Sizing up a Karmann Ghia for Restoration
but Karmann Ghias (and one Bus) for the last 20 years, I'm often asked
brief (or sometimes never ending) description: "Is this a
good car to
restore?" My answer, in general terms, is that the Karmann
much like a Mustang or Corvette...Sharp unique design, old enough,
history, and is well recognized.
personal terms, the attitude of
the restorer usually falls between "How much money can I make
thing?", to "She's been a member of our family for
years!" If you're the latter, you can stop reading now....it
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
will help you weigh out purchase price vs. cost to restore.
Beware of first
impressions!! Good restoration projects often look bad and
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
least important is the upholstery
because if everything is bad, one can currently do a nice stock
around $1000 to $1600.00 complete. Give me something that was used as a
house or wolverine cage. This will cost about the same to restore as an
interior that's "a bit tattered" or "needs
TLC" (as ads often say), but you will most likely pay much
the “hen house” Ghia.
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
inexpensive. Like upholstery, there is a price ceiling, and you’re
with something near 100% of new original.
brings us to our #1
the interior and mechanical,
which can be only so bad, (at which point you replace everything) when
the Ghia body, the sky is the limit; price, time and loss of sanity
metal body parts cost two to ten times that of a Beetle and all fenders
welded, not bolted on. To make matters worse, unlike the interior and
mechanical which can be restored nearly 100%....the body usually cannot.
rust or collision damage,
even serious damage, is most often preferred to minor rust and/or
damage spread throughout a Ghia's body and floor pan.
rockers are rusted, also look for
rust or openings where they connect to the wheel wells. In an exploded
view, one can see that the seams below the doors are where the rockers
the fender metal and then continues all the way from one inner wheel
the other. In a convertible, this area is critical because not only are
rockers the only thing that connects the front of the body to the rear,
also contain an extra support "beam" inside their structure. A good
test of a convertibles’ integrity is to open both doors, stand on top
rocker with one hand on the windshield frame and lightly bounce. If the
"wobbles" or "flexes" in different directions, work is
needed in the rockers.
in front of the rear seat is where rust is likely found in the floor
rust is found in the front foot well area, a close inspection for rust
rear sections of the inner front fenders should be made.
common areas of rust are at the bottoms of both the doors and rear deck
The outer skin of both these structures fold up and under. Besides
holes, beginning rust is indicated by a swelling or unevenness along
Also check the spare tire well, under the battery, as well as a good
look over the whole car.
collision damage, always check the front nose by how "crisp" the
center ridge looks. This ridge should look the same from the front of
down to just above the horn opening underneath. Look at the inner front
structure (and nose) from inside the front trunk. Previous collisions
as wrinkles in the front and sides of these areas. Another important
avoid problems is the around the headlights. The edge of the inner
should protrude beyond the edge of the fender. If this area has been
headlight & trim ring fitting will be difficult or impossible.
the sheet metal is available for this area. Be sure to inspect the
compartment as well for collision and rust damage.
may help you get the purchase price down, but actually cost you no more
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
you don't want
missing are: bumpers, (unless they are the super cheap stainless steel
that are ill fitting/looking), rear fold down glass on convertibles (69
& 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
trade-in value for better parts. A lot of Ghia people buy and swap
themselves, so any extra parts are a plus.
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
for the purchaser is the "basket case". This is an otherwise complete
Ghia that (typically) had the restoration started when the owner lost
This may be a good choice for someone who has already done a partial or
Ghia restoration and can identify most, if not all the parts separate
car. Be sure to check the fit and alignment of any parts separated from
Ghia (such as bulb-holders, trim rings, doors, deck lids, etc.) during
bodywork phase. If any of these parts are damaged, replace with
before starting the body work. This is time very well spent before
paint goes on, so do it!!.
styling, many people (myself included) think the older (more classic)
better. But of course, "To each his own". Major styling changes are
grouped as follows:
56-59 (aka “Lowlite”):
Small front vent
openings with double bar vent grills and small "coffin" shaped tail
56-57 shared steering wheels with
the Bug, 58-59 was uniquely Ghia with wheel spokes off center from the
Front turn signals changed mid-year
59. Earlier were same vintage Bus style which were large sleeves
Ghia) covering a raised body section with side mounted screws holding a
lens. Later is a solid chrome base with a thin ring with forward
holding a clear glass or amber plastic lens. This style continued
drop" front vent openings (to end of production), slightly larger
"cats eye" tail lights.
66 has 1" wide trim strip
running across the dash face.
67-71 New dash with centered
speedometer & very small fuel gauge & clock.
68 on, fuel filler in right
fender, new "trigger" exterior door handles (as opposed to thumb
actuated button), and ignition switch in steering column.
Mid year 69 gets a new convertible
top assemble featuring side securing latches and a fold down glass rear
Larger 9" tail light
with flat face, wrap around front turn signals with side reflectors.
bows (tubes) on rear bumper to accommodate wrap around rear reflectors
American market. Note: All European models and bumper blade with
(guards) only, no tubes like the American style.
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
No back seat in '73 and 74 in USA, just factory plywood!
mechanical improvements happened in
1967, with the addition of front disc brakes and a 12 Volt electrical
and in 1969 with I.R.S. (independent rear suspension).
its brother the beetle, the Karmann Ghia experienced changes every
of production. The above groupings cover the most noticeable changes
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!
your first Ghia restoration, labeling parts and even taking pictures
disassembling will be very helpful when you start reassembling 2-4
more) down the line.