The History of the 1978 VW Super Beetle Convertible

by Rob Wagner

Volkswagen produced the 1978 Super Beetle convertible just two years before VW ended Beetle production in 1980 as a U.S. import. The Beetle ceased production in 2003 in Mexico. The 1978 model changed little since its inception in postwar Germany. Although Volkswagen sold more than 21 million Beetles worldwide, the public's appetite for a more powerful, comfortable car prompted Volkswagen to begin phasing out the Beetle in 1974 replacing it with the water-cooled Golf.

Origins

The Volkswagen Beetle rose from the ashes of a bombed out Wolfsburg, Germany, factory just a few months after World War II ended in 1945 in Europe. The project, spearheaded by the British Army, aimed to strengthen Germany's automotive industry and the German economy. The British used the prewar Beetle build plans conceived by Adolf Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche, the father of the Porsche sports car, to build the 1945 models. In 1949, the Volkswagen began importing the Beetle to the United States. Sales skyrocketed in the 1950s. In 1957, VW sold 380,561 units. The bare-bones Beetle featured an air-cooled 36-horsepower horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. VW saw no reason to mess with success and kept the body style basic engine virtually identical right to the end of its production.

Karmann

The convertible had been part of the VW lineup since 1937, and during the 1950s steadily gained in sales. Volkswagen used the services of Osnabruck, Germany-based Karmann Coachbuilders to build the convertible starting in 1949. Karmann was best known for building the Italian-designed VW Karmann Ghia, a sporty coupe that shared Beetle mechanicals. Karmann also built Porsche bodies, the AMC Javelin, and later the Chrysler Crossfire and Pontiac G6. VW farmed out production of the convertible because the convertible's body required additional frame and body strengthening to reduce body flux, which occurs without the structural support of having a hardtop.

Super Beetle

Although by the late 1960s, Volkswagen was selling more than 1 million Beetles per year and would reach 1.5 million in 1971, engineers recognized that the air-cooled VW was falling behind it competitors. In addition, Japanese automakers were making inroads in carving out a niche in the compact car market with more economical cars. In 1971, VW launched the Super Beetle, which featured a new front MacPherson strut suspension system and added trunk space by stretching the nose and repositioning the spare tire. The new suspension system required a new chassis, which also resulted in larger, rounder fenders. The new design gave the Beetle a longer wheelbase but a shorter turning radius. The 1973 models came with a curved windshield for better visibility.

1978 Specs

The 1978 Super Beetle convertible featured a 1300 cc four-cylinder air-cooled engine and a four-speed manual transmission. The engine generated 43 horsepower, just six more horsepower than the 1960 models. The 1978 model's torque rating was 63 foot-pounds. The U.S. imports had a 50-horsepower 1600 cc engine. The Beetle's wheelbase was 94.9 inches long with the body measuring 160.2 inches. Its curbside weight was 1,807 lbs.

About the Author

Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.