By on February 25, 2011

Back in the late 50s, Wilhelm Karmann had the inside track in Wolfsburg. His Osnabrück company built the Beetle convertible and the Karmann Ghia (a.k.a. “Typ 14”) for Volkswagen. Rubbing shoulders with Volkswagen engineers and designers, Karmann knew early what others didn’t know: He knew the plans for the notchback VW 1500 “Typ 3”. Karmann shared the secret with the Ghia designers in Turin. Luigi Segre, head of the studio, could not control his excitement.

Drawing after drawing for a new larger Karmann Ghia based on the larger Volkswagen was sent to Osnabrück, along with letters that implored Karmann to build the car. Karmann was all for it, but Volkswagen in Wolfsburg was hesitant. The smaller Karmann Ghia was selling well, and why invest money into too many niches?

Finally, Heinrich Nordhoff, chief of Volkswagen, green lighted the project – with reservations. He doubted it would be a big seller. While the Typ 3 was developed, Karmann developed in parallel the “large Karmann.” To throw off spies, the project received the name “Lyon”. That could be a city in France. Or a big German sausage, “die Lyoner Wurst.”

The project leader at Ghia in Turin was Luigi Sartorelli, the man who had designed the smaller Karmann. For the large Karmann, Sartorelli drew inspiration from a surprising corner: In the U.S., the rear engined, compact and sleek Corvair had created a minor revolution.

Sartorelli’s first designs were heavily influenced by the Corvair, down to the closely grouped twin headlights. Those collided with German law. The inner pair was relegated more towards the center of the car. Segre and Sartorelli protested against the brutalization of their designs – even after production had begun, they sent designs for a different front.

At the Frankfurt Auto Show 1961, 50 years ago, the large Karmann was presented side by side with the freshly launched Typ 3. The model code for the large Karmann was Typ 34. At the time, this was the most expensive and most luxurious Volkswagen in the Wolfsburg line-up. The large Karmann could even be had with an electrically actuated sunroof – a revolution at its time. I remember hand cranked ones well into the 90s.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the large Karmann never had the the Bosch D-Jetronic injection engine. The technical data page of the 11/68 version of the VW 1600 L Karmann Ghia Coupé mentions only the naturally aspirated dual carbureted 1.6 liter engine 1.6 liter engine of the VW 1600. The Volkswagen historians confirm this.

The large Karmann was never officially offered in the U.S. However, many found their way across the Canadian border. Maintaining a show quality or even just a drivable large Karmann is an expensive proposition. Parts are hard to find. If you want to keep up a large Karmann, you better have two (one as a donor vehicle), or Murilee Martin’s number on the speed-dial.

Of course, Karmann immediately started out to design a convertible for the Typ 3, as they did for the Beetle and their own smaller Karmann. As told 2 days ago, this design was nixed, shortly before the introduction of the car.

One of the prototypes for the convertible survived in the Karmann Museum. After the Karmann plant was saved by Volkswagen end of 2009, the Museum was renamed to “Volkswagen Automobilsammlung Osnabrück.” Its chief, Klaus Ulrich, at Karmann since 1973, sometimes drives – very carefully – the prototype at old-timer rallies, such as at the Sachsen Classic Rallye in 2010 (picture above.)

Ulrich is proud of another rarity: The Karmann Ghia 1600 TL hatchback coupe. Built on the VW 1600 TL, it had a big hatch in the back and the rear seats could be folded down. Precursor of the hatchbacks of the 70s. Luigi Segre, who died in 1963, would have approved of the design: The twin headlights are illegally close together, framed in chrome trim. It was never built. Maybe not to steal the thunder of the Passat that came in 1973. It had a big hatch in the back and rear seats that could be folded down.

The large Karmann looked great, but I did not sell well. Only 42,500 units changed hands between 1962 and 1969.

At the end of 1968, Wilhelm Karmann received a letter from Wolfsburg: “In the interest of timely mutual planning, we would like to inform you that we intend to cease production of the Typ 34 in the following year.”

Volkswagen had a make good: The “Volksporsche” 914, built at Karmann from 1969 to 1976.

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16 Comments on “50 Years Typ 34: A Short History Of The Large Karmann...”

  • avatar

    I learned to drive on a 1960 Bug. Is that why I find these VW history lessons so fascinating? It’s fun to think about what could have been.

  • avatar

    Corvair or Karmann, which came first? Someone did some design stealing.

  • avatar

    If the Corvair and Karmann were available today, which would I choose? Decisions, decisions! They’re both cute as can be. Unfortunately, in the modern safety environment, today, “It’ll never fly, Orville!”

    • 0 avatar

      I would go for the Corvair, with an electric fan instead of the unreliable and complicated pulley/belt arrangement,
      on the typ 14 is the car that looks much better than it drives!
      Sport look, but very poor performance and with very nasty understeering habits because of the weight distribution,
      even worse than the Bug. (which was alive and kicking in Mexico until 2004 Sedan_Ultima_Edicion )
      Best regards

  • avatar

    The Corvair was a style trendsetter that had lost of imitations. Look at mid 60s BMWs, for example.

    This Karmann Ghia also borrows from Virgil Exner. The headlight arrangement looks like a carbon copyu of a 60 Plymouth.

    The earlier Karmann Ghia literally is a copy of a Chrysler show car from the 50s, just scaled down a bit, with the grill left off.


  • avatar

    Big air cooled VW fan here!  First car was a 74 Superbeetle, which was already 10 years old when I got it.  There were very few Type 3s or even Type 4s left in Ontario, Canada when I was just becoming car-aware in 1980 or so – almost all of them had succumbed to road salt years and years prior.

    That Type 3 convertible is gorgeous!  Personally, I wouldn’t care that it likely handled like a total pig.  The black and white photo on the lawn of the Chateau is so perfectly 1960s Europe.  So stylish.  Love it!

    Thanks for this great article!

    • 0 avatar

      The black and white photo on the lawn of the Chateau is so perfectly 1960s Europe.  So stylish. You got that right, YD! I can picture David Niven, Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery are nearby, too!

  • avatar

    There is a great thread over on The Samba of a guy in Michigan restoring one of these:

    The thread is at 37 pages as of this morning. The guy does some good work.

  • avatar

    This is one of the few sites that knows the facts about Corvairs.  A truely underrated car.  This was the last time GM tried something really new. 

    Anyone not up on Corvairs needs to read the “Curbside Classics” article.

    Good job Mr. Schmitt.

  • avatar

    The first VW I ever really, really loved was my father’s 70 cream yellow Karmann Ghia coupe.  57 horsepower single port 1600, synchromesh 4 speed transmission, front disc brakes.  The build quality was excellent. I drove that car to college in the early 80s and got asked by girls all the time if I had a Porche.  I did one small mod to make it sound better and have a smidgen more power and installed a EMPI single exhaust header system.  It had more low end torque than the stock system.  A friend of mine named George Whittaker had a dark green ’72 Ghia with the dual port 1600 with 60 horsepower. He had the EMPI GT style dual exhaust system on his, he had more top end power.  There were no other mods to the car, I wanted reliability. But..the Ghia died a viking death one summer day in 1987 when the voltage regulator overheated, started a fire and burned out the car.  Nowdays I want my cars to be quieter, I would have kept the exhaust stock.
    With decent tires & halogen headlights for the night, it was a fun car to drive. I’d sure love to find a nice unmolested Karmann Ghia now.

  • avatar

    I remember someone had one of these in my neighborhood in the 70’s. When I was about 16,
    a call came over the police scanner about a multi-car pile-up a couple of blocks over. Myself and a buddy went over to look, and here was a member of our High School cheerleading team had caused it. She somehow lost control of her parent’s ’65 Chrysler and struck several parked vehicles, including the poor little yellow funny VW. Wiped out the left front corner of it. Last I ever saw of it, it was being hauled away on the hook.  

  • avatar

    “I would go for the Corvair, with an electric fan instead of the unreliable and complicated pulley/belt arrangement,..”

    Another falsity, the fan belt system on a Corvair works fine if you just buy the right belt and install correctly. I have driven 1,000s of miles and only suffered two belt issues. One snapped after my harmonic balancer was replaced (over tightened), another was a cheaper 3rd party belt that I just had not gotten around to replacing, it hopped off, light came on dash, pulled over, put back on and drove home. Electric fans will not cool enough. Get a Clark’s belt and no issues.

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