German automotive company Karmann had a long history of working on niche projects with mainstream automotive manufacturers, and during the 1950s became involved in the manufacturing of the convertible Beetle. They started looking into the viability of producing a stylish sports car on similarly proven mechanicals, and having discussed styling designs with Italian specialists Ghia, Dr Wilhelm Karmann approached VW. Company bosses quickly green-lit the project, and in 1955 the Luigi Segre-styled Type 14 Karmann Ghia was launched.
The public immediately took a liking to these beautiful machines. With basic Beetle underpinnings the initial versions were no ball of fire, but continual development and incremental refinement kept the Karmann Ghia popular with customers the world over throughout its production run.
1961 saw the introduction of the Type 34 Karmann Ghia, which was a larger car styled by Sergio Sartorelli and based on the Type 3 VW chassis. This model was sold alongside the original Karmann as a more luxurious alternative. A high price and the decision not to sell it in the US limited the car’s numbers. They were only available as Coupes and due to their rarity are valued by collectors the most today.
Today this interesting classic has developed a loyal group of enthusiasts, who value the unique characteristics of these sporty little cars.
Which one to buy?
If you are looking for speed then this is not the car for you. The Beetle based underpinnings, even in 1600cc form, provide leisurely acceleration at best. What this car is about is stylish transport, providing its thrills at a more relaxed pace. The Karmann Ghia received numerous updates and improvements throughout its long 19-year production run, but some of the key changes include the 12-volt electrical system from 1967-on and independent rear suspension on all models built after 1969.
There were a whole host of styling changes, which still divide Karmann Ghia fans to this day. From a practical standpoint, the Type 14 models built in either 1960 or 1967 model year had a lot of bespoke parts, so make sure that if you buy one of these models it is in complete condition.
The Type 34, introduced in 1961 was aimed further upmarket and offered more standard kit and more interior space at a higher cost. Based on the Type 3 chassis it offered more modern suspension and luxury extras such as an electric sunroof and plusher interior trim and seats. Higher pricing limited uptake, and it was less successful than the original versions, ending production in 1969.
There were approximately 444,000 Karmann Ghias produced, and thanks to the wide availability of parts and the popularity of the cars there are still a large number around today. As is expected of the classic VW scene, modified Ghias are very common, with many owners choosing to upgrade engines and suspension. Body panels are the one thing that can be expensive to get hold of, and it’s therefore key to watch out for are cars that are too far gone or damaged beyond economical repair. Interiors and engines can be repaired far more cost effectively than a rusted through body shell.
Becoming a member of the GB Karmann Ghia owners Club is an excellent way to get access to a whole host of information on the cars themselves as well as the best places to source parts and trim.
Performance and specs
1965 Karmann Ghia 1300
Engine 1285cc, 8valve OHV flat-four
Power 39bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque 68lb ft @ 2000rpm
Top speed 80mph
0-62mph 27.0 seconds
Fuel consumption 31.2mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Interiors can get into bad condition over the years, but if the car is in otherwise good shape then do not worry. car should not dissuade you from making a purchase. Trim is readily available and entire seat and dashboard re-trims are far less costly than extensive body or mechanical work.
• Mechanically the Type 14 Ghias are almost 100 per cent Beetle underneath. This means reasonable prices parts and good availability. Front brake discs on models built from 1967 onwards are the only item that is not interchangeable with an equivalent era Beetle.
• Type 34 Karmann Ghia’s were based on the newer Type 3 chassis and are mechanically identical to other Type 3 chassis cars, which included the 1500cc and 1600cc Notchback and Fastback VWs of the same era. As in the older Karmann Ghia the newer Type 34 has unique interior trim and bodywork compared to other VW models.
• A Ghia’s bodywork is where you should focus your attentions when assessing the viability of a purchase. Rust or damage on a number of panels may make financially viable restoration impossible.
• Check the rocker panels for corrosion; this is especially important on convertibles as strengthening beams run through this area providing structural integrity
• Other areas to inspect include the rear boot lid, spare tyre well and around the battery, where spilt acid can cause corrosion over time.
• Rocker panels for Type 14 Ghias, once unavailable, are now available so rust here is not as terminal as it used to be.
• Check for signs of accident damage by looking at badly repaired panels or shoddy paintwork. Bumpers can be tough to source.
1955: Type 14 Karmann Ghia launched in Coupe body style only available in LHD
1957: Convertible model launched in LHD
1959: Both Coupe and Convertible models now available in RHD
1961: Type 34 Karmann Ghia with 1500cc engine is offered alongside existing Type 14. Type 34 only available in Coupe body style
1962: Electric sunroof option introduced on Type 34 in LHD models only
1964: RHD Type 34 models now also offered with sunroof option
1966: 1300cc engine available for one year of production for Type 14
1967: 1500cc engine standard across all Karmann Ghia’s
1969: Type 34 production ends with 42,498 cars made
1971: 1600cc Engine introduced
1974: Type 14 production ends with 444,300 vehicles made
Clubs and websites
• www.kgoc.org.uk - Karmann Ghia UK owners club and forum
• www.karmann-ghias.co.uk - Useful resource for Karmann Ghia owners and enthusiasts
• www.vwheritage.com - Official parts from Volkswagen for all models
Summary and prices
Viable restoration projects can start from as low as £5000, and fully restored concourse condition cars regularly change hands for £28,000 and more. Good, useable cars are somewhere between these two figures, with a decent Type 14 convertible going for around £15,000. Convertibles are highly sought after and a constant rise in values over the past decade means that more and more cars are being restored.
The Karmann Ghia is a timeless classic offering a classy means of conveyance with the added benefit of being based on affordable mechanicals. Once referred to as the poor man’s Porsche 356, such a moniker nowadays would be selling it short. The Karmann Ghia has matured into a desirable classic in its own right.
Words: John Tallodi