Our Beetle is (almost) a Karmann

The history of the car manufacturer Karmann in Osnabrück may have to be completely rewritten in parts. On January 10, 1980, the last Beetle rolled off the assembly line, 1303 Cabriolet in Mars red.

Now, a good 42 years later, something air-cooled is driving out of one of the Karmann halls again. So was the last beetle just the penultimate one? One thing is certain: the cult car factory has nothing to do with it.

Malte Ottehenning and Ben Rasche are 25 years old and have been best friends since school. Both come from Osnabrück, both need a project.

Two friends, one project: Malte Ottehenning (right) and Ben Rasche and their Baja Bug in front of the former Karmann factory in Osnabrück.

That was already the case when they were 17, when they implanted a five-liter Ford V8 in a Lincoln stretch limo and converted the load into a camper van. Or after high school, when they toured the USA and turned an old school bus into a mobile home.

Meeting in the former Karmann fleet

We meet the two of them in a hall across from gate 2 of today’s Volkswagen Osnabrück GmbH on Narupstrasse. “The Karmann fleet was once housed here,” says Malte.

Now private VWs with air cooling are parked here, in front of and behind the building old sheet metal is waiting to be kissed awake, including the white stretch limo.

Good sound is everything: Manifold exhaust system from CSP, clearly visible.

The latest scrap metal from Malte and Ben is actually brand new. It took three years until this – shall we say beetle? – stands there as it is here and now, until it shines and hisses and roars. “In the meantime, everyone thought I was crazy,” says Malte.

Baja Bug for 1000 euros

On October 5, 2019, the boys loaded a black Baja Bug onto the trailer somewhere on the North Sea, purchase price: 1000 euros and a crate of beer.

“Actually, we were only keen on the add-on parts for the Baja Bug and the vehicle registration document in which the complete conversion was entered.” The condition of the floor assembly and the housing, which are connected with 26 screws to form the Beetle? Crumbly!

Looks as good from below as from above: Malte (left) built everything from scratch, Ben “apprenticed” with his school buddy.

So buy another Beetle, a 1303 from Holland. In turn, it was in great condition, hardly any rust.

Now follows what all Beetle screwdrivers know. Sandblasting the floor assembly, i.e. derusting, stripping the house, i.e. fenders, doors, hoods, windows – out, down, sanding.

Learning by doing

After graduating from high school, Malte first did an apprenticeship as a marketing clerk at Mercedes in Osnabrück and from 2019 added the automotive mechatronics technician with a focus on bodywork technology in the same car dealership. Buddy Ben is already in the middle of studying business administration in Bremen and can only help at the weekend.

So Malte works in the car dealership until just after 4 p.m., then continues in the old Karmann hall, where his father and buddies work on old Karmanns. Luckily. Firstly, he got first-hand tips, secondly, he was allowed to help himself in the parts store.

Just don’t call it “Beetle SUV”! Although: Is higher, has wider fenders, cow catcher – like an SUV.

But what defines the wide-body Beetle was learning by doing. The two of them had been able to sell the GRP add-on parts for such a Baja Bug, but now they had to nail everything together from sheet metal themselves.

There was only one measure for this, but no template. “I made one fender out of two, cutting it open every two centimeters to get it wide,” explains Malte. He also made the rear engine cover from sheet metal, cut it in half and crimped it.

Three years of construction

Because at some point there was more work left than money, Ben came into play, wrote over 100 letters to companies, solicited sponsors. And he was lucky: tire dealers Biegenkamp and Chinese tire brand Sailun give money and are allowed to advertise with the Baja Bug.

“Fortunately, I had the topic of sponsorship while I was studying,” says Ben.

After three years, the bug is finished except for small things; there are still running boards (of course homemade) and the blessing of the TÜV. The guys didn’t even plan for it to be so perfect: “Actually, we only wanted to take part in the Balkan Rally, then it escalated like this.”

Malte is now also going to university, studying industrial design. He’s already finished his first car, and soon he wants to measure it in 3D with his professors: “Then you can build the fenders out of GRP.”

What would the big neighbor Karmann say?

The original Baja bug.

That’s the Baja bug

It was the cheaper alternative to the buggy: At the end of the 1960s, a Baja Bug hit the streets in California for the first time. The donor vehicle was a beetle with “standing eyes”. Fenders and hoods were replaced by GRP parts, longer shock absorbers and larger wheels provided the lift. By the way, Baja 1000 was the name of a rally in the Mexican state of Baja California.

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