My Car Quest

January 31, 2023

The Triumph of the Ordinary- Karmann Ghia

by Wallace Wyss –

I was pursuing some old Auction results when I came across a 1965 Karmann Ghia Convertible selling for over $60,000 at a Gooding auction in 2021. Not that rare a car, over 5,000 made that year. A total of 443,466 Karmann Ghias were made from 1956 through ’74, of which 80,881 were convertibles.

Karmann Ghia

Auto Restorer magazine summed up the history succinctly,

The Karmann Ghia Type 14 is more or less the Beetle with a sporty body. Ghia designer Luigi Segre styled the car in Italy and it has much of the look of some early 1950s dream cars that Ghia did for the Chrysler Corporation. Karmann of Osnabruck, Germany, hand-built the Karmann Ghia body. There were no performance upgrades but the lighter sports car was faster. In 1961 Volkswagen introduced the Type 34 Karmann Ghia, which was a Type 3 Volkswagen with a different look.

The Type 14 took its bow at the 1953 Paris Auto Show and turned out to be a popular car. On July 14, 1955, Karmann held a press review and exactly two months later the now-named Karmann Ghia was shown at the Frankfurt auto show. The Karmann-built coupe had changes from Ghia’s prototype, including a twin-nostril nose, curved window glass, wider window trim, full-width bumpers, repositioned front blinkers and restyled air intake louvers on the deck. The Ghia fender badges were also repositioned.

But of all of cars I’ve owned including a Porsche 356 convertible D, two Mercedes gullwings and a V12 Ferrari I miss my Karmann Ghia convertible most. Why? because it was a car that delivered precisely what it promised–Italian style German craftsmanship and superb reliability.

True it had flaws. The fake wood dash split. The chrome trim on the side fell off. On the later convertible tops with glass windows, the rear window would collapse down with age. They weren’t fast on acceleration but once they were cruising at 75 mph they could go all day.

Karmann Ghia

They were around $3,200 in ’72. I think I paid a used car lot around $2,600 in the ’80s but a few years later sold it cheap after being t-boned. (A testament to its construction was that I drove it home after being t-boned).

I think they ruined it late in the run (’73-’74) when they made the taillights bigger, compromising the original lines (purists would say the compromise was even earlier, the first time they upsized the taillights). Or even when they put bigger bumpers on the American version.

I even like the way it came about. Ghia made a prototype, it was approved. No muss, no fuss, only a slight redesign at HQ. It is a little misleading in name, some think it was built by Ghia (as were say the Dual Ghias, built in Italy on chassis made by Chrysler). But the coachbuilder still profited mightily from publicity by having their name as part of the model name.

Another disappointment (not to me because I had a manual) was the automatic. I heard if you accidentally touched the shift lever while driving it would jump out of gear. After the Ghia, VW went to water cooled VW convertibles but they don’t reflect rising values as much as the Karmann Ghia and the water cooled one designed by ItalDesign didn’t get the design house’s name as part of the car name as did the Karmann Ghia.

Karmann Ghia

I regret (and maybe they do too) they never made a targa version (or even t-tops). I am a little surprised Gooding displayed it alongside Aston Martins and Ferraris but I think they too recognize this was a car that was an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

They have these large VW reunions near where I live and I hope to go to one and see how the K-G owners are doing. I don’t know if I will ever rejoin their ranks but I’m happy that for once an automaker without any hype delivered a car that was honestly represented, and when well cared for, owners can get 20 times what it sold for new more than half a century ago.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE AUTHOR Wallace Wyss (rhymes with reese) is a fine artist specializing in commissions from exotic car owners. He has done guest lecturing at the Art Center College of Design.

 
 
 
 
 

Karmann Ghia

Summary
The Triumph of the Ordinary- Karmann Ghia
Article Name
The Triumph of the Ordinary- Karmann Ghia
Description
The Karmann Ghia Type 14 is more or less the Beetle with a sporty body and it brings back fond memories for our author.
Author

Comments

  1. Wayne Watkins says

    I can remember seeing an advertisement in an American car magazine or maybe at the movies where they were driving one down the beach where it failed to go through a thin shield and the caption read THE WORLD’S SLOWEST SPORTSCAR . Typical brilliant VW advertising

  2. Glad to see you have recognized these gems. I recently acquired a KG and love the Italian design with German reliability. My KG is a nice companion to my Iso Grifo and other unusual cars. These are a poor man’s Porsche 356 with less power and arguably a more interesting design. Correct they are short on power however many have juiced up the power. department. Love my Ghia and while they weren’t rare it is hard to find a good rust-free example. Have you checked out 356 prices lately? Yikes! I agree on your comment on the 73 and 74 models and unfortunately mine is a 74. However, mine is the third newest one registered and there was a considerable price difference. These Ghias are a bargain and going up! Again, thanks for recognizing these gems.

  3. Robb Northrup says

    I appreciated the Karmann Ghia TC which was designed and built in the late 1960s-early 1970s in Brasil. Pretty little car that the Brasilians called “O Porsche do Pobre” — Porsche of the Poor. They were well made as well.

    I also spent a day with Tom Tjaarda in his studio in Torino – before his death. In addition to the other cars he designed, we talked about the Type 34 Ghia he did for VW.

    I miss those honest cars of yesteryear!

  4. Bob Appleton says

    After 60 years of owning and driving a wide variety of cars, I still have a love for the KG as it was the car in which I learned to drive. My dad bought a three year old ’56 (36hp) for my mother and after getting my license I used it and, being a typically irresponsible teenager, misused it during my last two years at home. Because of its lack of power and tendency to dramatically oversteer at the limit, it helped to develop some driving skills that have stood me in good stead for the rest of my motoring life. As a bonus, it was the best looking car in the high school parking lot!

  5. Thanks – a very enjoyable post and so nicely illustrated.

    The contrast between the style and the performance capability of the KG is very marked. Whilst celebrating the ongoing excellence of the car’s aesthetics, I have recently posted a brief look at how it fared on-track – this might be of interest to readers here.

    https://davidbuckdenlooksback.blogspot.com/2022/01/when-34-bhp-wasnt-enough.html

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