In June 1955, the Karmann-Ghia coupe was born. It was introduced to the press that July, but the car destined to become the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia had a history that began much earlier. In honor of its 60th anniversary, we’re reviewing the Ghia’s path from nameless novelty to VW icon.
Unknown to Karmann or Volkswagen, the Ghia coachworks (Carozzeria Ghia) owner Mario Boano designed a VW coupe. His “paper car” refined previous Ghia styling ideas. Ghia tried building the car, but Volkswagen wouldn’t supply a chassis. Meanwhile, Karmann and VW discussed building a Beetle-based sports convertible. Vokswagen management rejected Karmann’s styling concepts.
Dr. Karmann shared his sports car idea with Carozzeria Ghia’s commercial director, Luigi Serge. Ghia, during this year, decided to build a concept car that Chrysler styling chief Virgil Exner designed for a Chrysler chassis.
Dr. Karmann shared the Volkswagen sports car idea with Carozzeria Ghia’s commercial director, Luigi Serge. Ghia, during this year, decided to build the Exner-designed body on a Chrysler chassis.
Ghia built the first in a series of Chrysler show cars, or Styling Specials.
Early in the year, Mario Boano’s son, Gian, acquired a Volkswagen Beetle from Charles Ladouche, the French importer of Volkswagen and Chrysler cars. Within five months, Ghia’s Turin, Italy facilities completed a prototype.Karmann-Ghia. By late summer, Serge presented this coupe to Dr. Karmann.
Karmann’s body engineering team designed body tooling and modified a Volkswagen chassis. Only four or five test cars were built. Since the coupe’s fenders were welded into the body shell and that shell used many small pressings, there were nearly 140 inches of welds on the outer skin. Many stampings were water-cooled to prevent distortion. A convertible prototype is built.
June – The first unnamed Karmann coupe was completed.
July 14 – Karmann offered the press a preview of the nameless Volkswagen sport car coupe. Volkswagen decided to call the lithe coupe the Karmann Ghia. On September 14, the car was officially introduced at the Frankfurt auto show. The Karmann-built coupe differed slightly from Ghia’s prototype. Changes included twin nostril-type front apron vents, curved side glass, full-width bumpers, wider chrome strips around the windows, relocated front signal lamps, revised rear deck louvers and a repositioned Ghia fender badge.
August – Karmann Ghia convertible production began. A fuel gauge and an elaborate Ghia-only horn ring were introduced. Vinyl replaced cloth on the door panels. The roller accelerator wheel was replaced with a treadle pedal.
September – The convertible was officially introduction at the Frankfurt International Motor Show. Deliveries to the United States were to begin in 1958. Various body reinforcements were used tp compensate for the topless car’s reduced body rigidity. All U.S.-bound Ghias got “plumber’s delight” bumper overrider tubes.
August – The Kartmann-Ghia door hinges got multi-position check straps
April – The Karmann Ghia now had revised windows and window winding mechanisms.
August – The Karmann Ghia lost its voluptuous front fender dip; the headlights were raised two inches and the wheel arch openings were reshaped. The front nostrils were replaced by perky multi-louvered intakes. The quarter windows popped out and there were larger rear lamps. Other changes included a padded dash with grab handle; side trim length is changed; added driver side door arm rest; a special Ghia horn ring replaced by a semi-circular Beetle ring and a dished steering wheel.
August – Ghia welcomed a new 40-hp 1200cc engine with fully synchronized four-speed transmission, a new carburetor with an automatic electric choke and a flatter gas tank that increased trunk room. This was the last year for the fuel reserve lever.
August – Seat belt anchor provisions were installed. The front VW emblem was revised and the price was reduced to $2,295 for the coupe and $2,495 for the convertible. A worm-and-roller steering gear improved precision.
August – A smaller Ghia script from Type III Ghia and the Volkswagen name were installed on rear deck lid.
August – A fresh air heating system was added to the Karmann-Ghia and the use of the semi-circular horn ring was disconstinued. Type III interior door lock controls were installed. The exterior door handles and latch assemblies were of a revised design.
April – The convertible top waschanged. Sheet metal pressings replaced castings. Various other changes were made through mid-1965 to reduce the top’s bulk.
April – Two levers near the parking brake handle replaced the former heater knob. The sun visors now swiveled sideways. Side trim and interior lights were revised. Basket-weave vinyl seat covers were available.
August – A larger 1300cc engine with a Solex 30 PICT carburetor improved acceleration. A new ball-joint front suspension increased steering precision and the semi-circular horn ring returned. Flat hubcaps now graced vented wheels. The battery was moved to left side of the engine compartment and the air cleaner was now on the right. An ashtray was now mounted below the dashboard, which sported new plastic chrome trim. The swan-like, fender-mounted, rear-view mirror was replaced by a door-mounted break-away design. Front lid drain tubes were added.
August – A Type III-inspired 1500cc engine was new. The Karmann-Ghia also got a rear “z” bar, a wider rear track and “softer” rear spring rates. Front disc brakes were adopted and four-bolt wheels. Dual brake circuits were now required in the U.S. A new final drive ratio lowered engine rpms for smoother cruising. Also new was a 12-volt electrical system. A fake wood dash fascia and dashboard knee pads sported a mini Ghia script. The large speedometer was flanked by smaller gauges. Round, dash-mounted fresh-air control knobs replaced levers below the dash. The door locks now had buttons on door tops.
August – The Karmann-Ghia gained rear side reflectors. The gas filler was moved to the right front fender as a safety measure. It had a nifty paint protecting rubber flap. New was an automatic Stick-Shift transmission and a new multi-jointed rear suspension. A mirror-shaft mounted interior lamp was also introduced. The seat backs were taller, too. The trunk release was moved inside the lockable glove compartment. Front shoulder straps became standard equipment. Air conditioning was now an option. Other new features included trigger-style exterior door handles and a column-mounted ignition switch
August – The manual transmission model’s swing axles were replaced by new multi-jointed rear suspension (IRS), which improved handling. Separate headrests were attached on the front seat backs. An electric rear window defroster was new. The convertible got a glass rear window. The gas filler on the top of the right fender now has a remote release. A locking steering column was introduced.
August – This model year brought larger front and rear signal lamps. The rear lamps now included back-up lights. The rear reflectors were relocated and redesigned. A 1600cc single-port engine was adopted. With the start of the 1970 model year there were throttle positioners–either vacuum operated or dashpots installed to reduce emissions. An air intake preheating system was thermostatically controlled by the engine’s thermostat. An evaporative emissions system was installed on California cars and eventually became standard on all U.S. models. Also new was a detachable rear lid drain tray with tubes.
August – Another new engine was a 1600cc dual-port edition with a Solex 34 PICT-3 carburetor. The thermostatically controlled air preheating system now had a separate thermostat on the air cleaner assembly. The door locks reverted to an earlier style. Volkswagen also switched to larger defroster outlets and felt-style carpeting.
August – Changes introduced in 1971 included single blade sturdier bumpers, Type III rear tail lamps and a four-spoke collapsible steering wheel. The new dashboard fascia and window sills were covered by pebble-grain plastic. A safety enhancement was inertia-locking, single-tab seat and shoulder belts. The instrument cluster was redesigned. Fuel, speed and time were now indicated within two tunnel-like round dials. Volkswagen also revised the vacuum-controlled intake air preheating system. The right-hand stalk on the steering column now operated the windshield wipers. The fresh-air control knobs were moved. The door window seals were changed and the window scrapers were revised. Mew seat covers appeared. The compression ratio was dropped from 7.7 to 7.3.
August – The 1973 Karmann-Ghia’s reinforced front bumper met new U.S. safety standards. An alternator was introduced during the 1973 model year. Revisions were made to the fuel pump body and the push rod. Girling front brake calipers were installed. A new cylinder head alloy was used. Engine and transaxle mounts were also improved. A “Fasten seat belt” warning system and a parking brake warning lamp were adopted. The rear “emergency sea” was eliminated. Exhaust gas recirculation was required on California models.
August – The rear bumper was extended to meet a new bumper standard. All models had an EGR system. California cars got Solex 34 PICT-4 carburetors and a twin-tube intake manifold preheating system. Volkswagen also introduced a seat belt/starter interlock. A small lamp beneath the dash illuminated the heater controls. Brake light and fasten seat belt lamps were now placed together at the center of the dashboard. The Volkswagen Owner Security Blanket with Computer Analysis (12-month or 20,000-miles basic warranty) provided free “substitute transportation.” Volkswagen claimed a 0-60 mph time of 18.5sec. and a top speed of 90mph.
December 21 – European Type I Ghia production halted, but U.S. export production continued.
June 21 – Karmann-Ghia production halted. The Coupe’s price was $3,475. A Motorola-built AM radio with stereo eight-track player was a popular option.