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

 
 

Improved hot hatch

The 2022 VW Golf GTI gets new handling tech

Improvements to the GTI's handling and steering should make it even faster in the curves.

Volkswagen

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of the most recognizable and popular cars the automaker sells. After a bumpy few years that ended with the standard Golf model being nixed from VW's U.S catalog, we're starting to see concrete details on the upcoming performance variants of the car, which will thankfully end up heading our way. The eighth-generation Golf GTI and Golf R will make landfall in the United States as 2022 models, and will both feature a load of new tech and refinements. VW just announced the changes that are being made to the GTI's handling and performance systems, and they are extensive, to say the least.


2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI VW is offering the 8th-gen Golf only in high-performance GTI and R configurations.Volkswagen


Volkswagen is giving the legendary hot hatch a host of improvements, which the automaker says will give the car more precise, stable handling at its limit. The GTI's front suspension has been reconfigured with new wishbone bearings and damping hydraulics. VW says that the car's springs and buffer stops have also been revised, which will give the font axle spring rate that is five percent higher than its predecessor. A new aluminum subframe is also in place, which will reduce weight by seven pounds over the previous car.

The eighth-generation Golf brought a new VW Vehicle Dynamics Manager system which will also benefit the upcoming GTI. The system integrates the car's electronic stability control with its electronic differentials, and in GTI models equipped with the optional DCC adaptive damping system, the system adjusts individual wheel damping up to 200 times per second. The differential itself will now come standard with all GTI models. It's an electronically-controlled torque-sensing limited-slip unit, which varies the levels of its intervention based on how the car is being driven and on how the other traction control functions are being used.


2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI The GTI's steering is now more responsive.Volkswagen


The GTI's steering system has also been revised to now include an enhanced progressive steering function that uses software to help turn the vehicle with less steering effort, depending on speed. Volkswagen says that the GTI's steering takes just 2.1 turns of the steering wheel to go from lock to lock when it's equipped with 18-inch wheels.

Trending News

 
 

The LEGO Speed Champions series is adding two new Dodge models to its lineup.

Photo courtesy of Stellantis

The new LEGO Speed Champions series is expanding by two. A 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A and Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster are being added to the growing collection. They are the first purple vehicle and first Top Fuel Dragster in the Speed Champion series.

"Owning, or aspiring to own, a Dodge muscle car is as much about the lifestyle of joining the Brotherhood of Muscle as it is about the vehicle purchase," said Tim Kuniskis, Dodge Brand Chief Executive Officer – Stellantis. "As a result, our brand enthusiasts are passionate about all things Dodge, including the latest cool collectibles. So, following the success of the Dodge 2018 LEGO Speed Champion building set, fans will now be able to build and show off not only the first ever 8-inch-wide (8W) muscle car, but also the first ever Plum Crazy 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A, along with an incredibly detailed 13½-long Top Fuel Dragster."

LEGO Speed Champions Dodge box The 627-piece Challenger T/A and Dragster include box art of their Rea-life counterparts. Photo courtesy of Stellantis

LEGO has had the Challenger over two inches high, five inches long, and 2.5 inches wide. The Dragster is four inches high thanks to its wing, and has a body that is 13.5 inches long and 2.5 inches wide.

The set features a male Challenger driver in Dodge-branded clothing. The Dragster has a female driver in a Dodge race suit.

"In 2021, we are extremely excited to reteam with Dodge and expand the Speed Champions 8W Vehicle Collection even further by including new vehicle types and building experiences, for the first time, that appeal to vehicle fans of all ages," said Christopher Stamp, LEGO Design Lead.

LEGO Speed Champions Dodge The set includes two models.Photo courtesy of Stellantis

The models will be released on June 1, 2021 at LEGO.com. Pricing for the models is not yet available.

Trending News