VW CRAVED A BIT OF GLAMOUR FOR ITSELF IN THE SHAPE OF THE KARMANN GHIA
Having supplied components to Porsche and watched as their little Beetle-based coupes set records and won races, VW no doubt craved a bit of glamour for itself. The shape of the Karmann-Ghia reportedly dates back to a rear-engined Ghia design from 1950 however the first documented cooperation between Karmann in Germany and the Italian styling house came in 1953.
Two years later at the Frankfurt Motor Show the completed car was revealed and V W distributors the world over (but especially in the USA) could not wait for cars to sell. Lower and sitting on a broader f loor-pan the K-G coupe bore no visual resemblance to the Beetle which supplied ever ything beneath its eye-catching shape.
The same flat-four engine was buried beneath a hinged cover that looked just like a conventional boot (or trunk in US parlance). With a single carburettor and no attempt made to enhance output, engine power remained at 36hp.
Any performance advantage the low-slung Karmann-Ghia enjoyed was due to improved aerodynamics. However top speed still fell short of 125km/h and overtaking took a long and risky amount of time on the wrong side of the road.
In the USA where most were sold the Karmann-Ghia cost $1000 more than a $1400 Beetle and didn’t offer a huge amount more than the basic VW product. The seats still featured austere metal frames however they were set lower and trimmed in two-tone vinyl. The dash in painted metal included a clock and the rudimentary heater added a demisting function. Later cars could be specified with an under-dash parcel shelf and carpet.
Australian sales of the Type 1 lasted only until 1964 when the Type 3 Karmann-Ghia 1500 was launched. In the USA, T1 cars remained very much the version of choice until 1974 when VW pulled the plug to concentrate its efforts on the new Scirocco.
Until imports began to arrive in quantity, Australia hadn’t seen many Type 1 K-G convertibles. Not in the metal anyway, The one that readers might recall was featured in the opening credits of some `Get Smart’ episodes and acquired after Chrysler dumped the Ford-powered Sunbeam Tiger, leaving Agent 86 without wheels. US cars built during the model’s final four years had 1.6-litre engines and would reach 147km/h.
Karmann-Ghias sold here in the 1960s frequently came with two-tone paint and colour-schemes best described as `drab’. Owners while undertaking restorations often attempt to brighten their vehicles with metallic repaints, ignoring the effect on authenticity and long-term value.
That said, K-G values have still climbed appreciably during the past five years and restored coupes will normally cost more than $30,000. Cheap, restorable cars at one time were easy to find but finding a car to restore now will likely entail a trip to the USA.
Given their scarcity, it’s easy to understand why local owners of soft-top Karmann-Ghias are reluctant to part with their cars and prices over $40,000 are common. Exceptional cars have sold in the USA for the equivalent of A$70,000 so anyone in the market for something spectacular could be facing significant outlay.