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SNAPSHOT 330: 1958 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

The Volkswagen Karmann Ghia sports car, the Type 14, was marketed from 1955 to 1974 as a 2+2 coupé and from 1957 to 1974 as a 2+2 convertible. Built on the VW Type 1 Beetle chassis, it derived its name from styling by Italy’s Carrozzeria Ghia and hand-built bodywork by the German coachbuilders Karmann. More than 445,000 Type 14s were produced.

The car was born from the happy coming-together of three events: Volkswagen needed a halo model as standards of living increased in the 1950s; Ghia wanted to expand their international reputation; and Karmann were eager to expand their contract manufacture of VW’s convertible Beetles. Luigi Segre of Ghia had discussed the idea with Hermann Karmann and in the early 1950s Segre secretly obtained a Beetle, designed the prototype and built it within five months. He showed it to Karmann, who encouraged him to develop it into a production-ready car – and Karmann duly presented this to Volkswagen.

The car was approved in 1953 and was launched in 1955. In 1957 Volkswagen introduced a convertible version, and in 1961 the styling changed in several small ways, including wider and finned front grilles, taller and more rounded rear taillights and headlights relocated to a higher position (the previous models were thereafter called lowlights). In 1970 and 1972 the taillights were successively increased in size; bumpers were steadily enlarged and, in the USA, gained the customary energy-absorbing design. In late 1974 the Karmann Ghia was superseded by the Golf-based Scirocco. The Type 14 was pitched as a practical and stylish 2+2 rather than as a true sports car. Its engines grew in size with those of the Beetle, until they finally reached 1500cc and produced 60bhp.

During the years 1962 to 1969 Volkswagen marketed the Type 34, based on the Type 3 platform with more angular styling. Strangely, it was never officially offered in the USA – one possible reason for its relatively low sales; only around 42,500 were produced. Another reason was its elevated price: it was the most expensive and luxurious passenger car VW manufactured in the 1960s — at the time costing twice as much as a Beetle in many markets.

A final version of the Karmann Ghia was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ghia for Volkswagen do Brasil. The result was the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia TC (Touring Coupé), internally known as the Type 145. It was a 2+2 coupe with a modern interior, based on the Volkswagen Variant platform. Over 18,000 TC models were produced during a production run from 1972 until 1975. It was offered only in South America and was not exported from that continent.

Photo courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive.


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