Home | Motoring in Australia | 1950s | Volkswagen Karmann Ghia - 1956

Motoring: Volkswagen Karmann Ghia - 1956

By the early '50s, with the Beetle a success, company management wanted to build something more stylish than the Beetle, not replacement, just an addition. They engaged famed Italian coachbuilder and stylist, Turin-based Ghia, to design a new car. The design studio lived up to its reputation and produced a beautifully sculpted coupe that looked nicely proportioned from any angle. The German coachbuilder Karmann of Osxnabruck, producer of Volkswagen cabriolets, was commissioned to build the new car. It was introduced as the 1956 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and was an immediate success. It was strictly a two-seater with just a fold-down shelf behind the two comfortable bucket seats. A cabriolet was introduced a year later.

Because it used the same powertrain as the Beetle, the Karmann Ghia possessed its rugged durability and good fuel economy. But its humble VW components precluded it from being called a true sports car by the purists, even though Porsche had achieved this a few years earlier. But Porsche had, however, at least beefed up the horsepower. Enthusiasts noted that the Karmann Ghia didn't even have a tachometer; 'sporty car' was the best the Karmann Ghia could claim. The Karmann Ghia was longer, lower and wider than the Beetle. Power came from the familiar 1,192 cc (72.7 cu in.) air-cooled, flat four located behind the rear axle. It developed an un-lusty 36 horsepower and drove through a four-speed manual transmission. Suspension was independent all around via torsion bars.

The performance of the Karmann Ghia was inevitably compared with the VW sedan. According to Road & Track magazine (4/56), its zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 28.8 seconds was slightly slower than the sedan's 28.0, no doubt because the coupe weighed 54 kg (120 lb) more. At 798 kg (1,760 lb), however, it was hardly a heavyweight. Top speed was a different story. Its superior aerodynamic shape, and eight inch (203 mm) lower height, made the Karmann Ghia's 122 km/h (76 mph) 10 km/h (6 mph) faster. And like the Beetle, it would cruise happily all day long at top speed and still turn in excellent fuel economy. The owner's manual stated that the maximum and cruising speeds were the same.

The Type 1 Karmann Ghia stayed in production for 19 years virtually unchanged except for achieving slightly more pleasing lines by stretching the front fenders a bit. It provided exactly what the company wanted; a car "For people who can't stand the sight of a Volkswagen," as VW said in its fiendishly clever advertising. For chic Italian styling combined with sturdy VW mechanicals, buyers were willing to pay a premium of approximately $1,000 over the sedan, a significant amount in those days. By the time production ceased in 1974, some 443,000 Karmann Ghias had been built, including 81,000 convertibles. The Karmann Ghia was succeeded by the nimble handling, front engine, front-wheel drive VW Scirocco hatchback, which was clearly the wave of the future.

Type 34 Karmann Ghia - 1962

In 1961 VW announced a car that was intended to be the Beetle's successor: the Type 3. It was a 2-door notchback sedan with a 1493 c.c. engine, advertised as the Volkswagen 1500. Still air-cooled and rear-mounted, thanks to repositioning of the fan and oil cooler, the engine was a mere 16" high, which meant that a station wagon and eventually a fastback version would soon be added. But the most exciting variant was a Type 3 Karmann Ghia coupe. If ever there was a poor man's Porsche, this was it. The 1500 sedan, fastback and wagon all entered production, as did the 1500 Ghia coupe, but the 1500 Ghia convertible never went beyond prototype stage. Today, even diehard VW enthusiasts are hard-pressed to prove its existence.

Carrozzeria Ghia began working on the initial sketches for the VW 1500 Karmann Ghia in late 1958. Sergio Sartorelli, chief Ghia designer, had three sketches ready only days after the contract was awarded. One design was chosen for continued work, and Ghia took it from there. Sartorelli had a completed driveable prototype ready by the end of 1959. VW agreed to produce the prototype Karmann Ghia, with only a few changes. By the September 1961, Frankfurt Auto Show, which was the premier of the entire VW 1500 series, Carrozzeria Ghia had the final production model ready and on display. The show featured the prototype Cabriolet as well.

The Type 34 Karmann Ghia, the flagship of the VW 1500 series, is a notable Volkswagen in several areas. It was the only VW ever available with built-in fog lamps and an electric steel-sliding sunroof (models 345/346). Its styling is, at the very least, controversial. To many enthusiasts and admirers, it is a beautiful and elegant design.

Mass production of the Type 34 Karmann Ghia began in March 1962 at the Karmann factory; and ceased in July 1969, after a total of 42,510 coupes were completed. The Type 34 was not a successful sales model for VW. It was high-priced (as much as a Porsche 356); sales weren't boosted by access to the large American market; and the unusual styling, say some, cut demand. Approximately 70% of the 42,510 produced remained in Germany (30,000) and 30% were exported (12,500) to countries like England, Canada, Australia/New Zealand, and other European countries. The Type 34 KG Registry believes that there are approximately 2500 remaining Type 34s worldwide. The high attrition rate is due to rust caused by the salted roadways common to many countries, and to the obsoleteness of replacement parts. The majority of the remaining cars are in original but unrestored condition, with rust in the wheel wells and battery areas.

Volkswagen Type 3

Type 34 Karmann Ghia

Type 34 Karmann Ghia

Phone: 0412 879 698 | Email us
Content © 2017 Australia For Everyone