KAROSSERIE HEBMÜLLER from dream to reality

Hebmüller VW Typ 14A – a brief history

Joseph Hebmüller, founder of the company

The history of Karosserie Hebmüller (Karosseriewerke Joseph Hebmüller Söhne) really starts in 1889 with Joseph Hebmüller (above), founder of the company. Volkswagen fans are familiar with what happened in 1949-51 – the Volkswagen Type 14A Hebmüller cabriolet – it's here that the story starts for most of us, but it helps to know a bit more about the company. A Karosserie means coachworks, and that is exactly how they started, building carriages and carts for horses to draw.

After the death of Joseph in 1919, his sons started building bodies for cars. In 1920 a Fiat, a Model-T Ford and a Lieferwagen had all been transformed by the company. 1924 saw the company expand from Barmen to a second works at Wülfrath to accommodate the various chassis being built on, from Austro-Daimler to HAG and many more. In 1936 a third factory was opened with work now being done for Ford and Opel amongst the various limousines, sports cars and work vans. During the 1930s streamlining had a definite influence on styling with all car manufacturers and specialist coachworks, and I believe it's during this period that Hebmüller as a company really excelled at building elegant, curvaceous, cabriolets.

IAMA car exhibition in Berlin, 1937 (left) and an advert from 1938

At the IAMA car exhibition in Berlin, 1937, Hebmüller showed a Hanomag Sturm Cabriolet, an Opel Roadster, a Super 6 Cabrio and a very elegant Hanomag Sturm Streamliner-Limousine. The advert is from 1938 and shows some very familiar styling characteristics (as well as the badge). During the second world war, as with all car manufacturers, work was turned to the machinery of war, which included painted, wooden, dummy planes.

Prototype No.2

After the war, Volkswagen or Wolfsburg Motorworks was controlled by British allied forces. The British military commander for the Wolfsburg area was Colonel Charles Radclyffe and the manager at Wolfsburg was Major Ivan Hirst. Col. Radclyffe was given a convertible to run around in whose lines were more akin to a coupe than a sedan, and this car we all know today as the Radclyffe Roadster. The British forces that controlled Volkswagen were struggling to sell Beetles in large numbers and everyone at VW believed that the only way to sell cars in volume would be to produce a convertible for overseas consumption. VW Managing Director, Heinz Nordhoff, commissioned two coach companies to produce two distinct and unique cabriolets. The Karmann Company of Osnabrück was contracted to build the four-seater and Hebmüller the two-seater. The Radclyffe Roadster used a front bonnet modified to cover the engine bay and it gave the car a much lower, leaner appearance. Volkswagen’s brief in 1948 to Hebmüller, was to produce a similar, improved two-seater. The car in the picture belonged to VW dealer Gottfried Schultz from Essen who was a friend of the VW MD, Nordhoff. It is prototype no.2 and has a louvred decklid without the later spine. Schultz was a regular visitor to Wolfsburg and was also a friend of the Hebmüller family.

Drawings from the Hebmuller Design Studio c.1948

Herr Schmelzer was the head of design in the Hebmüller design studio, and three prototypes were produced using old, used Beetles. Schmelzer continued to design as each VW was cut up and sectioned for the engineers to interpret. As well as the cabriolet, a coupé version was developed and one built. Secondary colours below the aluminum side trim and between the wheel arches became a Hebmüller VW feature as can be seen in the original designs here. All the designs show the older, large VW logo hub caps and the black and yellow design shows the semaphore indicators in the rear panel, implying it is an older drawing. These were probably drawn up by the studio in 1948.

The 1949 60th anniversary exhibition stand promoting the new Volkswagen Type 14A (top). The Veritas Rennwagen on the same exhibition stand (bottom left). A drawing of the Opel Blitz 1.5 ton Van also on the same stand.

1949 finally saw the birth of the VW Type 14A Hebmüller. The 60th anniversary exhibition stand shows two Beetle Cabriolets, one with the hood up and one down, displaying the new shaped rear end and special interiors available. Also on the stand is a Veritas Rennwagen which had been driven with huge success by the German racing driver Toni Ulmen winning a total of seven races (including the Großer Preis von Nürburgring) in 1949 and two second places - this car was coachbuilt by Hebmüller, hence it being used to promote them on the stand.

There is also an Opel Blitz 1.5 Ton Lieferwagen which in the exhibition stand photograph obscures the new decklid and vent pressings hung on the wall. Prior to this point in time the decklids had been fabricated in sections and welded rather than pressed. Even this van has been painted with a two tone finish and branded appropriately as a Hebmüller works van. Note also the various car designs on the wall – no VWs, as actual cars are on display, but all the designs feature secondary colours. You might also notice that the badge had evolved and in 1949 the new more pointed wings were being used on the stand, race car panel and van graphics. They weren't used on the VWs as far as is known, but seemed to have been reserved for the DKW projects.

Adverts and magazine promotions all from 1949

Saturday 23rd July, 1949 saw a devastating fire break out at the Wüppertal plant. Hebmüller had been commissioned to produce 2000 VW Type 14A cabriolets according to some sources, however letters relating to the actual order from Wolfsburg state a figure of 695 cars were expected to fulfill the original contract between VW and Hebmüller. Hebmüller had also won work for a DKW two-seater and a Borgward 1500 Cabriolet.

50 cars ready for export to a Swiss dealership in December 1949

After the three prototypes and single pre-production car of 1948 and early '49, just 55 cars were built before the fire. 303 further cars were produced after the fire in 1949! The photograph above shows 50 cars ready for export to a Swiss dealership in December 1949 – they had already imported 25 cars earlier in the year. 319 cars were built in 1950, but production had slowed down massively by March, with only 17 cars produced in April 1950. The remainder of the order was completed by the Karmann factory: 1 car in 1951, 13 cars in 1952, and the final car in February 1953. 692 finished production models, plus one pre-production and three prototypes make a grand total of 696 Type 14As. Sadly the costs incurred after the fire in rebuilding workshops and fulfilling orders had crippled the company. Financial penalties had been threatened by VW for non-completion of the contract after the fire, but Hebmüller forged ahead and fulfilled the contract. With no more credit available to them, the doors finally shut in May 1952. Vidal & Söhn Tempo-Werke from Hamburg (producers of the Tempo Matador) used the works for around a year, until Ford bought all the sites in 1953. It is often stated that 'around 700' Hebmüller VW Type 14As were produced, but there is a clue in the letter from Wolfsburg saying that they would supply chassis and part-bodies for 695 cars as part of the contract. The figure of 2,000 (mentioned elsewhere) may have included the original order from Karmann as well...

Three adverts for the Fleischauer dealership in Cologne, all illustrated by Van Husen. The artist, Van Husen, created several posters commemorating German races in the 1950s and 1960s and had a distinct signature style.

It was never my intention to have a history section on this site – many people had done it much better in the past – however, over the years, some of the best information and photos have been temporarily lost, due to various sites disappearing, and not so much interest or regular articles in the VW magazines. For a fuller understanding of the company and its history, I thoroughly recommend the Autovision book Karosserie Hebmüller Qualität und Eleganz von 1889 bis 1952, by Dieter Günther and Walter Wolf. It is in German and is well worth a place in any fan's collection. Of course, it goes without saying that there are other websites telling the more complete history, including the Hebmüller Registry.


When you embark on a project like this you need a lot of time, effort, money, patience and above all inspiration. For me, as a designer, it was a whole variety of cars that inspired me, but some in particular, because they proved that anything was acheivable, and some because they were just stunning to look at. There was also another practical reason for the project – my wife Maria, needed (or I thought she did) a second smaller car to learn to drive in. At the time I had a very practical, white, '80s Vauxhall Cavalier. So why this then?

My father had a Volkswagen Variant (Type III Squareback) which had been a Californian import when I was in my early teens [I'm in this photo in the back of the car]. It had fuel injection and a 'California double burning exhaust' as it used to be called. It was bought from a school friend's father who used to regularly get cars in from the USA and either sell them on or do them up. It always stunk of petrol due to the constantly leaking fuel-injection. I still loved that car – to me it seemed a great design, modern and practical. When it got written off (DCF221L, in case somebody out there rescued it) by a drunk driver in a near head-on collision, it got replaced with another Volkswagen. This time a green and white, bay window Devon Eurovette (JLE906N in case anyone still has that). It suffered many breakdowns over the years and had two replacement engines! It was finally sold after it hit a fallen tree on the morning of the Great Storm of 1987.

My first car had been an Austin 1100 from my grandfather's next door neighbour and was immaculate. My second car was a VW Mk1 Polo in revolting yellow. By this time I actually wanted the car the family had never owned – a VW Beetle. So I started looking for a Beetle as a fixer upper: a friend of a friend helped me look and got me hooked (thank you Mark Richardson). I started buying VolksWorld magazine and going to the shows. One of the first cars that truly inspired me was Bernard Newbury's Karmann Ghia. What a spectacular car and shown here from VolksWorld magazine, August 1993.

Bernard Newbury's Karmann Ghia, VolksWorld August 1993

Whilst looking around the shows I found Wizard who made a very practical and cheap solution to doing up a Beetle with fibreglass parts and making a convertible to boot. I even liked the design/shape of the rear end (it was the '80s). The picture below, is of the restored demonstrator car. I ventured to Slough Trading Estate (home of the Mars bar, and formerly the place where Gerry Anderson made Thunderbirds!) and visited Wizard. I had a long look round and got the full tour with owner Peter Cheeseman. Whilst looking around I couldn't help notice the strangely designed decklid hung on the wall in bare fibreglass.

Wizard demonstrator

During the weeks ahead I had worked out that I could afford to do this with help from Mark in the rebuild. I bought a Beetle and in just two weekends Mark, Maria and I stripped it down to every last nut and bolt ready to restore for use as a Wizard all fibreglass car. I put the deposit down for the Wizard kit, and Mark and I got to work. I discovered from reading VolksWorld that the decklid I had seen was a copy of a Hebmüller one and started finding out about them. Sometime around then I saw Bob Shaill's Stoll at a show, which was another fantastic car that inspired me.

Bob Shaill's Still Coupé before it went to the VW Museum.

I asked Peter if it was possible to get a Hebmüller decklid with the kit and he explained that it would be difficult to fit to the standard Wizard rear end, but it wasn't impossible. I got a phone call from Peter Cheeseman asking if I would be interested in something different, when I asked what, he said that I might be interested in a complete Hebmüller replica imported from Australia instead of the fibreglass kit.

The car as imported... but not as delivered

He showed me some pictures of a finished car and my deposit was instantly converted into the deposit on a car. A magazine article appeared (which those pictures had been taken for) all about Chris and Kay Nihill and their company Resurrection Panels showing how they were building all metal bodied reproduction Hebmüllers in Bendigo, Australia. This article first appeared in the March 1995 edition of VolksWorld, and later in February 1996 in VW Safer Motoring. The picture above was given to me by Peter and must have been taken in the UK. Sadly the car had been run in the UK and I was told that there had been an engine fire. I was also told that the decklid that would be supplied with it had been made in aluminium by a former Rolls Royce engineer.

Delivery day

In 1997 we moved from Hounslow to Kingston upon Thames. The chassis was ready and the engine had been completely rebuilt by Mark. Everything sat proudly in my rented garage which was a Victorian stable which I rented adjacent to the house. My restored chassis was traded in for some of the remainder of the cost. November 1997 and my car arrived from Wizard somewhat less complete than I had hoped. I was determined though to own a Type 14A no matter how long it took, so I carried on collecting parts from all the shows to try and make this car more authentic and stylish than it would have been. It was fun going to the shows, searching through greasy parts crates, and I'm so glad we did it. I sold the Vauxhall Cavalier and bought a Nissan Micra for Maria to learn in, so no Beetles were harmed in that process!

1946 Tatra T87

Another car that amazed me with its design was Delwyn Mallett's 1946 Tatra T87. It was such a great deep colour and the shape with the rear fin reminded me of the 40's Batmobile. This was the car that decided what colour I wanted (at the time). If you ever get the chance, do look at this car, it is fantastic. Speaking to Delwyn at another show, he introduced me to Keith Seume, who knew all about the Australian project cars, not to mention real Hebmüllers, and I then knew that I had done the right thing.

Build, Rebuild, then Build Again!

The first car was a rather nasty, matt black, smoothed off fibreglass bonneted job, bought as a “hadn't run for some time car”. I remember finding a turkey leg bone between the gearbox and the bodywork during the strip down. Even the headliner had been sprayed black. The steering wheel was not original and also horrible, and the wheels, were for some reason, pink! AKT...K was a mess. The more we took apart the more apparent it became that a complete body kit would be needed from Wizard. With Mark Richardson's guidance, it took just two weekends to strip the car down and box up some of the bits. I remember the wiring loom being salvaged and stored in a couple of binliners. Underneath all of the black paint was... orange.

The chassis was stripped down and the floorpans replaced. The gearbox was cleaned up and Mark carried on rebuilding the engine with parts I ordered from the USA. After the offer of the metal bodied car from Australia, the completed chassis was traded in with Wizard. Finnegan's No1, undercoat and Smoothrite, to be absolutely certain! Maybe somebody out there has that chassis with a finished car on – it would be good to know if it is.

With the arrival of the ‘complete’ car in November 1997, it was time to collect parts for the refit. Restoration began, but money was tight and progress slow. I remember selling on some of the first car at one of the Slough swapmeets. I was pretty pleased, as I got more for the two doors than half of what I'd paid for the first car! So much to get rid of and so much more to buy: the sun visors on the Australian car had been recovered in pink felt! The rear view mirror was even stamped with the legendary kangaroo by its part number. The new visors were reproduction parts from California. Door skins were bought, but I think even they were replaced later on. I remember talking to Robin Allen at a show and later buying a pair of rear lights from him. A suitable older dashboard was also bought ready to weld in. Some old grooved bumpers were bought (black painted ones), said to be off of Bob Shaill's old Police Hebmüller, but later replaced with ones that only needed replating. The overriders came from Etienne's spares collection in Belgium. By the end of 1998 I had so many parts sitting in crates...

Eventually it was time to start doing the serious work – now there was a problem, in fact two problems; the first seemed simple, registering the car in the UK. The second, Age Concern served notice on the rental of the garage! Age Concern was my landlord and neighbour and owned the old Victorian stable which had proved so useful in storing and working in. Now some rapid decisions needed to be made and so it was decided to get the car over to Paintbox for reassembly and work. I really did not know just how much work was needed to be done. 2001 saw the car finally move from the garage to Paintbox and so the rebuild began in earnest. The registration of the Australian chassis became impossible as nobody would recognise the chassis number (even in Australia!). I had already asked around for an age related donor and so chassis number three came into being. Work could now properly begin, except that redundancies kept meaning a stop/start approach to finishing the project.

The only genuine item I actually got was my grandfather's fire extinguisher. I settled for reproduction on the rest.

The original dash was cut out and the even older one welded in with a lot of reshaping below! Semaphores were found, restored and fitted. The doors were replaced and skins reshaped. There was a lot of difficulty fitting the doors due to differing sizes. The engine was fitted, trialled and exchanged for a Remtech 1641cc that would be more reliable. A reproduction Abarth exhaust system was fitted to it. The indicator spaces on the wings were welded over and the horn grill holes re made. The bonnet badge area was welded over for the correct badge to go on. So much was done, so much attention to detail: LED rear tail lights inside the fittings, they're common now, but back then they had to be custom made in the US. Then there was the list of accessories... Simon Emory managed to source an ash tray for my dash board. I rescued an old fire extinguisher from my grandfather's garage. I visited a friend in California and bought a repro Petri Banjo steering wheel, boss and horn push. I got him to send over some long trim for the bonnet too as I couldn't fit that in my suitcase. Windows had not been supplied so glass had to be cut and aluminium frames made. The list was endless. Eventually in mid to late 2002 the car was moved to Bernard Newbury for seats, carpets and the hood. Choices! As we hadn't gone for two tone paint, we went for a more subtle darker red on the hood, and red piping on the seats to contrast with the cream.

Jan Rami's Hebmüller parked in front of the old stable that I had been renting

In 2003 we finally drove the car back from Paintbox complete... Jan Rami (at that time ran the Hebmüller Registry) got in touch and drove his car over to take a look. This was shortly followed by a photoshoot at a studio with Ivan McCutcheon ready for an article in VolksWorld. I remember driving to the shoot with it raining for the whole journey and the tiny windscreen wipers being used for the first time.

Photos taken on my camera at the same time as the VolksWorld photoshoot, sadly on my very old first digital 1.3mp camera!

Next came the VolksWorld magazine closely followed by the 2003 Show. The magazine had featured the car in a six page article no less! Mark Richardson had to take the car to the show with Maria as I was away with the pipe band at the time. The car was cleaned and polished on site – fortunately Sandown Park is less than five miles away, so it didn't get too messed up on route. I didn't get to see the car or go to the prize giving even. Fortunately Maria was able to pick up the prize for best interior on the day. So many people to say thank you to for the huge effort that went into this car; Mark for all his advice and help right up to the car's first show, Simon Emery and Shane Whitworth from the Paintbox for their shear hard work and patience in building and painting it. Bernard Newbury for the hood and great interior. Jan Rami for his help and support afterwards. Bob Shaill, Keith Seume, Ivan McCutcheon and everyone who gave advice over the years from VolksWorld.

After the Volksworld Show 2003 – Maria with the trophy.

Since 2003 the car initially went to quite a few VW shows, however many were for display only, as the car doesn't fit into most categories. We managed to get to Bad Camberg in 2003, and later to Hessisch Oldendorf in 2005 and 2009. The car has been round bits of Brooklands, a regular at Goodwood Revival Meetings and even went on a classic car club rally over in France. We even made it along to the VolksWorld 25th Anniversary bash at Brands Hatch! It is now housed in its fourth garage and continues to be treated to additions which include rear spats, more accurate running board trim and the correct hinge stays for the rear seat. It still drives like a dream nearly 20 years on, as we meet more people who have helped in its journey to where it is today. A big thank you to Etienne Mertens, the late Guido Rademakers, Peter Schepens, Bob Van Heyst (BBT), Christian Grundmann, for more help, advice and parts over the intervening years, not to mention Ian Clark (Wolfsburg Performance Services), Deano (now at McLaren!) and Mike Scotney (Broad Lane Garage) for the maintenance of the car ever since.

Bad Camberg, 2003
In the Marktplatz, Bad Camberg, 2003
A day out at Brooklands (clockwise): the 1/4 mile hill test (top left), AeroShell refuel, what is left of the banking and the Malcolm Campbell Service Depot.
Clockwise from top left: Chesil Speedster added at the end of 2003, Hessisch Oldendorf in 2009, on the drive before the spats were added and the 25th Anniversary of VolksWorld at Brands Hatch.

The spats or 'fender skirts' as they're commonly known were from Hayburner Magazine and I think make a stylish addition to the car. Paint mixed to match by L. E. Went locally and painted and fitted by Mike at Broad Lane Garage who also fitted the seat stays from Peter Schepens.

Will it ever actually be finished? Things left to do include aluminium strips in the luggage area and a pair of hood clamps...

Loads more photos of Volkswagens, Porsches and car events such as Goodwood Revival in my Flickr Albums.

Created By
Alastair Pether