Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia – 1955

Having hit the jackpot with its ‘People’s Car’, the utilitarian and reliable Type 1 (Beetle), VW repeated its success with the Karmann – Ghia.

As the world started to recover from postwar austerity and aspire to upwardly mobile, image-enhancing lifestyle statements, VW cannily responded to the zeitgeist with a stunningly attractive, and attractively priced, 2+2 coupe that brought the dream of owning a sports car within the grasp of the ordinary person in the street. The coupe was an instant hit, followed almost immediately by an equally popular convertible version.

The K-G was constructed on a Type 1 platform using the Beetle engine and backbone chassis with a slightly widened floorpan. The impeccably styled body emerged from the Italian design house Carrozzeria Ghia and was produced by Karmann coachbuilders. Backed by VW’s well-established reputation for sound engineering and a famously punchy advertising campaign, the K-G soon became the leading import car in the US and over the years almost half a million were produced.

Although a right-hand drive version was built, the K-G never really took off in Britain because restrictive import duties made it prohibitively pricey.

The K-G was unbeatable in its price class for looks, quality and comfort. And even though it didn’t have anything like enough power to be classified as a true sports car, it was a superb tourer – a perfect combination of Teutonic technology and Italian glamour. The light steering, low-slung body and bucket seats give the illusion of being in a nippy little sports car and even though the K-G is not really much speedier than the Beetle, it is really good fun to drive ┬Ča timeless classic that is eminently affordable with easily obtainable spare parts.


Germany (and also built in Brazil)


1955 (until 1974)


1,192 cc Flat Four


Early models could hit a top speed of 76 mph (122 km/h) which improved to 85 mph (140 km/h) in later years.


A variant of the Karmann-Ghia, the Type 34 was introduced in 1961. It had considerably more power than the original but was less strikingly attractive and never achieved anything like the sales, although today it has become something of a collector’s item simply for its rarity value.


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