Category Archives: Karmann Ghia

Will of the Triumph

TRiffic!

TRiffic!

Americans post-war love affair with British sports cars opened the door to the idea of imported cars in general and nothing’s been the same since.  The very first name that springs to mind in this regard is MG but Triumph was also a very significant player in this small field.  Its TR3 was a direct competitor to the MG-A and the later TR4 was the firm’s answer to the MG-B.

We encountered a much later TR, this one a TR6, on the mean streets of Palo Alto, CA a few months ago.  Owner Mike Cobb revealed that the car was purchased new in 1974 and he’s been driving it ever since. He’s put 80,000 miles on its odometer that is nestled in a very traditional wood-clad dashboard.

Wood is good

Wood is good

Production of TR6s ceased just two years later as the British auto industry continued its downward spiral towards near-extinction.  As with predecessor TRs, the car’s primary export market was the US.  Did we say “primary export?” Make that just “primary.” Period. We were shocked to read that, of the total of almost 95,000 TR6s produced, more than 86,000 were exported, most to these shores. A paltry 8,400 were sold in the UK.

Union jacks comes standard

Union Jack: ON!

Style-wise, the TR6 was something of an update of the TR4 that had been designed by Giovanni Michelotti who had penned all manner cars for Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia and — though the gang in Munich is loath to admit it — the iconic BMW 1600/2002.  The transformation to TR6  was undertaken by Karmann, as in Karmann-Ghia. That’s right, the look of an iconic British sports car that actually wears a Union Jack on its rear flanks is, in no small measure, the product of Italian and German minds.

"We shall fight them on the beaches.."

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds.. and in the streets…”

Speaking of the Axis Powers, let’s not forget the Battle of Britain, won in the skies by the RAF’s heroic Spitfires in mortal combat with the Luftwaffe’s Messerchmitts.  That valiant fighter plane lent its name to Triumph’s smaller sport cars, a competitor to MG’s Midget and Austin-Healey’s Sprite. We encountered a ’65 Spitfire Mk 2 in our local supermarket parking lot the other evening and we were impressed by the car’s “as is” condition.  Clearly, this very original roadster has never been restored. In fact, that babied Palo Alto TR6’s little brother seems to have been trashed to some extent.

Bonnet popper

Bonnet popper

Our supermarket Spitfire was sporting a newish soft top, but the rest of the car seemed to not have been messed with all that much over the past 50 years and that’s really not a criticism.  We think it’s a vehicular manifestation of that stiff upper lip ethos which we most heartily applaud.

Black plate special

Black plate special

We dug deep into the massive Feral Cars image bank and found another TR6 which —  taking a wild guess here — seems to have been painted a non-factory stock color.

Purple passion

Purple passion

Lastly, we found this “missing link” between the TR4 and TR6, logically called TR5. It was captured in Philadelphia a while back and happened to be parked just outside a conclave of the Society of Automotive Historians, giving those scholars lots to consider and discuss.  These were sold in the US as TR250 but this example, despite the decorative UK number plate and badged TR5, seems to be a US market car (left hand drive, side markers in compliance with federal regulations) and is equipped with a “Surrey Top,” Triumph’s answer to Porche’s Targa.

Can you surrey?

Can you Surrey?

We found this very presentable and very, very red ’74 TR6 in nearby Beverly, MA for a mere $9300.  In terms of today’s rate of exchange that’s only £6070!  See those rubber bumper extensions on Mike Cobb’s lovely blue TR6 at the top of this post? They were Federally mandated from mid-’74 forward and this US-market TV commercial made tongue-in-cheek reference to them.

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Chic people’s car: the uncommonly pretty Karmann Ghia

Go Ghia, go!

Go Ghia, go!

There have been quite a few articles published and posted of late citing the fact that the first Volkswagen imported to the US came ashore 65 years ago.  Of course, the model that established VW’s American bridgehead was the Beetle, post-war production of which had resumed in 1945.  Basic utility was Volkwagen’s calling; the Beetle (official designation: Type 1) and Transporter/Microbus derivative (Type 2) were no frills, form-follows-function machines.

Type 14 co-habits with Type 2; the camper just likes to watch

Type 14 co-habits with Type 2; the camper just likes to watch

In 1956, Volkswagen commissioned German coachbuilder Karmann to produce a sporting coupe (and, two years later, a convertible) based on standard VW components.  The car’s design was attributed to Carrozzeria Ghia of Turin. Designated Type 14, this was, of course the Karmann-Ghia. We think it’s one of the most beautiful designs of the mid-1950s, irrespective of size or cost.

Shared DNA

Shared DNA

Ferdinand Porsche had used many VW components — engine case, transmission and suspension pieces — in his earliest sports cars, not surprising in light of his role in pre-war VW design and development.  The Karmann Ghia was not really a sports car but, rather, a glamorous new body beneath which lurked the workings of the regular Beetle.  The swanky VW, sold at a significant premium over its stablemates, was a hit with those who liked its chic look and didn’t care all that much about taking on Triumphs, MGs, Jaguars or Corvettes on the track.

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Over an 18 year run, VW went on to build 443,000 Karmann Ghias, most of which were shipped to the U.S.  During that time, some evolutionary changes transpired that reflected the updating of its underpinnings but the beautiful body aged gracefully even with thicker bumpers and chunkier parking light tail lights.  Seeing one in the wild is always a delight and we offer these examples as automotive eye candy.

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Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 8.12.17 AM

Karmann Ghia’s design seems to take quite a few cues  — the rear fenders, the greenhouse, roofline — from the 1953 Chrysler d’Elegance a concept car.  While it was built for Chrysler by Ghia, it was designed by Virgil Exner. The Karmann Ghia is, clearly a scaled down adaptation of that design so maybe VW’s snazzy little coupe should have been called the Karmann Exner.  Just sayin’…

Hmm, do ya think?

Hmm, do ya think?  Stand-up tail lights notwithstanding, a remarkable resemblance but lots bigger…

This post give us yet another excuse to conjure up Mel Brooks who included a character named Carmen Ghia in The Producers who utters the immortal line here, “May I take you hat, your coat and your swastikas?”

If you’re interested in putting a sweet Karmann Ghia n your garage check out this ’66 coupe on for sale in Reno.  Love the color combination and the fact it hasn’t been messed with. It’s not cheap but beautiful things rarely are.

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.