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Karmann Ghia

Broadcast dates : 13th March 2005
17th March 2005


There’s an old saying that once the bug bites, you may as well accept your fate. Well, if that "bug" happens to be of the Volkswagen Beetle variety, prepare yourself for a long period of infestation.

The Volkswagen beetle has an amazing cult following, as we discovered at the recent George Motor Show. It seems strange to enthuse over a people’s car with more than 20 million produced in Germany, Brazil, Mexico, and of course South Africa.

But today there are dozens of magazines dedicated purely to Beetles all over the world, and Beetle shows are held in Europe, America and the Far East.

The 1951 split window was one of the first Beetles in the country, but equally prized are the Type 3 fastbacks, notch-backs and station wagons.

And of course the Kombis, in Transporter and Westphalia camper form, represent a Volkswagen sub-cult all on their own.

But it’s the name Karmann that gets the pulses racing, and especially the Karmann Ghia.

This was the original sports Volkswagen, or a Beetle in party dress as they said back in at its launch 1955.

Karmann was an established coach-builder before the dawn of the motorcar and Ghia, in the 1950s, was one of the world’s best styling houses in Italy.

The marriage between these two produced one of the most beautiful and best-built sporty cars of all time.
Many Beetle fans have found to their cost that restoring a Karmann Ghia is not a matter of fitting Beetle bits. As far as trim items go, almost no parts are interchangeable.

Nobody pretended that this was the next Lamborghini, even back in the ‘50s. Yet over 400 000 examples produced until 1974 make it one of the most successful sports coupe’s ever.
A lot rarer than the Karmann Ghia is the Brazilian sports Volkswagen, known simply as the SP. This was produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s on a Karmann chassis, as Karmann Ghias were also produced in that country at the time.

Fans will remember the Puma, another Brazilian sports car based on a Beetle, that was built under licence in South Africa in that period. But the SP is very rare.
Like the Karmann Ghia, the SP benefited from better streamlining and a lower centre of gravity than the Beetle. And it had even closer links to Karmann.

The engine powering this particular SP was from the four-eleven / four-twelve series Volkswagens.

It featured a different horizontal cooling fan arrangement to the Beetle, and came with twin carburetors, for a power output of up to ninety horsepower.

Karmann’s association with Volkswagen goes way back. In 1948 it was commissioned to build a cabriolet version of the Beetle, along with other firms like Hebmuller.
But it was the Osnabroek firm that had sustainability, and today Karmann Beetle Cabriolet’s like this 1957 model are remarkably valuable, and very much a chic fashion item.

The way to distinguish a genuine Karmann Beetle from a back-yard hack-job is by the top. 


The Karmann three-layer hood, despite being a remarkably sophisticated piece of engineering, folds back over the engine lid. Somewhat like a baby’s pram in fact.

The bodywork is also reinforced, and it has genuine roll-up rear windows, which tin-top Beetles never had.

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