The Forgotten Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

Volkswagen is well known for its classic and new age Beetles, Jettas and Buses, but there is one VW car that seems to have been forgotten by many: the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.

If you were alive in the 60s and 70s, a light may have just gone off in your head. You’re probably thinking “I remember those!” or even “I used to have one!” and chances are you probably think pretty highly of them.

If you’ve never seen, heard of, or even knew about the Karmann Ghia, you may still find this exciting little coupe to have the artistic and fun design you have come to know and love from Volkswagen.

Designed in the 60s and 70s, the Karmann Ghia was produced heavily, with over 445,000 models made, and thousands more of variations for the Brazilian and South American markets. These numbers are astonishing if you consider that the Karmann Ghia was not built by machines. That’s right, the Karmann Ghia was almost entirely built by hand.

A vintage Volkswagen Karmann Ghia sports car is on display during the 25th Annual Woodward Dream Cruise in Royal Oak, Michigan, USA, August 17, 2019. | Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This sporty looking 2-door coupe was offered as a hardtop or a convertible, and the design received input from many manufacturers, artists, and car designers. Overall, Volkwagen looked to Karmann, whom they already had an established relationship with because of their work with the convertible VW Beetle, and Carrozzeria Ghia, an Italian car designer, and coachbuilding company. These two key players are where the car received its uncommon name: the Karmann Ghia.

Carrozzeria Ghia, having worked with Chrysler in the past years, had taken a design originally created for the D’Elegance, and downsized to create the overall appearance of the Karmann Ghia. The already designed D’Elegance had the unique and sporty look that VW was looking to achieve, and the already long rear-deck accommodated the Volkswagon’s midengine plans.

31 January 2020, Bremen: At the Bremen Classic Motorshow a VW Karmann Ghia Type 14 is being worked on. On an area of almost 50,000 square metres, 738 exhibitors from ten countries will be showing their cars and motorcycles for three days. | Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

The flowing, artistic body lines of the car are completely seamless. The doors, hood and rear deck are the only individualized parts of the entire body. The metal body was hand-built, hand-welded and hand-shaped to create one single piece of artwork that covered the car’s chassis. The Karmann Ghia sat on a Volkswagen Beetle chassis that had been widened by almost 4 inches to make this a full-sized coupe.

Volkswagen took an interesting market stance with the Karmann Ghia by marketing it as a “sporty looking” coupe that really provided no power whatsoever. In fact, throughout several changes to the drivetrain, the car was never produced to have more than 100hp, making the car unusually slow. This somehow appealed to a hidden market of sports-car lovers who didn’t necessarily care for the speed.

Although the car wasn’t very fast, many people loved the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and they can still be found driving around the road today or sitting at your local classic car show. Some builders have even redesigned the car to have bigger motors, more power or wider bodies. While the average driver may have forgotten the Karmann Ghia, car enthusiasts everywhere are still keeping this Volkswagen dream alive.