By on May 15, 2015

DOTJ-KGhiaGreen-1

After seeing this 1986 Volkswagen Quantum GL5 on Tuesday and this 1980 Volkswagen Dasher four-door hatchback on Thursday, it’s only fitting that we should wrap up this week’s Junkyard Finds with yet another old VW: a seldom-seen-in-self-serve-yards 1972 Karmann Ghia.
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Air-cooled VW Beetles show up in these high-inventory-turnover yards all the time, because 979 trillion of them were built and they tend to linger under tarps in yards for decades before finally getting junked, and I don’t bother photographing them (except for this ’73 Super Beetle). It’s not that I hate Beetles (I’ve owned a few), but I don’t think they’re of sufficient interest to shoot in the junkyard. A Squareback or Transporter, maybe, and a screaming green Karmann Ghia will make me take out the camera most of the time.
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This one is just about completely picked clean, which seems a shame because the body is so non-rusty by Volkswagen standards (i.e., there are some areas with no rust). I shot this car in Denver, which isn’t a very rusty place, but air-cooled VWs manage to rust in places like Albuquerque and the Atacama Desert.

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In stock form, the Karmann Ghia was slow even by the standards of its time; such underpowered sports cars as the MGB and Fiat 124 Sport Spider took on a distinct reddish color from the point of view of a Karmann Ghia driver, due to Doppler redshift effects, as they pulled away in a drag race.

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Look, a Beetle in the very next row!


Volkswagen’s marketers didn’t try to hide their sports car’s somewhat limited power (60 horses in 1972) in their TV commercials.


The lack of a back seat was also presented as a plus.


Elsewhere in the world, however, the car’s alleged performance got more prominence in TV ads.

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64 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1972 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia...”


  • avatar
    pbr

    >> … non-rusty by Volkswagen standards (i.e., there are some areas with no rust)

    Thanks, now cleaning coffee from my keyboard

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Remarkably handsome cars, to me anyway. I wonder what the ideal engine swap is for an old Karrmann Ghia?

  • avatar

    That’s hella nicer than the one my brother paid good money for. Most of the missing bits are easier to find than a cleanish body.

  • avatar
    Skink

    The front end looks like a grade school papier mache project.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Nice to see an article on the Gen I Boxster

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Today’s Rare Ebay Find, a different sort of coupe. 1980 Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition, loaded up and spotless like new, in beautiful era-appropriate two-tone.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Nissan-280ZX-Base-GL-/221770294876?forcerrptr=true&hash=item33a28a265c&item=221770294876

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I wonder if one could wedge a 2-liter engine from a later Porsche 914 in there. Or perhaps a slightly built VW 411/412 powerplant.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      Was going to post the same thing!

      Bring a trailer, take it home, shove a Porsche rebuilt flat-4 in there! Sleeper Ghia.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Wasn’t the 2 liter a derivative of the Type 4 engine? The parts are out there to make a Type 4 that would be great for a street Ghia, but the prices are absurd.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      The 914 2.0L engine is basically a Type 4 VW engine with Porsche-engineered cylinder heads. Neither will fit the car easily — and the value isn’t really there anyway. Subie engines can also be done.

      But you can get 120 dyno hp from a Beetle engine (somewhere between 1.9L and 2.1L) with standard (and relatively inexpensive) performance parts. And that is plenty quick enough for a Ghia.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Depends on what your threshold of “complicated” is. I put this engine in my ’65 Beetle – the VW version. You have to get rid of the stock pancake cooling found on the 914/Transporter/411/412 versions and switch back to Beetle style upright cooling. There are kits for this and a good book out there that details how to use all VW parts – some Beetle/Karmann Ghia upright cooling and partly from the Type IV pancake configuration.

        The original KG engine made about 60-65 HP. The stock 2.0L T4 engine in the Transporter made 67HP but a bit more torque than the original Beetle/KG engine. The 914 engine made 95HP (!) with the different heads and cam.

        You can achieve ~150HP pretty easily these days with the right parts. Jake Raby is one fellow that has alot of time and expertise designing these T4 engines to last and make big power. Ran across him the Samba forum and ShopTalkForums.

        Lots of guys using fuel injection (see Megasquirt among others) and of course the old dual carbs like I’m using. I’m using smallish dellorto 36mm DRLA carbs. My power target was 100HP but i wanted to retain some fuel economy.

  • avatar
    turf3

    140 HP Corvair engine and Muncie rock-crusher 4 speed drivetrain. If I had garage space and time, that’s what I’d do.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    When I was in high school then in college, a friend of mine owned one of these (I think his was a 1971) and a 1968 Corvair, both at the same time. He let me borrow them whenever I wanted, and driving the Corvair was a revelation compared to the Karmann Ghia. I’ll never understand why the Corvair ended up being discontinued before these, it was worlds better.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Two words explain why: Ralph Nader.

      He wrote an entire book about the Corvair and how dangerous it was. “Unsafe At Any Speed.”

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        Yeah, I know. It’s a shame, ’cause I read the book and he didn’t single out the Corvair, he mentioned a whole bunch of cars which (according to him) were unsafe, including the VW Beetle. But, for some reason the Corvair was the one that stood out in people’s minds.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Maybe because the Corvair was a new thing at the time, and it was odd the engine was at the back in a Chevrolet?

          The Beetle was old hat by then, and everybody probably knew somebody that had one, and had not been killed.

          My recollection was that the book was mostly about the Corvair, but I read it for a HS book report, probably around 2001. Might be time for a re-read.

          • 0 avatar

            IIRC, the first chapter was on the Corvair. Lots of people probably got bored after the first chapter and stopped reading. I know I did.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Lots of European cars (and Asian too) tried rear-engines in the 1960s. There remain certain advantages in a runabout type vehicle. Look at the Corvair Lakewood and the VW Type III fastback. Engine is out of the way leaving alot of storage at both ends of the vehicle like the Tesla S.

            Painting with broad brush here but maybe the typical Corvair customer thought the Corvair was just like a regular front-engined/RWD car and the accidents some people had with them was a surprise. And Nader was part of the surprise delivery system.

            Again with the wide brush – the Beetle is clearly a very light car that nobody wants to be in a crash with. The Corvair seems much more substantial. I know several people like my parents and grandparents who would tell you they bought Corvairs b/c the Corvair seemed much more safe than the diminutive Beetle. Yet – both cars suffered the same rear-engined shortcomings. None of the women were likely to willingly go out back then on a night with lousy weather so it would be possible that they could go a long time before testing rear-engined weight bias and never get good at handling oversteer.

            I have owned several rear-engined aircooled vehicles – currently a Beetle and a Westfalia. I’m meeting people today who discuss how they’d love to have an aircooled VW but barely recognize that the engine is in the wrong end and what that means.

            Imagine them driving one on a wet night with little awareness of oversteer or what a lack of ABS means. They grown up driving FWD vehicles.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Denver

            If you followed the recommended tire pressure differential (15 front/ 26 rear) the car steered just fine. But this was too much to ask. Last summer my daughter had a car with a slow leak in 1 tire and I BEGGED her to get it fixed/check the pressure when she put gas in it and she just WOULD NOT do it until the tire was almost flat – it was just too much for a woman to bother with. She absolutely refused to do anything but put gas in it.

        • 0 avatar
          VolandoBajo

          But I remember that a big point was made about the alleged irresponsibility of Corvair’s design/engineering team for failing to put a rear antisway bar on the axle, thus allowing the notorious “wheel tuck under” also familiar to old school Beetle drivers who ever drove one without an antisway bar.

          The difference was very noticeable if you later drove one with an antisway bar.

          And Nader and his allies made a big deal in the press after the book came out, that GM was negligent for not springing (no pun intended) for approximately fifty to a hundred dollars to install one as a standard item.

          So, like the later Explorer and Samurai rollover scares, the general public came to the conclusion that it was inevitable that Corvairs would roll over sooner or later.

          Nothing was further from the truth…you had to hang one into a corner HARD to even get the wheels to tuck under, much less roll. And anyone who wanted to flog one bought an aftermarket antisway bar as their first performance mod.

          But the battle took place in the general public’s uninformed mind, and not on test tracks, so Nader’s proposition, especially vis a vis Corvair, dominated.

          One Corvair owner in Virginia has the license plate F NADER. Sounds about right to me.

      • 0 avatar
        Phil A. Ofish

        I think it is fair to say that as the years went by that book lost credibility. But, the damage was done.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      I don’t really believe Nader killed the Corvair, though he did some serious damage. What really did it in was the Mustang. The Corvair was never going to be anything but a medium-powered car with great handling. On the other hand, you could stuff larger and larger V8s into the Mustang and it would go like stink. You couldn’t turn it, or stop it, but in the mid/late 60s that wasn’t the concern. The Corvair was always swimming upstream. The Corvair wasn’t really competing against the VW so much, but rather against the conventional front engine rear drive compacts – first the Falcon, Valiant, Buick Special; later adding the Mustang, Barracuda, Nova/Chevy II. After about ’65, all of these had V8 options, that just coulnd’t be equaled by any Corvair powerplant for raw acceleration. And then Camaro and Firebird delivered the coup de grace. The Corvair was just too darn different. Ten-fifteen years later it probably would have competed effectively against BMW 2002, Audi Fox, Mazda RX3, Ford/Mercury Capri (the German one).

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @turf3, I believe it was Bunkie Knudsen who said during the first gas crisis: “If I had 100,000 Corvairs sitting at Chevy dealers right now I could sell every damn one of them.” He was probably right.

        • 0 avatar
          Steve Biro

          Exactly. If GM had put money into taking care of the Corvair’s few flaws instead of creating that train-wreck called the Vega, it would have done a lot better during the 1970s.

          Already, the Corvair’s handling quirks were largely eliminated with the new rear suspension that came in the 1965 redesign. I’m not sure if the 65-69 examples threw fan belts as often as the 60-64 models. Oil leaks were also common in the early years.

        • 0 avatar
          mdensch

          Knudsen had left GM by the time the first fuel crisis hit. Ed Cole might have said it.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        +1

        I had two of the first gen Mustangs. I still like the looks but if I ever have one again – I’ll be updating the things you mentioned – brakes and steering. Lots of brake fade, lots of body roll, and lots of oversteer.

        Actually my rear engined VWs oversteered less often than my Mustangs and the ‘Stangs had the low output engines.

  • avatar
    Tomas De Torquematic

    Yes, the car featured in the movie, ‘So I Married and Ax Murderer’ and the Disney book about Susie the Blue Coupe which came with a record to play while reading. Has this car been in any other significant/noteworthy movies or books for ttac folk?

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    ” It’s not that I hate Beetles (I’ve owned a few), but I don’t think they’re of sufficient interest to shoot in the junkyard. A Squareback or Transporter, maybe…”

    …and also a Sweatback.
    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/junkyard-find-1973-volkswagen-lt-28/#comment-4541073

    • 0 avatar
      CarOli

      Sweatback…LOL! Thanks for the link back to that story…one of your best.

      Read to the bottom of the comments on the LT…the last owner posted!

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Having owned several K-G’s , I’d rather have that 71/72 Beetle in the next row over .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    That is a really cool-looking shell. And the Doppler shift comment made my day!

  • avatar
    mx5ta

    In the current (June) Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, Richard Lentinello’s column is about how tastes change, and that cars we hated back in the day now seem just right. He leads off with the Karmann Ghia, liking its rounded form, which is so different from what’s offered today. I feel the same, and that’s even in spite of having owned a 1971 VW Type 3 Fastback, with all its problems. Coincidentally, the Corvair is another one I thought to be an ugly car, but in fact, there’s a Corvair Corsa for sale near me, and I now love the body style. Funny, the first time I ever went faster than 100 mph, it was in a V8-swapped Corvair in a ride a summer job co-worker took a few of us on, although, in my ignorance, I wondered why anyone would upgrade such an ugly car.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Sometimes it’s more than the looks of a car that ropes a gearhead in. I would never say that my two aircooled VWs were beautiful vehicles in the same way a Ferrari or (to me) an aircooled Tatra sedan is but I love the design of them.

      I like how the suspension was designed, the engineering compromises needed to make the driveline fit within the chassis, and how that translates to how the vehicle drives.

      Neither of the aircooled car drive especially well compared to a modern car nor would I say with a straight face that the design was so much better than many other cars – but they fascinate me all the same. Both wander in high crosswinds. The Beetle can thrill you with a spinout if you aren’t careful on wet streets.

      Both vehicles have a certain underdog personality about them that is so typical of bread and butter cars from any decade. They are modest things that seldom impress anyone and they are often neglected.

      Its still entertaining to listen to people bad mouth the car that they neglected for years, blaming all it’s problems on the car when the OWNER was as big a problem as any other that the car had. Its confirmed when I see one guy had nothing but problems (and mercilessly bad mouths the car) while the other guy got a good solid two decade return on his investment using his car to haul him and his all over the place.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      Corvair styling was very influential, but mostly in Europe, strangely enough. BMW borrowed a lot from Corvair, and others as well.

  • avatar
    mx5ta

    You can’t see it in the photos above, but on my ’71 VW Type 3, just in front of the center of the rear wheels, there was a perfectly round sheet metal disk about the diameter of a pool ball, set into the body to cover a round hole. Circa 1975, this was about the first place where rust attacked my (4 year old!) car. I’ve seen the same disk in an old Beetle, and maybe in photos of the Porsche 924 (though I couldn’t vouch for this). I used to wonder what this covered-up hole was for, and imagined some rounded steel rod, on a forklift, being inserted into it, to lift the car into a cargo hold or something. Does anyone know what that hole was for?

    • 0 avatar
      CarOli

      VWs and Porsches have rear torsion bar suspension that mounts sideways. Those covers were necessary to remove the bar should it break or if you want to re-set the ride height.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Thats the end of the rear torsion bar. B/c I don’t know what you know or don’t know – the torsion bar took the place of the rear coil springs seen on other brands of vehicles. My Beetles never had the disc – just a removable steel tube cap. The rear fenders had to be removed to remove the torsion bar. My ’78 Westfalia doesn’t have the disc either. The torsion bar just clears the bottom of the bodoywork.

      The KG and the 924 both have them. So did the Type III cars.

  • avatar
    mx5ta

    Does anyone have curb weight figures for the underpowered, by today’s standards, Karmann Ghia? As mentioned above, I had a ’71 Type 3 which, I’m guessing, may have had similar specs. Usually you can find anything on the web, but I was somewhat frustrated when searching for curb weight specs on the Type 3. But it must have been pretty light: I can recall one particular trip back to college when I went 90 mph+ for a good deal of the expressway part, and had some power to spare. I also recall a (stupid) thing I’d do a lot, which was to see what speed I could get up to on our 2-block deadend street. I believe my record was 60, and that was with the car’s noticeably slow acceleration. (Note: there were just 2 houses on the street, back then.)

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Curb weight of both the 1971 VW Karmann Ghia and Type 3 was about 1900-1950 pounds. No jive. That’s for the coupe version of both cars. 60-65hp worked alright with that kind of load in those days. I’d say any power plant producing north of 100hp would work fine today.

  • avatar
    mx5ta

    Thanks for the info, Steve. Makes even my Gen. 1 Miata seem bloated.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      But in a crash you aren’t as likely to die in the Miata. That makes the bloat more acceptable to me. I love driving my aircooled VWs but I consider them to be on par with motorcycles in the safety department. ;)

      Drive with a clear mind and eyes wide open.

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      Don’t need a K-G or Type III to do that, @mx5ta. Whole lotta hype for a car that couldn’t keep up with a lot of twenty plus year old sports cars.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Didn’t someone restomodded a Boxter into one of these bodies for his wife? Someone should.

  • avatar
    manxSR

    It’s not a 1972 Karmann Ghia – it’s a 1970-1971 vintage – these 2 years had tail lights larger than the 1969, but smaller than the 1972-1972 cars.

    1972-1974 KGs also had a sheetmetal indention in rear quarter panels where the bumpers tucked up against body. The ’72-’74 KG & 1970-1973 Type 3 cars shared front & rear bumpers…

  • avatar
    manxSR

    It’s not a 1972 Karmann Ghia – it’s a 1970-1971 vintage – these 2 years had tail lights larger than the 1969, but smaller than the 1972-1974 cars.

    1972-1974 KGs also had a sheetmetal indention in rear quarter panels where the bumpers tucked up against body. The ’72-’74 KG & 1970-1973 Type 3 cars shared front & rear bumpers…

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