Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News, courtesy of Bruce Zahor.
In its heyday of the 1960s, Volkswagen’s advertising was famously–and cleverly–self-deprecating, the brilliant work of the New York agency Doyle Dane Bernbach. The understatement that made the print and commercial ads so groundbreaking could also be seen in VW’s dealer showroom brochures, like this example, shown below, created to sell the model year 1969 Karmann Ghia coupe and convertible.
The juxtaposition of its appearance, typical sports car equipment, and this model’s performance-potential was the theme of the 1969 brochure. This year would be the last for the 1500 (actually 1,493 cc) engine, the air-cooled, Solex downdraft-carbureted flat-four offering 53 hp, 78 lb-ft of torque, and an 82-mph cruising/top speed (80 mph with the optional three-speed Automatic Stick Shift transmission, in place of the standard four-speed manual). Like many sports cars–as well as VW’s decidedly non-sporty Bug–it also had a lightweight engine and fully independent suspension, along with 2+2 seating and front disc brakes.
The “Type 14” Karmann Ghia‘s American/Italian-penned coachwork offered the suggestion of power and speed, but Volkswagen was always up front about its flagship being a Bug in a party frock. And what a frock it was, assembled on a limited-production line by skilled workers at Karmann in Osnabrück. Indeed, an earlier brochure noted that “it takes 185 men working by hand to make the body alone.” The convertible’s insulated top was equally labor-intensive, each one taking two people four hours to build.
With prices of $2,365 and $2,575 (equivalent to $16,082 and $17,510 in today’s dollars) for the 1969 coupe and convertible, the Karmann Ghia was pricier than the most expensive Type 1 Convertible ($2,209, or $15,021), but much cheaper than the GTs it was photographed with in the brochure: the Porsche 911 started at $5,795 (roughly $39,405), the Maserati Mistral commanded $13,600 ($92,478), and the Mercedes-Benz 280 SL with hardtop cost $6,897 ($46,898). The Karmann Ghia even undercut the MGB/GT ($3,160, or $21,487) and Opel GT ($3,395, or $23,085), neither of which shared this VW’s level of hand-craftsmanship.
Volkswagen didn’t break down U.S. imports by model, but we know that a total of 27,834 Karmann Ghia coupes and 6,504 convertibles were built for 1969, making the actual number sold here a tiny fraction of the 566,356 VWs that came to America that year.
Have you ever owned or experienced a Karmann Ghia? How do you feel about its sporting potential?
Click on the images below to enlarge.