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NPC: Interesting article on the Karmann Ghia

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, 1956 - 1974
Story and photo by Bill Vance

1968 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia cabriolet
1968 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia cabriolet. Click image to enlarge


The rise of the giant Volkswagen factory after World War II in what became the West German City of Wolfsburg, was a modern industrial miracle. Constructed before the war to build Hitler's "Peoples Car," it produced few cars before and during the war. It mostly built Volkswagen-based Kubelwagens, Germany's version of the Jeep. When hostilities ended, the plant was largely in ruins from allied bombing.

The British were placed in charge of the mile-long factory, but didn't know what to do with it. There were also the thousands of freed prisoners of war, displaced persons and refugees streaming in from Soviet-controlled East Germany just eight kilometres (five miles) to the east.

The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers used the plant as a military vehicle repair facility. But that was only a temporary measure, and the army requested that a British commission, headed by Lord Roots of the Hillman Motor Car Co., study the plant and a Volkswagen car, and make recommendations on their potential.

The commission concluded that the Volkswagen was technically inferior, ugly and noisy, the type of car that "... will remain popular for two or three years, if that. To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Regarding the plant, their advice was simple: Raze it.

In the meantime, the ex-prisoners and others scrounged around and found the hidden VW tooling. They set about cleaning up and restoring the plant. Pleased to see the people occupied, the British Army began trucking in coal from the Ruhr Valley. By the end of 1945 the enterprising Germans had produced several hundred Volkswagens.

There were setbacks along the way, but the VW plant gradually got into full scale production. By March, 1953, it had built a half-million Beetles, and by August, 1955, a million.

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 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.

http://www.canadiandriver.com/articles/bv/karmann_ghia.htm
Old 07-15-2004, 09:12 AM
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Interesting Article. I've always been a big fan of the KG. I think they are wrong in implying the Scricco was the sucessor to the KG. That honour goes to none other then the 914/4! (Body by Karmann don't ya know).
I have a 66 ghia that I've driven almost daily for nearly a decade. It has a mildly souped up 1776. The biggest improvement was disk brakes all the way around.
The car handles well for what it is and has amazing curb appeal. I get far more comments and questions driving it then I do my 76 2.0. Long term I'd like to put my spare 2 liter bus motor in the ghia. The 914 is more fun to drive, top down , revving that sucker and screaming through the corners. On the other hand both my wife and the dog can go with me when I take the Ghia..
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Old 07-16-2004, 06:32 PM
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I like this quote from the article:


Quote:
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.
Old 07-16-2004, 08:19 PM
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Thats more or less true. 2 years ago I drove mine 3000 miles in 4 days. I don't often take the Interstates in this car but in this case I did. It will run 75 all day long. The fastest I've gone , straight and level is 82. Frankly it is an uncomfortable feeling to go that fast in a 36 yr old car with skinny tires.
My biggest problem is driving at night. My all black 66 ghia's tail lights are rougly 5 square inchs and as bright as a mid-winters night in New Foundland. I attached several reflective strips to the inside of my rear window so might be visible to the Schumacher/Ernhardt wannabes who drive 80+ at night.
Bill
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66 Red &White Ghia 2liter 914 engine ..restoring it from a californicated custom soon
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94 saturn wagon ..the wifes pos
Old 07-17-2004, 05:18 AM
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I was looking for an aircooled VW that handled well and that's how I found the 914.
Old 07-17-2004, 07:23 AM
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When my Brother offerred to sell me his 914, I sold my KG (in 1990).
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Old 07-17-2004, 09:58 PM
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The 68 had the new bumpers.I think that may be a 67.
Old 07-18-2004, 08:55 AM
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Or a 68 sold outside the USA?
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66 Black Ghia..all original ,including rust
66 Red &White Ghia 2liter 914 engine ..restoring it from a californicated custom soon
90 Maroon and Silver Conversion Van ..the shag mobile..family car/camper
94 saturn wagon ..the wifes pos
Old 07-18-2004, 02:57 PM
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That is the correct front bumper for up to '71 on a Ghia. Ghias were more hand-assembled than hand built.

John www.ghiaspecialties.com
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Old 07-18-2004, 04:14 PM
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My Karmann Ghia cabriolet is a daily driver in the summer. It sure gets a lot of attention, more than the 914 but not as much as the VW Thing. It was great car for the niche it was made for, a semi-sporty reliable car. It is fun as heck to drive (I know, I know the 914 is funner...).

Thanks,

Kevin
Old 07-18-2004, 06:57 PM
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68

MY 68 had the new bumpers
Old 07-18-2004, 08:20 PM
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67

I also had a 67 with the old bumpers
Old 07-18-2004, 08:21 PM
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If your '68 Ghia had the larger beetle like bumpers then either someone converted it, or it was not a '68 body. '72-'74 had late style bumpers. Bug bumpers changed to the late style in '68, but not Ghias.

John www.ghiaspecialties.com
Old 07-19-2004, 06:22 AM
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Re: NPC: Interesting article on the Karmann Ghia

Quote:
Originally posted by Alfred1

The commission concluded that the Volkswagen was technically inferior, ugly and noisy, the type of car that "... will remain popular for two or three years, if that. To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Regarding the plant, their advice was simple: Raze it.
Now that is halarious. I'll give them the ugly quote, cause i can see how some people wouldn't like the look of the bug, but technically inferior? Noisy? HAHA. Silly limies. Ask any old Jaguar mechaninc about the 1 in 7 rule...

Now thats funny.
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Old 07-19-2004, 10:46 AM
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Hey John, what year did the Ghias start using IRS?
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Old 07-19-2004, 11:58 AM
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Hi Jason,

If I remember right, the '68 auto-stick had IRS, and then all from '69 on.

John www.ghiaspecialties.com
Old 07-19-2004, 12:17 PM
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