The History and Restoration of the Classic Karmann Ghia

A classic, fully restored '74 Karmann Ghia. Currently, my father-in-law and I are working on a convertible version of the '74.

A classic, fully restored ’74 Karmann Ghia. Currently, my father-in-law and I are working on a convertible version of the ’74.

A new Volkswagen Karmann Ghia hasn’t been made since 1974 (that’s nearly 40 years), but its reputation as a classic automobile has continued to grow since that time. Today, a fully restored Karmann Ghia can sell for upwards of $30,000! Much of this reverence can be attributed to an extremely rich history. The Karmann Ghia has roots and influences from countries and manufacturers across the world, drawing respect from car enthusiasts and turning heads on every block on which it’s driven. Within the next few months, I will be involved in the restoration of one of these classic automobiles.

History

The first Karmann Ghia was produced in 1955 under the direction of two men: Dr. Wilhelm Karmann (Germany) and Luigi Segre (Italy).

Karmann was a prominent West German coachbuilder who was working for Volkswagen in the early 50s, developing new concepts for the already world famous Volkswagen Beetle. He was an expert in the internal working of Volkswagen vehicles, but his body designs didn’t seem to make the cut. Almost every one of Karmann’s body design ideas was expelled by the company. Extremely frustrated, Wilhelm looked for help from Luigi Segre.

Around this time, Segre was working for top Italian Styling house, Carrozzeria Ghia. Recently, Segre had done some freelance body work on a Volkswagen Beetle, morphing the conventional two-door Beetle body into a coupe body shell. Many believe that this design was inspired by the 1953 Chrysler-Ghia D’Elegance concept car, which was a collaboration between American designer, Virgil Exner, and the Carrozzeria Ghia Company.

Many believe that the Karmann Ghia was heavily influenced by the '53 Chrysler Ghia-D'Elegance concept car.

Many believe that the Karmann Ghia was heavily influenced by the ’53 Chrysler Ghia-D’Elegance concept car.

The partnership of Karmann (who handled the internal workings) and Segre (who designed the body) turned out to be extremely successful, producing the first ever Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in 1955.

Popularity and Pop Culture

Right off of the bat, the Karmann Ghia proved to be a very popular model with more than 10,000 models sold during the first year. The car had the style of a sports car and the sensibilities of the everyman. The engine was the exact same as the Volkswagen Beetle- “The People’s Car”. In 1957, the Karmann Ghia added fuel to the fire of excitement by releasing the convertible version of the car.

Pretty soon, thousands of Karmann Ghias could be found all over the world. The vehicle was even a staple of pop culture. It was the featured vehicle for agent Maxwell Smart on the popular television series, Get Smart. The car lent its name to one of the featured characters in the 1968 Academy Award winning film, The Producers. And, it appears in the opening credits of the 70s sitcom Good Times. I’ve got to say: that’s a pretty DYNO-MITE résumé.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, over the next few months, I will be releasing blogs and photos of a full restoration job on a ’74 Karmann Ghia. The leader of this small production will be my father-in-law, and we will be working from his own personal two-lift garage. Stay tuned for news and photos and subscribe to my blog to stay in touch. Thanks.

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