Unique Cars - - BUYER GUIDE -

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.

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