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“Recommended with poultry and salads”. Such was the text on the back of a bottle of rosé wine which I had the pleasure of recently. My friend who I was with at the time remarked that he had read somewhere that rosé wine was only bought by people who drive Citroën Berlingos and similar soulless people carriers.

70% of Danish men prefer a red wine while they try to avoid rosé, yet on the odd occasion they’ll have a chilled glass of white. So says the statistics for Danish male wine drinkers. Whether anyone has bothered coming up with statistics for wine habits in relation to ownership of particularly practical cars I’m not sure. But judging by my friends take on that subject, it would appear that any male who drives a Citroën Berlingo is also perfectly comfortable with his feminine side. Of course, a Berlingo is both too modern and too irrelevant for ViaRETRO, so instead I immediately started considering whether there was a suitable classic car to go with poultry and salads. The answer is obvious:

VW Golf Karmann

The wind-in-hair version of the already very popular Golf needed five years of development from when the first three-door Golf I was first introduced. But just like its tin-top sibling, the convertible quickly rose to be one of the most successful models within its class. Both the first and almost every subsequent open Golf was produced – and partially designed – by Karmann who were equally responsible for its predecessor, the VW Type 1 Convertible. The first open prototype of the Golf was ready as early as 1976, but they hadn’t found a suitable solution for the hood yet and the design of the rear wasn’t finalised yet either. An entirely happy solution for the folded hood was never achieved and the Germans accepted the same eye sore as with the predecessor: a fat sausage of a folded hood dominating the entire rear of the car whenever its occupants wanted to enjoy a few rays of sun. Hardly the prettiest way of storing the hood, but it was at least functional.

VW Golf Convertible prototype 1976.

However, as the open Golf was getting close to being production ready, there was a change of mood among the consumers – especially within the USA which was its most important market. The seventies represent the decade where many environmental and safety regulations debuted, and convertibles were suddenly viewed as being decidedly dangerous vehicles. The problem focused on the increased risk of injury if the car were to roll during an accident. VW hastily came up with a solution by adding a fixed roll bar to the Golf Karmann. It was meant to substitute the protection usually offered by a metal roof, and the Golf became the first open car to feature a factory fitted roll bar as standard equipment.

There’s no denying that the roll bar was practical, but from an aesthetically point of view it was also somewhat challenging. As such, the Golf Karmann fell victim to a rather sarcastic sense of humour from the motoring press. Often, VW would present their new convertible in bright red in much of their press material, which quickly lead to the nickname Strawberry Basket. This was perhaps not such a bad thing if they were primarily trying to attract female consumers, but it did none the less leave something to be desired for the more testosterone rich part of the population.

If you find the Golf Karmann just a tad too feminine, you can always dilute the levels of oestrogen with a brutally lowered suspension kit, huge bling alloys and booming subwoofers. Some find that it converts the little Golf Convertible to a Merlot red wine.

The Golf I Karmann came from the factory with a click on vinyl cover for the folded hood, and VW even went as far as prescribing the use of this cover every time the hood was dropped. This was found necessary to protect rear seat occupants from the sharper edges of the open joints in the hood structure. On the very earliest models, the folded hood would rest in a particularly high position and when driving on rough roads this could lead to the hood working itself out of its locked down position, after which the wind rushing over and around the windscreen would begin to erect the hood. This was eventually fixed on models after August 1981 by designing the hood so it would rest 10cm lower. There was no factory convertible based on the Golf II, but on the successor based on the Golf III, the hood folded even flatter still which improved rearward visibility considerably. A cover wasn’t strictly necessary any longer, but VW still included one mainly to protect the folded hood from getting too filthy.

Those very first Golf Convertibles are now 40 years old, so regardless how you feel about the Golf model range, they surely have to be considered as fully fledged classics. The process seems to be slow, but there’s a trend emerging where interest is increasing and with that, so are values. It happened first in its home country, but the US market where the Golf Karmann found huge popularity in period is now not far behind. But how far can the first generation VW Golf Karmann go as a prized and coveted classic car? Is it perhaps still a little too rosé-like for the classic car scene, which is after all still predominantly populated by male enthusiasts?


5 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    Heh… perhaps there is an element of rosé wine over the little Karmann Golf? Even so, I’m happy to confess to having owned an ’85 Golf 1.8GLi Karmann way back when I was a mere 20 years of age. It was even red, so fits the Strawberry Basket description perfectly. It was far from the most exhilarating car I’ve owned, but I lived in a suitably warm climate at the time, so the top was practically always down, and as such it did actually serve as quite a fun little toy – even if I’ve grown to appreciate a full-bodied red wine more these days…

  2. yrhmblhst

    Shelby convertibles had the roll bar in a ragtop way before the Golf.
    I dunno about wine consumption, but only well to do college girls and occasionally their mothers bought these over here. [Well, daddy bought it FOR the college girls, and their moms actually, but you know what I meant.]

  3. Anders Bilidt

    @claus, thx I guess. But in my defence, the Karmann Golf was wearing those very 90s aftermarket alloys when I bought the car. Even back then I wanted to swap them for a set of factory 14″ Snowflake alloys. Still to this day, I recon they’re the coolest alloy wheel ever fitted to any VW. Imo they look great on late Golf I, early Golf II and all Scirocco II – even on Passat II if you can find one… I just didn’t have the cash at the time and before I got around to doing anything about it, I had sold the Golf and bought a Nissan 200SX Turbo instead…

  4. Andrew Boggis

    I’m sure fellow readers would point you in the direction of earlier classics with factory roll cages. The Triumph Stag comes to mind…

    With respect to the Karmann modified Golf 1, I think that these are good cars, even if these have a “handbag” reputation. I’m a fan of another “handbag”, a Fiat 500C. With respect to the styling clues, am I alone in thinking of the Kübelwagen and the Type 181 Thing ?

    Here in France we have a lifetime supply of Citroën Berlingos. If ownership has anything to do with those being driven on the road, this would point to some type of sad age and faculties related disability or perhaps the wish that kids are not going to want to borrow their parent’s car ?

    That makes three rants already this morning…time to go for a long run!


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