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In the early 1950s, Volkswagen was producing its economy car, the Type 1 (Beetle). With an increase in post-war standards of living, executives at Volkswagen proposed adding a halo car to its model range, contracting with German coachbuilder Karmann for its manufacture. Karmann in turn contracted the Italian firm Ghia, who adapted styling themes previously explored for Chrysler and Studebaker to a Beetle floorplanl widened by 12 in (300 mm).
In contrast to the Beetle's machine welded-body with bolt-on fenders, the Karmann Ghia's body panels were butt-welded, hand-shaped and smoothed with English in a time-consuming process commensurate with higher-end manufacturers – and resulting in the Karmann Ghia's higher price.
In September 1961, Volkswagen introduced the VW 1500 Karmann Ghia, or Type 34, based on its new Tyep 3 platform, featuring Volkswagen's new flat 1500cc engine design, and styling by Italian engineer Sartorelli. . Due to model confusion with the Type 14 1500 introduced in 1967, the Type 34 was known variously as the "Der Große Karmann" ("the big Karmann") in Germany, "Razor Edge Ghia" in the United Kingdom, or "European Ghia" (or "Type 3 Ghia" among enthusiasts) in the United States. Today the name Type 34 is recognized as the worldwide naming convention.
The second automobile model in the world to have this option, an electrically operated sliding steel sunroof was optional in 1962. The styling offered more interior and cargo room than the original Karmann Ghia. It featured an electric clock, three luggage spaces, built-in fog lights, round tail lights, upper & lower dash pads, door pads, & long padded armrests. It was the fastest production VW model of its day.
Until it was replaced by the VW-Porsche 914, it was the most expensive and luxurious passenger car VW manufactured in the 1960s — back then you could have purchased two basic Beetles for the price of one Type 34 in many markets. The comparatively high price meant it never generated high demand, and only 42,505 (plus 17 prototype convertibles were built over the car's entire production life between 1962 and 1969 (roughly 5,000 a year). Today, the Type 34 is considered a semi-rare collectible with values ranging from US$25K (nice original or restored) to $8K (driving project) to $3K (non-driving parts car). Values in Europe are the highest with an unrestored original Pearl White 1962 Coupe selling for US$34,000 in Germany in late 2010.
Although the Type 34 was available in most countries, it was not offered officially in the U.S. — VW's largest and most important export market — another reason for its low sales numbers. Many still made their way to the USA (most via Canada), and the USA has the largest number of known Type 34s left in the world (400 of the total 1,500 to 2,000 or so remaining.
Like its Type 14 brother, the Type 34 was styled by the Italian design studio Ghia. There are some similar styling influences, but the Type 14 Ghia looks very different from the Type 34. The chassis is also a major difference between the cars: the Type 14 shares its chassis with a Beetle, whereas the Type 34 body is mounted on the Type 3 chassis and drive train (the same as in a 1500/1600 Notchback, Variant (Squareback) and Fastback) — all distinguished by the standard 1500 pancake engine that allowed a front and rear boot. The Type 34 is mechanically the same as other Type 3s. All bodywork, interior, glass, bumpers, and most of the lenses are unique to the Type 34.
Specifications. Bodywork. Length/width/height/wheelbase – cm (in) : 419/163/133/242 (165/64.2/52.4/95.3); weight : 860 kg (1868 lbs).
Mechanics. Engine boxer 4 cylinders 1493 cc (91 ci), air-cooled, rear mounted, 8 valves, 1 carb, manual 4 speed gearbox, rear-weel drive. Maximum power : 44bhp at 4100 rpm, torque : 108 Nm at 2800 rpm. Top speed : 132 km/h (84 mph).