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Should I get the Karmen Ghia?

Ok so there is this baby blue (with white top) '74 Karmen Ghia with 75,000 miles with a for sale sign on it on my block. Most of its life in Florida, otherwise garaged in NYC. Owner selling, he says, cause of his bad back… Rebuilt engine. Body in good shape. Interior needs TLC… I’ve always wanted a fun little car, but am not widly mechanical, although more than willing to learn… I was surprised at the asking price, though. What would seem reasonable to pay, assuming it checks out with a mechanic… Also, can it even use non-leaded gas???

How much $$? They are collectable, so prices will be kind of high. Unless you really like working on VWs, I’d avoid it. They’re neat to look at, but a rolling antique even by '74 (slow, minimal safety devices, etc, the design came out in '53, with some modifications over the years). Body and interior parts will be $$$. A '74 certainly can use unleaded. Lots of more-fun cars available for the $$, I’d imagine.

I’ prefer a Miata for about $3 - $4k. The Miata has airbags, ABS, and decent seatbelts. In the Karmen Ghia your face is the airbag and your legs are the crumple zones.

Wait a month or two for convertibles to go on sale during winter. All cars use unleaded gas as there is no other choice.


If you don’t mind being the slowest car on the road, and you can tolerate things like lack of heat and defroster, sure, a '74 Karmann Ghia might be fun. Also, you’ll need to find a mechanic who is willing to work on it.

This would be a hobby car, right, used only on sunny afternoons? If you plan to use it as a daily driver you should reconsider.

One nice thing about the car would be you could probably do most of the work yourself with a good manual. Parts are plentiful and easy to obtain. “How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” is the bible for these air-cooled VWs.

Check the nose closely. Most of these cars have suffered damage and have body work there. They’re also highly susceptible to rust, and once the tin worm gets started it can do a lot of damage.

A Miata would be much easier to live with on a day-to-day basis.

“Check the nose closely. Most of these cars have suffered damage and have body work there. They’re also highly susceptible to rust, and once the tin worm gets started it can do a lot of damage.”

It’s truely a labor of love. A friend just finished restoring (took more than a year) a '64 Ghia. Of course, he is a VW nut, still owns the Beetle he bought in '64. Had OP said 'I have always loved Karmann Ghias, and now I found one" that would be different. But “I’ve always wanted a fun little car” means that a Karmann Ghia is likely the wrong choice.

After I had the damage to the nose of my '71 Karmann Ghia repaired, it only took a couple of months for somebody to back into the front of it again. No matter how much room I left in front of the car, sooner or later, some ignoramus would “park by ear” and dent the nose of the car.

I personally did the hacksaw job on the driver’s side heater duct in order to graft a '55 Chevy heater blower into the system on that side. That gave me some heat and some defrosting on the driver’s side, but since I didn’t have the time to do another hacksaw job on the passenger side ducts, the passenger side of that car remained very chilly and the right side of the windshield would frequently become opacque in the winter.

For the time, it was a nice, economical car–as long as you kept up on the intensive maintenance. Nowadays, few mechanics would be familiar enough with the maintenance of this car, and few drivers would have the patience to drive such a slow car (albeit with with pathetically-poor brakes) on a daily basis.

As a weekend pleasure car, it could be fun, as long as you accept the reality that it is dangerously slow in acceleration, as long as you are willing to perform maintenance on it…about 5 times more often than a modern car, and as long as you understand that it is a literal death trap in the event of a collision.

And, please remember that you are not allowed to buy it until you can spell the model name of the car correctly.

 If you do get it, be sure to track down a copy of  [i] "How to keep your VW alive; A step by step manual for the complete idiot."[/i]

 They were not really difficult to work on most of the stuff, but the Ghia was more difficult to work on, less room.  It is a collector car today.  Don't expect it to be a practical daily driver.

 As for the fuel, I can't say for sure.  That engine rebuild may have ungraded the unleaded sensitive parts. My memory is not all that great, but I believe that the unleaded issue was over by 1974.

If this is to be your only car, forget it. If you have the time and place to keep a “hobby” car then this could work. Generally the Ghia body is well built but in '74 era everything was prone to rust. You need to get the car up on a lift and check all the floor pans carefully for rust and signs of previous repairs and restorations.

The mechanicals, brakes, steering, and suspension are pretty simple to work on. They are also crude and not even close to performance standards in modern cars. Therefore the car is really not safe when compared to current cars. It might have seat belts, but little protection for driver and passenger in a crash.

The ghia is slow, but has a nimble feel and can be fun to drive in a slow sort of way. You’d need to learn how to change your own oil, which is every 2,000 miles since the oil capacity is small, just under 3 quarts. Valves should be adjusted every 5,000 to 10,000 miles too. If you live in the cold areas for the US, the heater is very poor and therefore the window defroster system is ineffective. You wipe the inside of the windows to see out.

If you are willing to make major concessions then you can make this car’s quirks into part of its appeal rather than find them frustrating.

My mechanical life started with VW and even for all their short commings I would not have had it any other way, but they were unmitigated POS. I did have quite alot of fun racing the VW. SPG made a roller bearing stroker crank (normal use was stationary power plant use) and when you combined this crank with 92mm jugs you have the legendary 2180cc VW. With a Zenith 2 barrel carb and dual port heads 140hp happened real quick

And, please remember that you are not allowed to buy it until you can spell the model name of the car correctly.

This explains the rising popularity of the BMW. It’s easy to spell.

These were really cool little cars, hence the collector’s level prices. But in terms of acceleration, handling, reliability, durability, braking, and ESPECIALLY SAFETY, they were really in the stone age.

Said another way, the car would be fun around town but could not keep up with modern traffic, would handle like a stone, stop like a boulder, and be extremely unsafe…your quota for life will be one accident. Can you imagine getting hit by a modern SUV? He’d never even notice. You’d be crushed.

And it just might have problems with 10% ethanol.

Leave it to a collector where it belongs. Or to someone seeking a weekend toy for the local “cruise nights”.

First off, I’d like to thank all of you for your replies, and say sorry have taken so long to get back to this. I posted when bored at work and then got swamped at work. Ok so it’s looking like a no on the Ghia (besides that I can’t spell it), but here’s my next question. If I’m gonna get a little two seater sports car and don’t like any of the newer models, and don’t want to have to look too too far afield for parts etc, what do people suggest? I’ve always been drawn to the older Alpha Spyders (I hate the changes they made when they updated it some years ago), and to the Triumph TR4’s and TR3’s. Not the MG midgets, but some of the other MG’s I like too. I had a friend who had a Lancia convertible for a while, but that’s too out there for me maintenance wise… (Although he did perforce learn some Italian) Also the Volvo two seaters I like, but as far as I know don’t come with the cabriolet… And of course, in my heart of hearts, I’d love a Jaguar E type, but these seem out of my price range – I don’t have restoration chops, although as above I’m happy to learn… More thoughts? Oh, and did Corvair ever make a cabirolet?Thanks again - J

Of those, the Alfa (note sp) and the MGB would be tops on my list, with your interests pointing to the Alfa. And yes, there was a Corvair spyder, but the Alfa would be a bit better choice to me.

Personally, I love all of the old VW air cooled vehicles. The only exception would be the Bus on long highway trips and yes, it can run on unleaded.
Those Ghias are collectible and a half decent one around here generally has a price of about 5 grand on it; at a minimum.

The cars do require very regular maintenance (3k miles oil changes, 6k miles valve lash adjustments, etc.) but the upside is that these cars are very simple and cheap to service.
I’ve owned half a dozen air cools over the years and drove the carp (sic) out of them. Given the right circumstances, and price, I’d buy another one in a heartbeat.

I personally love all the old ragtops, and I’ve driven most of them. But none of them will stack up to any new car in safety, reliability, adequate power for today’s traffic, and convenience.

I think the absolute best option out there for an affordable two seater roadster is the Miata. It has the fun and feel of an old British Leyland roadster with the reliability, performance, quality, and safety features of a modern car.

I learned to drive stick on a Karmen Gia. A few months later I learned how to shift without a clutch in the same Karmen Gia.

They were nice cars and very classic look IMO. You should expect a 74 will give you some problems. Try to get a copy of How to Keep Your VW Alive. It is not likely to be the most practical choice of cars you could make and you should have someone check the rust level before buying. But I would be tempted if I did not live in rust prone Ohio.

It is not as fun to drive as a Miata (had one of those, great car BTW) but it was fun. Not a street dragster.

This is one I don’t think anyone can tell you yes or no.