Rometsch Beeskow is an Amelia Island Concours Winner, But What Is It?

After sneaking into the Amelia Island Concours in the frunk of the wedding Beetle, we finally got to see the Custom Coachwork category that the organizers set up for the Type 1. We were surprised to find out, though, that three of the four awards handed out in the class were handed to Rometsches.

Since this is a site that caters more to water-cooled VW fans, I’m sure the question on many minds is: what the hell is a Rometsch?

Once advertised as the most beautiful and internationally acclaimed sports convertible in the world, Rometsch was, for a time, at the cutting edge of automotive fashion before being squashed by VW and the Cold War.

The story starts in the ‘20s when Friedrich Rometsch left Erdmann & Rossi (which built bodies for Mercedes and Rolls-Royces, among others) and started his own business in Berlin.

The company started out making taxis based on Opels before making mobile kitchens in the war. After peace broke out, the company went back to building what it knew best: taxis.

This is where Volkswagen enters the picture. Rometsch took a Type 1 chassis, lengthened it by about 11 inches, and added a pair of doors. The first of these four-door Beetles were made in 1950.

Surprisingly, the new doors only added about 55 lbs to the car and reports indicated that the modifications didn’t really affect performance much.

But Opel and Mercedes were getting into the taxi game with bigger cars and bigger engines. That pretty quickly made the four-door Beetle obsolete.

But it wasn’t doom and gloom for the company because the four-door Beetle’s designer, Johannes Beeskow, had already penned something more svelte and profitable that would come to bear his name: The Rometsch Beeskow.

The car was an immediate hit with Germany’s high society, which says something about post-war Europe.

Legend has it that German actor Viktor de Kowa was so impressed with the car that at its debut he asked if he could buy the first one. Rometsch said yes and when asked how much he wanted for it, realized he didn’t know. He looked over at the next auto show stand and saw a Porsche selling for 10,000 Deutsche Marks. So he asked for 9,800.

Even though that was about twice the price of the Beetle chassis and all the extra parts required to make the car, de Kowa was happy to pay it. As were other non-German movie stars like Gregory Peck.

That may come as a shock, since the Beeskow only came with a stock engine, unlike the Porsche which quickly moved on to 1,300 and 1,600 cc engines. That may help point to why Porsche survived and Rometsch didn’t but what was more urgent was VW’s decision to stop playing ball.

When VW saw the success that coachbuilders were having making “sports cars” out of its Beetle, the company decided they wanted a piece of the action and commissioned the Karmann Ghia.

Coincidentally, by this time, Johannes Beeskow had moved to Karmann and was among the team leaders designing the Type 14 that VW would debut in 1955.

The Karmann Ghia cost about 1,500 Deutsche Marks less than the Beeskow, which was a manageable problem for Rometsch. Much more problematic, though, was VW decided that it was competing against itself and decided to cut off Rometsch’s chassis supply.

For a while, Rometsch could get by just buying full Beetles from dealers, but this displeased VW, which put the kibosh on that. So Rometsch sent employees to VW dealerships to buy them privately or just bought second-hand cars.

The company eventually built a total of between 200 and 250 Beeskow’s before moving on to its next model.

It turns out that Rometsch was still pretty happy with the Beetle because its next car was again based on the Type 1 chassis: the 1957 Rometsch Lawrence.

Deremer Studios LLC, used with permission

Without Beeskow to design the car, Friedrich Rometsch turned to his friend and furniture designer Bert Lawrence. Which may explain why its interior was so sumptuous. This was among the first cars to have a cushioned dash and the exterior featured a more American-style design, as was the fashion at the time.

Again, the car focused on luxury over performance and a stock Beetle engine was left under the hood. That said, Romestsch did opt to make the body out of aluminum, so performance was improved.

It, too, won a Golden Rose award at the Geneva Motor Show, but with the embargo on chassis sales forcing Rometsch to sell Lawrences at a loss, things didn’t look good for the company.

The biggest blow came in 1961, though, when the Berlin Wall went up. The wall separated Rometsch from half of its employees and the company stopped producing sports cars later that year.

Although it did go on building ambulances and bespoke Range Rovers until 2000, the company’s history with VW was effectively over.

While it’s tempting to compare Rometsch to Porsche–both having made aluminum-bodied sports cars out of the Beetle–Porsche had a few advantages. The family connection was likely helpful and Porsche was also able to do something that Rometsch and other coachbuilders didn’t really do: engineer.

The Porsche 356 was more than just a lightweight body. The engine and suspension had all been changed to make a better car that the Karmann Ghia couldn’t kill. Whereas the Rometsches were defined by the Beetle, the Beetle was a means to an end for Porsche.

“By the end of the war I had a Volkswagen Cabriolet with a supercharged engine and that was the basic idea,” Ferdinand Porsche told PCA magazine in 1972. “I saw that if you had enough power in a small car it is nicer to drive than if you have a big car which is also overpowered. And it is more fun. On this basic idea we started the first Porsche prototype.”

But Rometsch’s influence remains, even if the company doesn’t.

The Beeskow claims to be the first car ever to have its full manufacturer and model name fitted to its back; the Lawrence was a pioneer in interior safety with its padded dash; the bodyline over the Beeskow’s front wheel is said to have influenced the Mercedes 300 SL’s; and perhaps most relevantly, the TT’s designer openly admits that the car’s design harks back to the Beeskow.

Which may explain why even though Rometsch was hardly the only coachbuilder working with Beetles, its cars dominated Amelia Island’s Concours d’Elegance’s Custom Coachwork Volkswagen class.