My introduction to the world of coachbuilt VWs came 25 years ago. I had just wrecked my first car, a '65 Beetle, and was looking for a project car to transfer the mechanical parts to. I answered an ad in the paper for a '56 oval-window, but the seller also had a "hand-built aluminum-bodied VW" that he thought I might be interested in. I knew nothing about coachbuilt VWs, but was about to get a quick education. I drove way up into the mountains east of San Diego to Alpine, and at the end of a muddy dirt road I found this Rometsch coupe. It was a little rough and was partially disassembled but complete. He wanted $1000. I forgot all about the '56 oval I had come to see and started analyzing the Rometsch as a project.
Rometsches are now well known in the VW world, but back then in the pre-Internet days there wasn't much information available. The Berlin-based firm began building VW-based specials in the early '50s. Their best known product was a design by Johannes Beeskow that was nicknamed the "Banana," which was available in both convertible and coupe form. Interestingly, Beeskow was later responsible for the production engineering of the 1500 Karmann-Ghia for Karmann. In 1957 Rometsch introduced a new model designed by Bert Lawrence, who was influenced by contemporary American styling trends. As with the Beeskow model, the body was hand-formed aluminum over a wooden framework. These cars were completely handcrafted. Production of this model continued until 1961, when the Berlin wall went up, separating the East German workforce from the workshop in West Berlin. The Rometsch firm still technically existed after that, but in a much-diminished capacity.
So here was an extremely rare hand-built car, fairly complete, partially disassembled and left out in the weather. It had apparently never been in any serious accidents. Registered in California since the early '60s. Non-original '57 floorpan. No engine. I seriously considered buying it, but in the end I was scared off by the amount of work it needed and the dry rot I found in part of the wooden body frame. It's just as well -- it was far too big a project for me at the time, and what I really needed was transportation. I ended up buying a '66 sunroof Beetle, which served me well for the next few years. My interest in coachbuilt VWs was set, though: Within four years of looking at the Rometsch I had bought my first 1500 Ghia.
Prices for Rometsches have skyrocketed in recent years. An unrestored coupe similar to this one sold last year for a reported $40,000, and a beautifully restored '59 convertible is currently available for an asking price of $79,500. I wonder whatever became of that '58?