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Name: Volkswagen New Beetle Ragster Concept
Debut: 2005 North American International Auto Show
Engine: Turbodiesel 1.9-Liter I4
Power: 90 Horsepower
Drive Type: Front-Wheel Drive

The original Volkswagen Beetle was one of those rare cars that was both a practical and a personality-driven purchase. Yes, many families could swing the payments thanks to its cheap price and low cost of ownership, but the Bug was also popular with hot rodders looking to make an aggro-cute dragster or a Cal-Look low rider.

The 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle didn’t quite have the same universal appeal. Its adorable styling won fans old enough to remember the original and young enough to appreciate its sub-$16,000 price, but the New Beetle didn’t quite penetrate either the counter-culture or the sporty car movements. Volkswagen endeavored to change that with the 2005 New Beetle Ragster concept, a chop-top with a retractable canvas roof, redline tires, and a new interior that gave it some of that California sportiness that was missing in the Y2K-era Bug.

Gallery: 2005 Volkswagen New Beetle Ragster Concept

Still Cute, Kinda Tough

Surprisingly, very little of the New Beetle’s bodywork made its way to the Ragster, which was based on a production convertible model. The most obvious change is above the beltline, where the A-pillar sees a 3.5-inch chop, with a flatter roof than the bubbly production model. Overall height is down 4.1 inches, which helps the Ragster look longer and wider despite a footprint that stays the same relative to the New Beetle. The concept also ditches its B-pillar for a hardtop appearance, with a sliding cloth roof panel providing still more al fresco appeal.

Other, more subtle changes include revised front and rear fenders that have a flatter, crisper profile relative to the rounded production Bug. The bumpers are also new to the Ragster, with narrower corner marker lights and unique fascias that help the concept look hunkered down. Ditto the 19-inch wheels wrapped in Hot Wheels–chic redline tires, imparting more of that carefree 1960s energy into the New Beetle.

2005 Volkswagen New Beetle Ragster Concept Interior

Inside, the Ragster got a 2+2 seating arrangement, though most contemporary images only show it with the rear seats folded flat. The Beetle’s mile-wide dashboard and single gauge binnacle remain, but there’s a new steering wheel that incorporates a start button and control for the roof, as well as heavily bolstered front bucket seats that look like they belong in a Ruf Porsche or Audi RS2. Crucially, the Ragster did away with the New Beetle’s dash-mounted bud vase to look more serious – although the sporty hippie in all of us wonders, “Why shouldn't flowers be allowed to go fast, too?”

It’s hard not to notice a few similarities with one of the most famous Volkswagens out there, Herbie the Love Bug. For starters, there’s the ragtop, the feature offered on Beetles until 1963 that featured prominently in the Disney movies. Herbie may have also inspired the Ragster’s pair of silver racing stripes draped over crisp, white bodywork (although the movie car’s stripes were red, white, and blue). Most of all, despite Volkswagen’s efforts to make the Ragster look butched up and aggressive, it’s still just a heck of a cutie with some sass, much like Herb.

2005 Volkswagen New Beetle Ragster Concept Rear Quarter

At the time, Volkswagen never specified what engine was under the hood of the Ragster except to say that it had space for any of the New Beetle’s engines. However, Volkswagen archivist Eckberth von Witzleben confirmed that the concept had a contemporary 1.9-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that produced 90 horsepower and yielded 50 miles per gallon in the production Bug.

A more appropriate powertrain for a production version of the Ragster may have been the New Beetle Turbo S’ 1.8-liter turbo four, which produced 180 hp and routed power through a six-speed manual. The Ragster could’ve even adopted the Audi TT Quattro’s 225-hp 1.8T and all-wheel-drive system if Volkswagen really wanted to go the sporty route with a Bug.

2005 Volkswagen New Beetle Ragster Concept At VW Museum

Where Is It Now?

Von Witzleben also confirmed that the Ragster concept is in the Beetle exhibition of the Volkswagen AutoMuseum. It sits amid some of VW’s retro-futuristic show cars, displayed alongside the 2012 e-Bugster, 2015 Dune, and 1994 Concept 1 – the genesis of the New Beetle.

2005 Volkswagen New Beetle Ragster Concept Front Quarter

Why Wasn’t It Built?

The Ragster's low roofline never made it to production. However, the facelifted 2006 New Beetle adopted its crisper fenders, revised front and rear fascias, and unique taillights. Of course, the updated Bug still had the gumball-machine roof profile and bud vase, and it did away with the 1.8T engine in favor of an anemic, naturally aspirated 2.5-liter five-cylinder.

The New Beetle never quite achieved the Ragster’s visual aggression, but the second-generation model (called simply “Beetle”) came close. The 2012 Beetle had a flatter roofline and upright windshield that were more in line with the original Bug, and it offered the GTI’s 210-hp engine as an option. Still, the Ragster’s chop-top, California custom vibe never quite made it to production. Bummer, man.

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