Almost every classic car enthusiast has owned an air-cooled Volkswagen somewhere along the line — generally very early along the line. But even though most of us soon moved on to more rarefied marques, the old rattletrap VWs with stinky exhaust heat, iffy brakes and glacial acceleration still hold a special place in our hearts — the glad memories of youth. Introduced in 1953 and first produced for the 1955 model year, the VW Type 14 — better known as the Karmann Ghia — was designed to be Volkswagen’s first two-seat sports car. It came with sleek Italian styling, including a roofline that was a nod to VW’s upscale Porsche cousins. The car was drawn by Luigi Segre at Ghia, and produced at the Karmann coachworks in Germany. Under the skin, the Karmann Ghia was almost identical to its Beetle stablemates throughout its 20-year production run — except that the Karmann Ghia received front disc brakes starting in 1966. Sources vary on exact numbers, but about 385,000 Karmann Ghia coupes and about 80,000 cabriolets were made.

With time came more power

Through the 1965 model year, the Karmann Ghia came with the same 6-volt electrical system and anemic 1,200-cc engine featured in the Beetle. In 1966, both cars received an upgrade to a new transitional 1,300-cc engine. For 1967, the line received another transitional engine at 1,500-cc and an upgrade to a 12-volt electrical system. 1970 models were upgraded to a 1,600-cc, single-port engine, and 1971–74 Karmann Ghias received the final-generation 1,600-cc dual-port engine. Almost all Karmann Ghias were equipped with a 4-speed manual transaxle, although the 3-speed Automatic Stick was available after 1968.

Tough to find a good one

Like almost all automobiles produced in their era, Karmann Ghias suffer badly from rust, and their generally low market value has meant that comparatively few have survived to the present day. As a cause and a result of low purchase prices, most Karmann Ghias were ill-treated in the intervening decades. It’s challenging to find a top-quality example on the market today. Recent years have seen a remarkable upswing in prices, especially for clean and sound cars. One recent sale of note is this 1967 Karmann Ghia coupe, which sold for $27,500 at Worldwide’s Houston Classic auction in April. If you’re shopping for a good Ghia that will surely increase in value, this one was a great buy. Worldwide didn’t provide much of a description, but this car looks correct in almost every respect. In 1967, VW offered optional bumper overriders that were unique to the model year, and this car has them. The interior is similarly optioned up with an under-dash tray and bud vase, and the roof-mounted luggage rack is period-correct. Inside and out, this car appears to be completely proper. Even the ho-hum beige paint is a badge of honor — because the only sane reason to keep that color is originality. The only visible items separating this car from concours status are the late-model battery, the Bosch blue coil, and the plastic fuel filter in the engine bay. But you’ll find those in every VW, and correct parts are available if you want them. It’s more important that the car still carries the factory air-filter assembly, as almost all of those were discarded in favor of various chromed items from the JC Whitney catalog in the 1970s. At $27,500, this sale was far from the highest ever recorded for the breed. Karmann Ghias from the 1950s have seen bids into the $60,000–$70,000 range in the past few years. However, if you’re willing to look at cars from the 1970s, many examples in acceptable condition can be had at around $10,000.

A rising collectible that deserves respect

The bottom line on Karmann Ghias — and air-cooled Volkswagens in general — is that a quality example deserves respect. It also deserves the fond memories we all cherish of good times in an affordable car that generally got you where you were going. The Karmann Ghia is a solid collectible, and a good vintage VW is sure to hold value or appreciate from here on out. ♦  

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