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.
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.
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.
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.
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’…
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.
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