Introduced in 1955 and designated as the Typ 14, the Karmann Ghia was Volkswagen’s attempt at a sports car. Volkswagen designed and engineered the Karmann Ghia around the contemporary underpinnings from the Type 1 Beetle and clothed it in a handsome body that was designed by Luigi Secre of Ghia, and hand-built by Karmann, a German coach-builder, hence the derivation of the name Karmann Ghia. The Karmann Ghia was offered in both 2+2 Coupe and Convertible forms.
The Karmann Ghia underwent a redesign in 1961 and now used the underpinnings from the new Type 3 platform. This was designated the Typ 34. In total, over 364,000 coupes were produced in Germany between 1955 and 1974, and over 80,000 cabriolets. A further 41,600 cars were produced in Brazil between 1962 and 1975, for the South American market.
The Typ 14 was produced using processes akin to those used on higher-end cars, including hand shaped panels that were smoothed with English pewter. The car sold more than 10,000 in the first year itself. It was offered with 1200cc, 1300cc, 1500cc or 1600cc engines, with the 1600cc engine putting out 60bhp. All these were Beetle-derived air-cooled flat fours, and as with the Beetle, mounted in the rear of the car and driving the rear wheels.
The Typ 14 was marketed as a 2+2 rather than a true sports car. Whilst some derided it as “a Beetle in a cocktail dress” – no doubt this was helped in part by the earliest models’ 0-100km/h time of nearly 30 seconds! Truth be told, most people appreciated the car’s clean lines and distinctive styling as a head-turning cruiser rather than looking to it for pure accelerative thrills – the 1600cc later versions produced a blistering 60 brake horsepower and did the 0-100km/h sprint in the region of 18 seconds. A little known tid-bit of information is that the Karmann Ghia’s successor is the Porsche 914!
The model featured here is a 1959 Typ 14 model hailing from Kandy, owned by Professor Indika Gawarammana. The car was bought in 2001 by his brother-in-law as a complete wreck and was a non-runner that was towed to the garage. Prof. Gawarammana did the restoration and in 2005 purchased the car from his brother-in-law. Since then, it has been in the care of himself and his son Rajeev who maintains the same passion and appreciation for classic cars – the Karmann Ghia is part of their stable of six classics!
The previous owner had modified the steering column, but many original fitments remained, including the original alloys and period-correct Michelin tyres. Rajeev enthusiastically says that “it’s a fun car to drive” and reveals that the car has been taken on many long trips, including to Colombo and Nuwara Eliya.
The Spartan interior features zero distractions – just the controls you need for driving and nothing more! The leather interior still invites you to sit down and take a peaceful drive, free of modern day distractions and digital disruptions. We were also surprised to learn that some of the badges were locally turned out - carbon copies of the originals.
The original engine still powers it and is untouched, as the car has done a relatively low mileage – Rajeev estimates the 5-digit meter may have turned over once only. The car was originally Grey with a black top. It is now painted in “Deep Green” which is also an original Karmann Ghia colour. The car was restored by Gunasena in Kandy who is well-known among the restoration fraternity there.
Volkswagen Type 14/Type 34
Manufacturer Volkswagen (in Brazil Karmann Ghia do Brasil)
Production Germany 1955–1974
Assembly Osnabrück, Germany
São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil (Volkswagen do Brasil)
Designer Felice Mario Boano at Ghia
Body and chassis Class - Sports car
Body styles 2-door convertible
Layout RR layout
Related Volkswagen Beetle
Engine 1200 cc, 1300 cc, 1500 cc, or 1600 cc Flat-4
Successor - Porsche 914 / Volkswagen Scirocco