The Karmann-Ghia Celebrates its 61st Anniversary

At the end of the Second World War, Europe was in dire economic straits. As a result, economy cars were the predominant form of transportation and the people’s car, the Beetle, was doing well. By the early fifties, though, things were looking up for the old world, and cars could become sporty and expensive again.

Wilhelm Karmann recognized the arrival of prosperity and decided that what Volkswagen needed was a fun, stylish car to go along with its bugs and buses. Since 1949, Karmann had been building Beetles for Volkswagen and the companies had a good relationship. Without telling the top brass at VW, though, Karmann went to Carrozzeria Ghia and asked them to design a sleek new body for the Beetle.

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Ghia became famous in the ‘20s for building aluminum-bodied sports cars, including the Mille-Miglia-winning Alfa Romeo 6C 1500. Latterly, the coach-builder had been building big American cars, like the Chrysler D’Elegance, and elements of that design made their way into the VW.

Karmann was impressed the design and in 1953 took it back to the head of VW, Heinrich Nordhoff. It was a bold move, since he was once quoted as saying “Offering people an honest value appealed to me more than being driven around by a bunch of hysterical stylists trying to sell people something they really don’t want to have.” But that’s how pretty it was. It even won over Nordhoff and on July 14, 1955 at the Kasino Hotel in Westfalia, VW launched Karmann-Ghia. In August the first cars were manufactured, and sales totaled more than 10,000 for the year, exceeding expectations.

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The Karmann-Ghia made its way into US showrooms the following year, selling for $2,365. In 1958 the convertible hit showrooms and sales increased steadily. Volkswagen continued building the Karmann-Ghia right up until 1974, when it was replaced by the Porsche-Volkswagen 914 and the Scirocco.

Over the course of its lifetime, more than 450,000 Karmann Ghias were sold and to this day it remains popular collector car. So join us wishing the Karmann-Ghia a happy birthday.