Volkswagen's 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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