are sold every year and they have their own range of styling kits and accessories as well as continuing to sell the products of other manufacturers.

These big four German accessory manufacturers have been astute enough to spread their influence far and wide across the globe to America, Australia and Japan as well as most of the countries in between. But they would not have had the opportunity to do so were it not for the sudden craze for styling kits and wheels created by the phenomenal success of the Golf GTI . Before the Golf came along, only cars like the BMW 2002 and Opel Manta provided any sort of market for personalization. Mercedes-Benz made superb but rather staid cars which did not appeal to the younger buyers. The Golf on the other hand had the perfect image to scoop up buyers from all age groups and all walks of life.

Kamei, BBS and Zender all responded to the new \~W with front and rear spoilers and then complete body kits. Before long, many other smaller companies jumped on the bandwagon and were creating their own designs to offer customers even more variety. Most of these kits started off being made from glassfibre, but, as production numbers increased, the bigger firms started to use more exotic materials like polyurethane and PL -RRIM which are injection moulded and less easily damaged in daily use. But the tooling for such mouldings is very expensive, so the smaller companies still use hand-laid glassfibre today.

The early designs were very functional; they were meant to enhance the shape of the car by offering a more integrated look, enhance aerodynamics by incorporating a front spoiler with brake cooling ducts and enhance the stance and roadholding by offering the chance to cover wider wheels and tyres. As time went by, more radical changes were made by designers like Michael Neumann of Style Auto, who created a very sculptural styling kit for the Golf. The more brutal lines of the Zastrow kit appealed to others, while in Italy, Orciari sought to change the frontal appearance of the car dramatically. Engine cooling was not one of this kit’s strong points! Further down the line, W alter Treser was the first to undertake a serious styling change to the Golf 2 that looked integrated rather than stuck on, but the prohibitive cost of his kit precluded a flood of sales.

In the meantime, Vittorio Strosek had created the sensational wide-bodied Ferraris and Mercedes for Koenig, and this style, introduced at great expense to the top end of the market, began to filter its way down to the GTI enthusiasts. Thus, the late 1980s found a rash of wide-body kits on sale for the Golf and Scirocco. Notable ones come from Rieger Tuning who has the widest range of kits with small and intermediate body size alternatives on a similar theme. While the small BBS and Zender style kits can be painted and fitted by a skilful DIY enthusiast, the wide-bodied kits require the full facilities of a body shop and take as long as three weeks to fit properly. They need the cutting away of the original wheelarches, bonding, laminating and foam filling. The need then to virtually respray the whole car has given many people the excuse to make the colour change they always fancied.

©Ian Kuah. This article was published with explicit permission from author Ian Kuah