A reviewer once described the Karmann Ghia as, “A Volkswagen Beetle in an Italian suit”, which, in addition to being a catchy phrase, is entirely accurate. Built between 1955 and 1974, the Karmann Ghia employed a VW Beetle engine, transmission, and suspension beneath a timelessly beautiful body designed in Italy by the legendary Carrozzeria Ghia, and hand-fabricated by the craftsmen at Wilhelm Karmann GmbH in Germany. Presented to Volkswagen by Dr. Karmann in 1953, the car swept VW leadership off its collective feet with its class and beauty. Once the costs and other details were ironed out, the new car was given the green light for production beginning in model year 1955 – Karmann would build it and VW would sell it around the world.
Following its public introduction at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Karmann Ghia received accolades from those in attendance, including Autosport Magazine, which complimented the Karmann Ghia for its “purity of line and perfection of proportion that almost takes one’s breath away.”
The purity of the Karmann Ghia design was made possible by hand-finishing of the bodies. Many of the compound curved panels were composed of several smaller panels that were welded together and hand-finished by filling in the seams with melted solder, then filing down the solder by hand. The completed bodies were then dipped in primer, wet-sanded, and followed by multiple coats of color paint with hand sanding between coats. The result was a glossy body with virtually no visible seams between body panels.
A Karmann Ghia Cabriolet was introduced in 1957 to accompany the coupe. Evolving over its lifetime, the Karmann Ghia retained its shape and proportion, as well as its hand-crafted body. The major evolutions by the 1960 model year included raising the headlights, reshaping the wheel arch openings, and making the taillights taller and more rounded. A total of 485,983 Karmann Ghias were made in almost twenty years of production.
The engine became larger and the power increased as Volkswagen improved the Beetle. In 1960, The Karmann Ghia was powered by a 1200 cc air-cooled four-cylinder engine producing 30 horsepower coupled to a four-speed manual transmission. Although the Ghia was faster than a Beetle, performance was not its forte.
In an automotive world in which hyper-performance cars with outrageous horsepower and cutting edge – but often unattractive – design rule the roost, the understated beauty and perfection of the Karmann Ghia has often been overlooked by the popular media. For them, unusable performance is deemed more newsworthy than the Karmann Ghia’s purity of design and quality construction.
Fortunately for the Karmann Ghia, it is still recognized by the true design professionals, like noted designer Peter Brock, who selected it as one of four cars that define “Affordable Perfection.” Says Brock, “It is one of history’s few designs that remains timeless and could even be built today as a hybrid electric and not look out of place.”
Hagerty collector car evaluation selected the Karmann Ghia as one of its “Five Classics You’d Never Guess were Great Investments” and estimates the value of a Karmann Ghia to be between $41,500 in #1 concours (perfect) condition and $8,000 for one in #4 fair condition. All Karmann Ghia values have increased dramatically since January of 2015. Maybe, just maybe, car collectors have finally awakened and now appreciate the exquisite design and quality construction of the Karmann Ghia – after all, it’s only taken them sixty years to recognize the Ghia’s “affordable perfection.”
Hagerty – Great Investments https://www.hagerty.com/Articles-Videos/Articles/2015/12/22/Great-Investments
Hagerty – Peter Brock ‘Affordable Perfection’ https://www.hagerty.com/Articles-Videos/Articles/2015/04/28/Affordable-Perfection