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Sizing up a Karmann Ghia for Restoration

Restoring nothing but Karmann Ghias (and one Bus) for the last 20 years, I'm often asked after a brief (or sometimes never ending) description: "Is this a good car to restore?" My answer, in general terms, is that the Karmann Ghia is much like a Mustang or Corvette...Sharp unique design, old enough, interesting history, and is well recognized.


In personal terms, the attitude of the restorer usually falls between "How much money can I make off this thing?", to "She's been a member of our family for 25 years!" If you're the latter, you can stop reading now....it is as they say a pure "Labor of Love". If you're concerned with saving money and time (which can also increase enjoyment), choosing a good Ghia is the 1st and most important step in the restoration process. Below are area that will help you weigh out purchase price vs. cost to restore.


Rule #1: Beware of first impressions!! Good restoration projects often look bad and likewise, some very bad cars look good at first. To make things simple, let's rank by importance, the three main areas of restoration: #1 Body, #2 Mechanical, and #3 Upholstery.


The least important is the upholstery because if everything is bad, one can currently do a nice stock interior for around $1000 to $1600.00 complete. Give me something that was used as a hen house or wolverine cage. This will cost about the same to restore as an interior that's "a bit tattered" or "needs some TLC" (as ads often say), but you will most likely pay much less for the “hen house” Ghia.


When it comes to the mechanical, everything (with the exception of front disc brakes on '67 or later Ghia) is the same as the Beetle. Which is also to say, very available and reasonably inexpensive. Like upholstery, there is a price ceiling, and you’re finished with something near 100% of new original.


This brings us to our #1 concern...The Body.


Unlike the interior and mechanical, which can be only so bad, (at which point you replace everything) when fixing the Ghia body, the sky is the limit; price, time and loss of sanity wise. Sheet metal body parts cost two to ten times that of a Beetle and all fenders must be welded, not bolted on. To make matters worse, unlike the interior and mechanical which can be restored nearly 100%....the body usually cannot.


Localized rust or collision damage, even serious damage, is most often preferred to minor rust and/or collision damage spread throughout a Ghia's body and floor pan.


If rockers are rusted, also look for rust or openings where they connect to the wheel wells. In an exploded body view, one can see that the seams below the doors are where the rockers go under the fender metal and then continues all the way from one inner wheel well to the other. In a convertible, this area is critical because not only are the rockers the only thing that connects the front of the body to the rear, they also contain an extra support "beam" inside their structure. A good test of a convertibles’ integrity is to open both doors, stand on top of the rocker with one hand on the windshield frame and lightly bounce. If the car "wobbles" or "flexes" in different directions, work is needed in the rockers.


     Under, or just in front of the rear seat is where rust is likely found in the floor pan. If rust is found in the front foot well area, a close inspection for rust in the rear sections of the inner front fenders should be made.


      Other common areas of rust are at the bottoms of both the doors and rear deck lid. The outer skin of both these structures fold up and under. Besides obvious holes, beginning rust is indicated by a swelling or unevenness along the fold. Also check the spare tire well, under the battery, as well as a good general look over the whole car.


     In respect to collision damage, always check the front nose by how "crisp" the center ridge looks. This ridge should look the same from the front of the hood down to just above the horn opening underneath. Look at the inner front fender structure (and nose) from inside the front trunk. Previous collisions will show as wrinkles in the front and sides of these areas. Another important area to avoid problems is the around the headlights. The edge of the inner bucket should protrude beyond the edge of the fender. If this area has been damaged, headlight & trim ring fitting will be difficult or impossible. Luckily, all the sheet metal is available for this area. Be sure to inspect the engine compartment as well for collision and rust damage.


     Missing parts may help you get the purchase price down, but actually cost you no more in restoration. Parts such as side chrome molding, other bright work, all upholstery, and any parts made out of rubber are all replaced in restoration....missing or not. On a higher end, i.e.; more complete restoration, the windshield, turn and taillight lenses would also be replaced.


  Parts you don't want missing are: bumpers, (unless they are the super cheap stainless steel bumpers that are ill fitting/looking), rear fold down glass on convertibles (69 1/2 & later) and the convertible top frame. Even in bad shape, these parts can either be restored (in the case of non stainless steel bumpers), or have good trade-in value for better parts. A lot of Ghia people buy and swap parts among themselves, so any extra parts are a plus.


     In addition, 1960 & 1967 Ghias can be particularly difficult to restore because of a lot of 1 year only parts (especially the '60), so these cars should be very complete.


     Another plus for the purchaser is the "basket case". This is an otherwise complete Ghia that (typically) had the restoration started when the owner lost interest. This may be a good choice for someone who has already done a partial or full Ghia restoration and can identify most, if not all the parts separate from the car. Be sure to check the fit and alignment of any parts separated from the Ghia (such as bulb-holders, trim rings, doors, deck lids, etc.) during the bodywork phase. If any of these parts are damaged, replace with undamaged parts before starting the body work. This is time very well spent before the paint goes on, so do it!!.


     As for styling, many people (myself included) think the older (more classic) the better. But of course, "To each his own". Major styling changes are grouped as follows:

I. 56-59 (aka “Lowlite”): Small front vent openings with double bar vent grills and small "coffin" shaped tail lights.

a. 56-57 shared steering wheels with the Bug, 58-59 was uniquely Ghia with wheel spokes off center from the center hub.

b. Front turn signals changed mid-year 59. Earlier were same vintage Bus style which were large sleeves (chrome for Ghia) covering a raised body section with side mounted screws holding a plastic lens. Later is a solid chrome base with a thin ring with forward mounted screws holding a clear glass or amber plastic lens. This style continued through mid 64.

 60-69: Larger "tear drop" front vent openings (to end of production), slightly larger "cats eye" tail lights.

a. 66 has 1" wide trim strip running across the dash face.

b. 67-71 New dash with centered speedometer & very small fuel gauge & clock.

c. 68 on, fuel filler in right fender, new "trigger" exterior door handles (as opposed to thumb actuated button), and ignition switch in steering column.

d. Mid year 69 gets a new convertible top assemble featuring side securing latches and a fold down glass rear window.

 70-71: Larger 9" tail light with flat face, wrap around front turn signals with side reflectors. Shortened bows (tubes) on rear bumper to accommodate wrap around rear reflectors for N. American market. Note: All European models and bumper blade with overriders (guards) only, no tubes like the American style.

72-74: Huge 13" tail lights, larger one piece blade bumper, updated black dash face, two large black faced "tunnel" gauges, four spoke steering wheel with large center horn area.

            a. No back seat in '73 and 74 in USA, just factory plywood!




Major mechanical improvements happened in 1967, with the addition of front disc brakes and a 12 Volt electrical system, and in 1969 with I.R.S. (independent rear suspension).


            Like its brother the beetle, the Karmann Ghia experienced changes every single year of production. The above groupings cover the most noticeable changes through the years.


     Look at several Ghias if possible (if you don't already own one), or use this information to help give you an idea for what you're in for!


     If this is your first Ghia restoration, labeling parts and even taking pictures before disassembling will be very helpful when you start reassembling 2-4 months (or more) down the line.



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