The Karmann Ghia probably isn’t the first car that springs to mind when someone mentions Aircooled Volkswagens, in fact, the average man or woman in the street might guess at it being Italian, rather than German in its heritage. There is an element of truth in that guess, of course. We’ll explain more in our VW Karmann Ghia Buying Guide.

Thinking of buying a Karmann Ghia?

There are a few reasons for jumping behind the wheel of a Karmann Ghia. There is no mistaking the aesthetic beauty of the body, styled by Ghia of Turin (so the guess at Italian, wasn’t too far off!) There’s also the benefit of Volkswagen reliability, as the body is sat on what is essentially a VW Beetle floor pan, offering relatively cheap running costs and Karmann Ghia parts availability. Lastly, for those who like to stand out, or even draw a crowd the Karmann Ghia is pretty exclusive when compared to its all-conquering Beetle and Bus brethren. Even at large events, there are only ever a handful on display.

A quick history lesson

The Karmann Ghia was launched in 1956, having originally started as a secret project before being pitched to Volkswagen as a viable model. The body design was by Ghia, the vehicle itself was hand-built by Karmann in Osnabrück, where they already produced the Beetle Cabriolet for VW. Once put into production these vehicles were given the model designation of ‘Type 14’ by Volkswagen. The white car below is the actual prototype - you'll notice a number of changes between this and the version that launched, including the lack of nostril vents at the front and the addition of them at the rear.

The Low Light Karmann Ghia

The first incarnation, commonly known as the ‘Low Light’ is most easily identified by the smaller nostril vents, small rear lights and more rounded front wings holding the headlamps closer to the ground. They are the holy grail for Karmann Ghia fans and were only ever built as LHD by Karmann, although some UK models had RHD conversions fitted at the time by third-party specialists. Initially, the Type 14 was just a Coupe, but VW introduced a cabriolet version as well in time for the 1958 model year.

Raising the lights

There were some noticeable styling changes in the summer of 1959,  the headlights moved 2” higher up in re-profiled front wings. The central nostril vents doubled in size and the tail lamps grew in size to match. For reference, the dark green version we have photographed here is a 1968 model.

Late Model Karmann Ghias

In keeping with road safety initiatives of the time, the bumpers were upgraded to the chunky ‘Europa’ style in 1972, matching the larger tail lights and indicators that had been introduced a few years prior. These stayed in place until production ended in 1974, when the model was replaced by the Scirocco Mk1.

The Razor Edge Karmann Ghia

Just to add to the confusion there are a few other Volkswagen vehicles that also wear the Karmann Ghia badge. The first is the Type 34 ‘Razor Edge’ Ghia. Unlike the Type 14, these were built on the Type 3 chassis and running gear and were offered for sale alongside the Type 14 between 1962 and 69. At the time they were the most expensive Volkswagen ever sold. With only 42,505 examples ever built you are less likely to be looking at buying one of these and given the price premium to purchase, not to mention the very limited parts availability with regards to rust repair panels, seals and trim you need to go into owning one with your eyes very much open.  For those who do have one though, the reward is huge – a real rarity at shows, amazing styling and a wonderful driving experience too.

The Brazilian Karmann Ghia TC

The Karmann Ghia TC was exclusively sold in South America between 1972 and '75 and came about because of restrictions on vehicle importation into Brazil at the time. Underneath the body is a VW Variant chassis which includes a rear-mounted 1600cc Type 3 ‘pancake’ engine. The styling is the work of Giorgetto Giugiaro. As you may be aware he went on to pen the Mk1 Scirocco, Golf, Passat and Jetta, before leaving Ghia to start Italdesign.

Buying a Karmann Ghia Cabriolet

As mentioned above, the Type 14 cabriolet Ghia was available from the 1958 model year. A Type 34 version was never commercially marketed as a convertible, although a few genuine prototype examples do exist, alongside several replicas. As with Karmann built Beetles, the cabriolet version of any Ghia commands an additional premium over its coupe counterpart.

What to look for when buying a Karmann Ghia?

We don't want to put you off buying a Karmann Ghia, however, you should be aware of its flaws, one of which is its ability to rust! Don't let a hefty slam, a shiny set of wheels or a fancy engine build distract you from the important bit - whether any of that is bolted onto solid metal.

Where does a Karmann Ghia rust?

In short, Ghias will rust everywhere! Start at the top and work your way down... that way you might be prepared for what you'll find when you get to the chassis. Rust will gather around the headlamps, in the nostrils, the wheel arches, quarter panels and door bottoms. Both inner wings and bumper mounts at the front and rear are prime real estate for tin worms. With a torch in hand, get down on your knees to inspect the sills, Karmann Ghia floor pan and jacking points, before checking the state of the heater channels especially where they meet with the A and B pillars. If you are searching for a soft-top pay extra attention to anywhere rain may have landed, or indeed trickled and consider the cost of purchasing new Karmann Ghia hood seals to remedy any leaks it might have when contemplating making an offer.

Buying a rust-free Karmann Ghia.

If the car you are looking at has spent its days in the UK and hasn't been restored it will have done well to remain structurally sound. For many enthusiasts shopping for a Ghia, an import from a 'dry state' such as California is one way to dodge the rust issue. The drawbacks being that the Karmann Ghia window rubbers will have dried out in the sunshine and the paintwork will likely sport a sunbleached patina, which isn't to everyone's taste. The other obvious hurdle for us in the UK is the Atlantic Ocean and either buying blind, purely trusting the seller to send you photos of the car in question or flying out to check it out in person. On top of which, you'll have the shipping and import costs to cover too. If importing is a consideration, check out The Samba for their Karmann Ghia classified section.

Buying a Karmann Ghia project

Buying a basket case project regardless of the manufacturer carries an element of risk. Unless you can physically see it, you could be missing all manner of potentially expensive trinkets, which you'll only discover months or years later. As we've already said, the Ghia relies heavily on VW Beetle parts below the surface, so it will be body, trim and interior specific Karmann Ghia parts that could trip you up. That's not to say, buying a half-finished project isn't a cost-effective way into Type 14 ownership, especially if all the welding has been done! As with most things, the older the car the rarer the second-hand parts and with age also comes an increased price tag to match.

Buying a restored Karmann Ghia

If you are searching for ready to roll style, then a restored Karmann Ghia is probably your best bet, but don't be ashamed to check over the quality of the workmanship. If the work was done by a specialist the seller will be shouting about how much it cost them, who did it and will probably have a full photo album to support it. If not, then be extra careful and get your magnet out for locating shonky filler work, especially on the complicated contours around the nose - something vehicles that were restored overseas and/or twenty years ago (when values were much lower) are fairly susceptible too.

Checking Karmann Ghia engines before buying

Presuming that you are presented with a running-driving Karmann Ghia and not a box of bits with a photo of how it used to look, here are a few basic checks to carry out before handing over your cash. The Type 14 Ghia followed much the same roll out as the Beetle, with regards to mechanical upgrades throughout time. The aircooled engine would have originally been 1200cc up until 1965, 1300cc from 1965-66 before swapping to the much loved 1500cc single port until 1970 when it was replaced with a 1600cc unit. If originality concerns you check the engine number against the documents and even more so with an owners club if 'matching numbers' is a deal-breaker.

Is the engine ok?

The engine should have very little in the way of 'in-out' movement on the bottom pulley. It shouldn't knock or leak oil or blow blue smoke which is a key indicator of worn valve guides. Check how the previous owner has cared for it with an inspection inside the distributor cap, this should be clean - likewise, whip the dipstick out and hope for close to golden coloured oil. Another telltale sign of poor maintenance will be the absence of the rubber tinware seals, potentially causing the engine to overheat. If the engine is said to have been upgraded, either in cubic capacity or with performance engine parts, then check for receipts to help verify any work done. Twin carburettors or an external oil filter being fitted should prompt you to have that conversation.

Looking inside...

Depending on your plans for your new Karmann Ghia, will depend on how important an original Karmann Ghia interior is to you. It is important to note that Ghia seats are different from Beetle seats - so sourcing replacements will be more costly. Previous owners may have chosen to upgrade to something a little more modern; Mazda MX5 seats and Porsche tombstones or even MGF seats such as fitted in this example aren't uncommon. The rear 'seat' is as good as useless for an adult, unless you sit sideways. They will fit a child or two if you're not worried about keeping them strapped in, but they may not be complimentary about the lack of padding!! Karmann Ghia Headlining kits, door panels, carpet sets and seat covers are all readily available in a choice of colours and materials from our online shop here. Likewise, we offer a range of steering wheels both replicating the original and also offering something a little more sporty.

How much is a VW Karmann Ghia?

You could get your name on the documents for a Karmann Ghia for just a few thousand pounds, but the amount of work required and the number of parts needed would only make it financially viable to someone with all the skills to sort it out themselves. A sensible sixties or seventies project is going to be £8-10k,  but realistically you need to set aside £15000 to confidently drive away in a late Coupe. That number gets closer to £20k, £30k, £40k and beyond £50k in some cases the older you get and the higher the level of restoration. Expect to pay 25% more for the benefit of a cabriolet roof and wind in your hair classic motoring. If you decide a Type 34 is for you then you won't see much change from £30k and the TC due to its rareness will likely be in the twenties, if you can find one for sale at all.

What would we do?

Get the right car and it will reward you forever and be the envy of all your friends. Pick the wrong one and it'll be a headache and empty your bank account at the same time! Take your time and buy based on the condition and completeness of the body, unless you want to get down and dirty with the welder. For us, a sixties car offers the right mix of classic charm and useability without the price tag of a Lowlight or the bulky Europa bumpers as fitted on the later models. Whatever you go for, prices are only going one way so jump on the Karmann Ghia train before it leaves for good! For further reading on the mechanical underpinnings of the Karmann Ghia, check out our VW Beetle Buying Guide here. Best of luck Andy
1 year ago
1 year ago at 05:56
Thanks for a good read i have a 1958 ghia in South Africa. Unfortunately I get low ball offers from so called experts in the UK I will definitely send them the link to read. Kind regards Adam
1 year ago at 14:57
Aloha! Very nice article! I went the last route mentioned in your article & purchased a 67' coupe from a gentleman who I can say is every buyers dream seller. Upfront & honest about all aspects of the car, a dizzying amount of paperwork of everything bought or done to the car & the pics & vids he sent did no justice to the car in person. As I live in Hawaii & he in California & having to fly up (my 3rd & final trip to obtain one) & also ship the car back to the islands he graciously took into account all of these additional expenses & accepted my offer. The car is a #'s matching (pan & shell) w/too many parts & upgrades to list. Highlights are a 2276 IDA motor mated to a Berg 5 spd transaxle, Wilwood disc brakes, Porsche Fuch rims & full front & rear suspension work. Not a purists cup of tea but exactly what I was looking for. Having owned over 20 air cooled vw's this was the first 12v model I've owned & first that was fully built. Your article hit all the points that are important in looking to buy one. I would like to add that those who are in the market for one but have little or no prior experience with air cooled vw's that they either take a friend who is knows these cars or pay someone to go with them when finding one that they like. As the years pass the # of them in excellent condition will command top dollar & they are getting harder to find for sale. Mine will stay with me until I no longer can enjoy it them be passed on to my son who I trust will own it for his lifetime. The car never fails to draw attention from people of all ages with the older folks who see it are amazed at the condition & have a story to tell about one that they or their parents used to own. They are unique & unmistakable in their design & a blast to drive. A timeless classic that never goes out of style. To everyone out there, with Faith, Family (Ohana) & Patience, we will all get through this current worldwide crisis together. Everyone please follow the medical guidelines being given & don't listen to all the hearsay rubbish going around. No matter what part of our planet you call home we all must do our part to get past this. Much Love & Aloha to all from out here in the 808 50th state of Hawaii! Peace
1 year ago at 09:42
Sounds like you got yourself a beauty! Take care of it and stay safe.
Lee Hedges: The Razor Edge Enthusiast - Heritage Magazine - English
1 year ago at 16:11
[…] As the current custodian of 3 different Type 3 based Karmann Ghias, he sums up the ownership experience best. “You can’t fully appreciate the T34 until you’ve driven one.  The body is Italian-styled with great curves & timeless styling.  The interior is spacious with lots of legroom and headroom.  The seats sit back and are low in the body sitting directly on the Type 3 floor pans, so the driving experience is unlike any other VW.  The instrument panel has three gauges, there’s a Blaupunkt radio a padded dash, and a huge glass area with outstanding visibility.  On the rarity side, there are about 3000 T34s total worldwide and when you drive one it gets noticed every time.  People come up and ask about it, ask to sit inside, and wonder if they can buy one.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? You can read our Karmann Ghia buyers guide here.  […]
Gordon Smith
8 months ago at 23:14
Great read, I'm on the hunt for an original ish car. I've just about pulled the trigger on a couple of occasions in the last few weeks but stepped back as it wasn't right one way or another. The hunt goes on??
Wendell D Donley
7 months ago at 07:54
I just bought a 1971 comedy th I recently purchased a 1971 karmann Ghia that needs Total Restoration but l only paid 2,300 for it and it's a a convertible at that!
Jeff Ward
7 months ago at 22:43
So, I took the leap and bought a 69 Ghia with no engine but straight body lines, minor touch to rear bumper and left rear panel. Looking at a 4-5 yr resto mod with a Subaru power plant. As I was online looking at inspiration and coaxing my ego that I didn't overspend; I spent $4800 with solid a VW enthusiast in LBC, California. Gracias Miguel!! That's when I saw a sweet 69 on Auto Trader in Georgia for $7200.... Yeah, I got that one too! Delivered last week. Amazing car, original paint and 11,700 miles only! I plan to start video catalogue my Ghia Resto Mod under the tag JDUBZ 69 GHIA(s) so look for me on you tube at some point in Jan 2021 and subscribe to my channel!???
VW Type 3 Buying Guide - Heritage Magazine - English
6 months ago at 12:11
[…] Check out our VW Beetle Buying Guide and Karmann Ghia Buying Guide for some air-cooled VW […]
Jeff OHare
4 months ago at 18:36
I have a beautiful Karmann Ghia Type 1 in Very Nice Condition. 1971 model. 43K miles. 1.6L engine. Runs good. Moon roof. Original equipment. Inside vinyl in very nice condition. Immaculately clean inside. Manual transmission. Original title in hand. Body in great shape, beautiful blue paint job. Asking $6900. Is it possible to add this listing to your blog? I am located on Long Island, NY. I'm not a car guy. Bought this for my wife who doesn't want to drive it because it's a stick. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks- Jeff 631-750-5891
4 months ago at 11:56
Hi Jeff, I have made your comment live, so others can see it. I'd recommend putting your advert on www.thesamba.com if you haven't already. Best of luck with the sale. Andy
Ivan Lwanga-Iga
3 months ago at 11:40
I am looking for back light lenses for a 1958 model lowlight. Do you have them how much would they cost me to ship to RSA Regards Ivan
3 months ago at 10:33
Hi Ivan, sadly we are unable to source Lowlight rear lamps. You'll need to keep an eye out for good used examples online. Try contacting the Karmann Ghia Owners Club perhaps? https://www.kgoc.org.uk/
Mark white
3 months ago at 01:36
Just got my Ghia after a 2 year search. A friend decided to lost his 1967 Cabriolet. I saw the listing while doing my daily searches. I recognized the car in the pics and his 67 Kombi in the background. I called him immediately and told him it was sold. I drove with my brother from Arizona to Cali coast and picked it up to drive back. I stopped for a night in Palm Springs. Awoke at 2am with a bad feeling and checked the car. Top was slashed, and many parts stolen. Including about $2000 worth of extra vintage parts he gave me for the car. A real bummer. Finally getting the top fixed this week after months of negotiations with my insurance company. The car is a gem and has only 128k original documented miles, I am the 3rd owner. Car started its life in San Diego and spent the last 10 years in Ventura. Love driving it! My granddaughter calls it our Lamborghia!
3 months ago at 10:44
Thanks for sharing your experiences with us Mark. Sorry to hear your car got broken into and vandalized, that really sucks. Andy
3 months ago at 09:00
My Karmann Ghia cabriolet was meant to be kept in a garage. Long story short, to wasn't. It's rusted badly. Had a local bodywork guy who works near me take a quick look. He tends to keep cars on his forcourt for years and years to work on them. I'd like to restore it, but apparently almost the entire bottom section, rear and sides need new parts. Roof and all interior OK. With a car in this condition, I'm struggling to get a quote or time estimate for this work. I can't do it myself and I want the car to drive. I looked on this site and most of the panel parts are reasonably priced and available. It's the labour cost and time I can't get any idea of. Anyone got any clue. Even a ballpark? Two years £10k? One year £12k? Three years 8k? Literally have no idea and stuck at home unable to take it to a specialist for a look-see.
3 months ago at 17:06
Hi Kirsty, pricing restoration work is an almost impossible task without seeing the vehicle, and even then your restorer is unlikely to give you a firm price as they don't know what they might find later on in the project. Where are you located? We would suggest calling around a few local VW specialists and asking if they can take a look and also give you a guideline as to what they charge. The good news is the Karmann Ghia Cabriolet is a sought-after car, so even if you spent £20k on it, you shouldn't lose out in the event of having to sell it. A large chunk of whatever you spend will be allocated to paint at the end of it, and that could range from £1000 to £10,000 quite easily, depending on who does it, and how well it is done. On top of this are any mechanical parts the car might need having been sat outside un-used - engine servicing, brakes, ball joints etc. If you haven't already, we'd also suggest joining the Karmann Ghia Owners Club - they are quite active on Facebook, so could give first-hand experience based on photographs to help steer your decisions. Best of luck. Andy
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