While Volkswagen currently offers but two convertible models—the Eos and the Beetle Convertible—folding top Volkswagens go all the way back to the 1949 Volkswagen Karmann Cabriolet; the first Volkswagen convertible.
That model came about when German coachbuilder Wilhelm Karmann purchased a Volkswagen Type 1 (the original Beetle’s official name) in 1948, cut the roof off of it, and transformed the car into a four-seat convertible. When he presented it to the Volkswagen board of directors, they approved the car for production for the 1949 model year. The model remained in production some 31 years before it went out of production in 1980—after selling some 330,000 copies.
A sporty version of the Volkswagen Type 1, known as the Karmann Ghia, was introduced in 1955. The Italian firm Ghia designed the body, which was handbuilt at Karmann’s coachworks. This is why the model is known as the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Some 12 years after its introduction, Volkswagen introduced a convertible version of the two-seater, which remained in production throughout the rest of the Karmann Ghia’s lifecycle. Just under 81,000 copies of the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia were sold between 1955 and 1974.
The Rabbit (which was then known as the Golf for the rest of the world) eventually replaced the Type 1 Beetle in Volkswagen’s US lineup in 1974. However, the first convertible Rabbit/Golf model didn’t surface until 1979—becoming the third Volkswagen convertible. Karmann was tapped to build the car in its entirety, with Volkswagen supplying the engine, suspension, and interior components to be installed there. The model was introduced as the Volkswagen Cabrio.
Particularly favored by female buyers, the VW Cabrio was such a hot seller, when the manufacturer replaced the third generation of the Golf in the US in 1999, the manufacturer held onto to the convertible version of it for another two years because no convertible version of the fourth generation of the Golf was planned. That car ultimately became the last Golf Cabriolet (aka Volkswagen Cabrio).
However, the company did have other folding roof plans.
In 1998, Volkswagen revived the Beetle (if only in spirit and form) with the Volkswagen New Beetle (based on the Golf’s platform). A runaway success, the model is credited with reviving the Volkswagen brand in the United States. Five years after the introduction of the New Beetle, Volkswagen introduced the 2003 New Beetle Convertible. When the Volkswagen New Beetle was revised for the 2011 model year, its name was changed to Volkswagen Beetle. A convertible iteration of that model was part of the plan from the beginning—ultimately debuting in 2013, at the Los Angeles International Auto Show.
For the 2006 model year, Volkswagen debuted its other current convertible model. Introduced as the official successor to the Volkswagen Cabrio, the Eos was innovative in that it featured a retractable hardtop with a sliding sunroof, making it the only vehicle of its kind on the market. Named for the Greek goddess of the dawn, the Eos is but the fifth series production Volkswagen convertible ever to be offered by the company.