Vintage & Classics

The best-looking Volkswagen was a Beetle underneath, but on top it was a stone cold fox

The Karmann Ghia was a German car but it had very Italian design nods.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The Volkswagen Beetle can be called a lot of things but, it's not beautiful. In fact, throughout automotive history, few Volkswagens have been good looking. Quirky, sure. Sexy? Sophisticated? Only one comes to mind: Karmann Ghia.

Eighteen years after VW was founded, the first Karmann Ghia was produced. A coupe, it had the heart and underpinnings of the German Beetle. On top, and to the outside world, it was Italian.

Known as the Type 14, the Karmann Ghia was the brainchild of Wilhelm Karmann, a contract car manufacturer who got his start building convertibles. Karmann was the sole supplier of Beetle convertibles, which were made at his factory in Osnabruck, Germany.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia The prototype Karmann Ghia was very nearly the same as the model that made it into production.Photo by Tim Hoppe / GARP

In 1953, Karmann met with Carrozzeria Ghia owner Luigi Segre at an auto show and convinced him to take the chassis of a Beetle and design a convertible sports car while talking with the company's owner. Ghia, an automotive design house and coachbuilding firm in Turin, Italy, had risen to notoriety as a contemporary of Pininfarina by building aluminum bodied cars like the Alfa Romeo 6C 1500, which one the Mille Miglia in 1929, and special bodied models for Lancia and Fiat.

Ghia worked in secret for four months, finally showing Karmann the result. Instead of a convertible, it was a coupe. Ghia had customized the platform and delivered, nearly one year to the day after the first conversation regarding the car between Karmann and Segre.

Karmann shared the prototype with Volkswagen's Managing Director at the time, Heinrich Nordhoff, and the two agreed to build a production 2+2 seater coupe and convertible in November 1953. From Volkswagen:

"The prototype Karmann Ghia looked nothing like the Beetle. An elegant nose and front cargo area flowed smoothly into a sizable seating area for two passengers. The thin roof pillars and gracious curves gave the Ghia a sense of motion even at rest, and it has a sporty stance because the body sits seven inches lower than the Beetle. The Beetle engine was stock, but the suspension was altered with a front sway bar and different springs for better handling response. While some of the Karmann Ghia's lines were inspired by other models, it was clearly its own model – and a striking departure for Volkswagen."

Refinements were made by a variety of designers over the next year and a half. The model debuted to the public at the Paris and Frankfurt auto shows in 1955. It had a fresh set of chrome vents on the nose but otherwise left most of the body intact.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia The Karmannn Ghia was produced at Karmann's Osnabruck plant.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Engineers gave the car 36 more horsepower than the Beetle and 150 more pounds of weight. Like the Beetle, it wasn't fast. One magazine reported that it took a whopping 28 seconds to get to 60 mph off the line.

Each Karmann Ghia took hours of hand-built metalworking to come to life. Production began in August 1955 and the first model reached U.S. shores in 1956. VW sold the model for $900 more than the Beetle. It was a hit.

VW would end up building nearly half a million Karmann Ghias over the next 19 years - 362,601 coupes and 80,881 convertibles. Nearly 279,000 of those were sold in the U.S.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia The Karmann Ghia had design that was very of its time.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Throughout its run, the looks of the model changed slightly but the basic outline never changes. A second Karmann Ghia was made, the Type 34, but it never was officially sold in the U.S.

Trending News


Interesting backstory

Volkswagen Bus part inspired popular dog toy

The classic VW Bus inspired one of the most popular dog toys of all time.


Product designs sometimes take inspiration from the places we expect the least. Moments of genius are driven by finding solutions to unique problems, and as it turns out, that's exactly how we ended up with KONG. The beefy, durable dog chew toy is modeled after a Volkswagen Bus part.

Joe Markham's shop Markham needed a dog for security, but he unexpectedly got a chew-crazy pet.Volkswagen

KONG's inventor, Joe Markham, adopted a German Shepherd to help with security at his auto repair shop in downtown Denver, CO. The dog, while a great addition to the shop, came with a few bad habits. The dog's most worrisome hobby was chewing, which he would do with almost anything he could find, especially rocks. As you might imagine, chewing on rocks is not good for the dog's teeth. Markham needed a durable chew toy, but nothing seemed to work, from animal bones to radiator hoses.

The solution came from an unlikely place: While working on a 1960sVW Type 2 Bus, Markham discovered that the rubber axle stop made a perfect chew toy. The dog had gotten ahold of the rubber stop, and while he was chewing viciously, neither the stop nor his teeth were damaged.

The discovery led Markham to spend the next six years experimenting with various rubbers, sizes, and shapes for his dog toy. After working with rubber experts in Germany, the design was finalized and the KONG was born. The shape for the toy ended up being very close to that of the axle stop. The funky, bulbous design meant that the toy wouldn't bounce like a ball, and would instead flop around randomly, which is similar to the way that small animals run away from predators.

VW Bus axle stop The axle stop from a VW Bus inspired KONG's shape.Volkswagen

It's worth noting that you should not intentionally let your dog chew on any part of your vehicle. Even unused automotive parts can contain chemicals and other harmful materials that could make your dog sick or worse. This isn't a pitch to buy a KONG, just a warning about the hazards of car parts being used as dog toys.

Trending News


The new Tiguan sports an all-new front-end design.


The Volkswagen Tiguan is an interesting compact SUV with a fun-to-drive personality and plenty of style. After 14 years on sale, the Tiguan is just in its second generation, but VW has given it a significant update for the 2022 model year that brings new tech, updated styling, and a refreshed interior.

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan The rear has been massaged with new badging and standard LED taillights. Volkswagen

The restyled Tiguan is available in four trim levels: S, SE, and SE R-Line Black. All models get a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, but VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive can be optioned in.

Styling updates are the big story for the 2022 Tiguan. The front end is entirely new and carries design cues from the larger Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport. LED headlights are now standard, and an illuminated light line is available for the SUV's grille. On the rear liftgate, the Tiguan model name lettering also mirrors that of the Atlas, with the name spelled out underneath the VW logo.

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan Most trims get an 8-inch touchscreen.Volkswagen

Inside, the Tiguan now comes standard with heated seats, while a heated steering wheel and ventilated seats are available. Cloth upholstery is standard, while mid-range trims get leatherette. The top SEL R-Line comes with leather and a perforated leather-wrapped sport steering wheel. Front-wheel drive models come standard with three rows of seating as well, making the Tiguan one of the more family-friendly vehicles in its class.

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan The top trim gets upscale leather upholstery.Volkswagen

The base Tiguan S comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen running Volkswagen's excellent MIB 2 software, but all others get MIB 3 infotainment software running on a glass-covered 8.0-inch touchscreen. The automaker notes that it's a capacitive touch system, which functions more like a smartphone than other infotainment systems, which sometimes require pressure to register a touch input. All Tiguans get a digital gauge cluster with an 8-inch display, while the top SEL R-Line upgrades to a 10.25-inch configurable gauge cluster that offers full-screen navigation and other views.

Pricing for the 2022 Volkswagen Tiguan starts at $25,995 for the base S trim with front-wheel drive. Adding all-wheel drive pushes the prices to $27,495. All Tiguan models will see a $1,195 destination charge tacked on at the bottom line.

Trending News