Volkswagen's Other Karmann Ghia: the Type 34

Carter Johnson
by Carter Johnson
volkswagens other karmann ghia the type 34

The Karmann Ghia is familiar to most automotive enthusiasts as a styling exercise intended to turn the Volkswagen Beetle into a slinky “sportscar” using pedestrian internals. The resulting Type 1 Ghia debuted way back in 1955 and added some (more) Porsche styling to the family sedan. Assembled by Karmann in Osnabrück, Germany, with styling from Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin, Italy, the curvy two-door offered little performance, but much style, compared to its stablemates.

However, the Type 1 Karmann Ghia wasn’t the only car to bear that German-Italian nameplate.

West Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder — “economic miracle” — aided by the Marshall Plan and a focus on strengthening the border states of the Iron Curtain meant capitalism’s success manifested itself in new ways. Cashing in on a re-emerging middle class with newfound wealth and prosperity, companies like Volkswagen launched newer, sportier versions of their small, economy-minded sedans.

Because the Type 1 (also known as the Type 14) had been an attempt to bring style with very little added substance, the first Karmann Ghia was great at attracting attention — but not much else (especially sales). Early on, the Karmann Ghia really struggled to support its steep entry price relative to the performance it had on tap. To capture headlines and the market’s attention, the company would need something more substantial.

1955 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 14

To rectify this, in 1961 Volkswagen launched a second Karmann Ghia based upon the new Type 3 platform. Now with 1493cc from the familiar flat-four, the new Karmann Ghia had more go to back up the show. With some 53 horsepower, the Type 3 represented a power increase of nearly 50 percent over the Type 1. Later in the production run, when the chassis was updated in 1967, the Type 3 gained front disc brakes and a new a bump in power thanks to the new “1600” (1584cc) engine producing 66 horsepower. The 1500 was marketed as the “big brother” of the successful Type 1.

1961 Volkswagen 1500

New influences changed the styling, as well. Sergio Sartorelli at Carrozzeria Ghia had been responsible for the light restyle of the Type 14 Karmann Ghia in 1959, and was joined by American Tom Tjaarda (later of De Tomaso Pantera fame, among many others) to give the new Karmann Ghia a decidedly more grown-up and angular look. While sometimes referred to as the 1500/1600 Karmann Ghia Coupe, it was better known as the Type 34. With raised fender lines, a tall and more upright greenhouse and longer overhangs, the new Karmann Ghia looked ready to be Volkswagen’s new flagship model for 1961.

1961 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia 1500 Coupe (Type 34)

Volkswagen’s marketing aimed the Type 34 squarely at the broad shoulders of newfound German wealth; pictures showed the Type 34 at home with the equestrian crowd. Dioramas in dealerships even held riding apparel, or showed the prospective owners on their way to a ski vacation in the Swiss Alps. The brochure used words like “beauty” and “perfection” — not exactly the ideas ownership of a Type 1 conjured. It was a luxury vehicle Volkswagen desperately hoped would break the blue-collar image of the cheap People’s Car.

“Outstanding Elegance, Extreme Performance, Higher Driver Comfort, As Economical As Every VW”

The new styling and performance helped to market Volkswagen to a more upscale crowd, but the accompanying price of this newfound fame was steep. The Type 34 sold for the equivalent of nearly $3,000 in the mid 1960s; for comparison’s sake, the 1964 Mustang came to market nearly $800 cheaper. More relevant was the price point compared to Volkswagen’s own 1500 Coupe; the Karmann Ghia hit the market in Germany at DM 8,750, while VW marketed the more “common-sense” 1500 at DM 5,990. Because the two shared all components outside of the bodywork, the 50 percent price increase was a hard pill to swallow for many consumers.

The result was that the Type 34 was slow-selling from the start and never offered in the United States. The high costs of even the basic sedan meant that the planned coupe and convertible models were eventually axed after the planning phase; sales simply wouldn’t have materialized at the very high price the drop-top would have to be offered at. Volkswagen chose to have Karmann continue work on its existing lineup of Type 14 Ghias and the Beetle convertible, rather than pursue the Type 34 convertible. VW viewed the reception of the Type 34 with some dismay, and sheepishly referred to the production volume of “8,653 units in 1962 [as] less than expected.”

Karmann production, c.1962

Volkswagen AG met with new challenges in the late 1960s. A declining market share from its antiquated model lineup, coupled with a relatively minor recession in 1965/6, meant that the higher-cost models built on the Type 3 chassis were scaled back as early as 1967. Volkswagen had taken over Auto Union and their productive capacity from Daimler-Benz in 1965, and was struggling to come to terms with new production lines in need of revamping. The high-class but high-cost Type 34 was the unwitting victim, with production ceasing in 1969.

In total, some 42,498 Type 34s sold — less than 10 percent of the 445,238 Type 14 models made. Of course, both of these numbers pale in comparison to the original Beetle, which made it somewhere north of 21,000,000 when production finally ceased in the 2000s. At the height of Type 1 production in the 1960s, Volkswagen produced a staggering 4,200 Beetles every day.

A Type 34 with proposed Coupe Fastback and Convertible pre-production models

Karmann may have produced as many as 16 pre-production convertible models, but solid numbers don’t exist. At least six are claimed to survive, including one at the Karmann museum. The proposed Type 34 Coupe Fastback continued to be developed by Ghia, though Volkswagen didn’t plan production after 1965. None other than our old friend Giorgetto Giugiaro was employed by Ghia at the time to help refine the shape for a new model to be marketed in South America. The resulting design took on a look similar to the Glas GT and was produced starting in 1970 by Volkswagen do Brasil. It was called the Karmann Ghia Touring Coupe (TC) Type 145 and sold only in South America, with a claim of just over 18,000 produced.

A 1972 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia TC (Type 145)

[Images, sources: Karmann, Volkswagen Classic, Karmann Ghia Connection, Type 34 World]

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  • THX1136 THX1136 on Jan 28, 2017

    My uncle had a pastel green - what Fender would name seafoam green - Type 14. Up til then all I had ever seen was the Beetle so this was a fascinating little car to me (15/16 yrs old at the time). He let me drive it once. I was not used to driving a stick and he offered to let me "practice" with the Ghia as he rode along. It was so easy to drive; shifting was so effortless to the point that I wondered why anyone would want an automatic. For whatever reason I was under the impression that one downshifted as the primary means to reduce speed when turning a corner which is what I did. Needless to say I hit the turn faster than I should have. Came to stop on the gravel road after the turn to collect myself - and to see if my uncle would allow me to drive it back to my grandparents house. Nothing damaged except my ego and my uncle's nerves. He advised me that nothing would be said about the incident so as not to tarnish my limited driving record. So what was the first thing he said when we were back in the house? You guessed it - further humiliation. Anyway, for a couple of years after that I seriously thought about the Type 14 as a potential first car. Never did buy one, but they always caught my eye whenever I would see one on the road. As an aside, I wonder what the "tall" thing is that the occupants of the T34 are looking at?

  • Jeff Zekas Jeff Zekas on Feb 04, 2017

    We were a Volkswagen family: '58 Beetle, '68 Westfalia, '70 Squareback, and mom's '68 Karmann Ghia. When she bought a new car, Mom gave me the KG: slow, bad handling, and noisy with the top down. VW's of the era did have one distinction over current VW products: they were reliable and lasted forever.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion:
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?