History of the Karmann Ghia

Simply put, the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia is a stylish and iconic sports-style car that has long captured hearts. Popular in the US in the mid century, there’s been a real insurgence in its popularity.

But this time it’s taking the whole world by storm.

This car has a rich and fascinating history, from its design and production to its enduring popularity and legacy, even making appearances in Hollywood films and video games.

karmann ghia history

After the War…

After the end of World War II, and for many – the Great Depression, the world was slowly beginning to recover. Over the next decade, people saw a steady increase in income and subsequently, the world saw more demand for the concept of “getting more for one’s money”. Particularly in the automotive world, there was a dire lack in vehicles that were anything but ‘simple and functional’. Cue, an emergence of flagship cars from auto companies such as Volkswagen, Chevrolet, and Ford.

Volkswagen in particular at that time were marketing fairly well in small and efficient cars – the Beetle and the Bus – and had built quite the reputation for being reliable, so they wanted a model to be rather more of an “image car”. Through the desire of W. Karmann GmbH, producers of the Beetle Cabriolet for VW, the Karmann Ghia concept was born.

Chrysler contracted with the Italian styling and coach building firm of, aptly named, Ghia, to build a series of “image cars”. Some of these cars were ultimately produced, but one car that did not make it to production ended up benefiting Volkswagen substantially. That car would eventually become the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. While Chrysler worked with Ghia, Volkswagen contracted with the German coach builder, Karmann to build their “image” car, and Karmann, in need of a design, approached Ghia and somehow the old Chrysler design resurfaced and was modified to fit the floorpan of the VW Beetle.

Design and Production of the Karmann Ghia

The Karmann Ghia was first designed by Italian coach-builder Carrozzeria Ghia in the early 1950s. It was a joint project with German car manufacturer Volkswagen, who provided the chassis and mechanical components. The car’s design was intended to be a sleek and stylish sports car, with a low-slung body, curved roofline, and distinctive rear end.

The first Karmann Ghia prototypes were created in 1953, and the car went into production in 1955. It was manufactured by Wilhelm Karmann GmbH at their factory in Osnabrück, Germany. Often dubbed the “poor man’s Porsche”, the Karmann Ghia was based on the Volkswagen Beetle, but it had a distinctive body design that set it apart from its more utilitarian counterpart.

In 1969, the Karmann Ghia was named one of the most beautifully designed products in the world, and it is good to see that that still holds up for many people today!

Popularity and Legacy of the Karmann Ghia

The Karmann Ghia was an instant success when it was first introduced, especially amongst starry-eyed Americans who wanted to cruise around in something cool. It was stylish, affordable, and fun to drive, and it quickly became a favourite of car enthusiasts around the world. Over the years, the car went through several design changes and upgrades, including a larger rear window, a longer wheelbase, and more powerful engines.

The first Karmann Ghia prototypes were created in 1953, and the car was in production from 1955 until 1974, with a total of over 445,000 units manufactured.

Today, it remains an iconic and highly sought-after classic car, with an incredibly loyal following.

Technical Specifications of the Karmann Ghia

The Karmann Ghia was powered by an air-cooled, rear-mounted engine, with displacement ranging from 1.2 to 1.6 litres, and horsepower ranging from 30 to 60. The car had a top speed of around 90 miles per hour and was equipped with a four-speed manual transmission. It was also known for its excellent handling and manoeuvrability, making it a joy to drive on winding roads.

In Conclusion…

The Volkswagen Karmann Ghia is a true classic of the automotive world, with a rich history and enduring legacy. From its distinctive design and production to its enduring popularity and loyal fanbase, this car has captured the hearts and imaginations of car enthusiasts around the world. Whether you’re a collector, an enthusiast, or simply a fan of classic cars, the small and loveable Karmann Ghia is a car that is sure to impress.

Images © Volkswagen