Monday, December 15, 2008

Article from March 2007 issue of Hemmings Motor News

1956-'74 VOLKSWAGEN KARMANN GHIA






This article originally appeared in the MARCH 1, 2007 issue of Hemmings Motor News.


These stylish VW coupes and cabriolets all have a "bug" in them.

The concept is simple: Take a best-selling platform with proven mechanicals and drape it with a slinky new body. For comparably little investment, you'll have a new "image" car. It's common practice in the automotive industry, and Volkswagen did just this to create its long-lived, long-loved Karmann Ghia coupe and cabriolet.

Although demand for Volkswagens in the mid-1950s wasn't as high as it would be in ten years, the Wolfsburg plant continued to ramp up production of the Sedan and Transporter. American demand for the cheeky Cabriolet kept busy their contracted assembler, Wilhelm Karmann GMBH coachworks, in Osnabr├╝ck. Knowing expansion helps business, VW company leaders felt it wise to add to the range, which then only included variants of the aforementioned two models.

A one-off Volkswagen coupe, which had been privately bodied by Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia of Turin and exhibited to the VW brass at the Karmann works in 1953, became the impetus for the automaker's sportiest air-cooled model. Exhibiting styling cues that showed the influence of the Ghia-built Chrysler D'El├ęgance cars of 1953 (designed by American stylist Virgil Exner) and accommodating the Volkswagen's platform restrictions and rear engine design, the special 2+2 coupe was approved for production. Karmann's craftsmen would build and trim the new model, starting with complete Sedan floorpans and independently sprung mechanicals coming directly from Wolfsburg.

Named after its coachbuilder and styling house and virtually hand-assembled, the production Karmann Ghia coupe debuted in 1956, to be followed by the cabriolet in 1958. Coupes were four inches wider, three inches longer and seven inches lower than comparable Sedans, and cabriolets featured insulated, double-layer tops with glass rear windows. These early cars used the Sedan's 36hp, 1,192cc, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual gearbox, and their low-placed headlamps and small "nostril" air intakes would be exchanged for headlamps set at the tops of the front fenders and larger nostrils in late 1959, and styling would change only superficially with larger bumpers, turn signals and taillamps until the end of production.

Mechanical changes to the Sedan would be echoed in the Karmann Ghia, so bumps in displacement and horsepower (40hp in 1961, 50hp and 1,285cc in 1966, 53hp and 1,493cc in 1967, 57hp and 1,585cc for 1970, 60hp in 1971) were frequent. A conventional automatic transmission, as found in Volkswagen's Type 3 Fastback and Squareback, was never offered in the Sedan or Karmann Ghia, the closest option being the "Automatic Stick Shift," a clutchless three-speed manual with a torque converter. Despite the Karmann Ghia's racy appearance, performance was understandably sedate, although better aerodynamics allowed it to reach a higher top speed--90 mph in 1972--than the car upon which it was based; like other VWs, it could maintain that top speed nearly indefinitely.

The Karmann Ghia coupe and cabriolet commanded roughly $400-$700 more than their Sedan and cabriolet counterparts when new, and their values continue to rise today, averaging between $4,000-$10,000, depending on model and year. Although the 365,912 Karmann Ghia coupes and 79,326 cabriolets produced from 1956 to 1974 were just a fraction of VW output during that period, their halo effect on the brand was far greater.

2 comments:

Ludwig's Drivers

I remember a former roommate's 1971 Ghia. Talk about small--we took it with another friend to see Fugazi in Kansas City. Luckily she (the owner) didn't want to drive in the big city and the friend was a terrible driver period, so I got to drive the whole time and didn't have to try to wedge myself into what VW called the back seat.
Alright,
whc03grady

Big Blue's Driver

I've never actually been in one. My friend who had one at work left the country - headed to Germany - and shipped his Ghia back east before leaving. I should have bothered him for a ride.

I have yet to sit in the backseat of Little Blue and don't look forward to it...

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