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Karmann Ghia

Published: 21st Oct 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Karmann Ghia
Karmann Ghia
Karmann Ghia
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Biggest problem is getting the Ghia’s suspension right as there’s so many options available

More speed that is. Alan Anderson reports on the best Ghia gear

If there’s one thing the Karmann Ghia has always lacked, it’s speed to go with all that style. This rebodied Beetle – or to give it its offi cial title, the Type 14 – was fi rst seen in coupé form in 1955, with just 30 rear-mounted horses from an 1192cc Beetle fl at-four. It wasn’t until ‘66 that the car gained the 1500cc engine (along with disc brakes and a modifi ed rear suspension). As the car is Beetle-based there’s a huge amount that you can do to make a greater Ghia.


Make sure your car is up to it! Despite most going to the US, rust is the main worry. Many cars left the Karmann works with some fi ller, which was sometimes used instead of lead loading. Sills are less straightforward, and they can corrode very badly. Their complexity is due to the heater channels which are incorporated within the sills – the easiest way of telling if they’re badly rotten is to look under the wheelarches to see if there’s rot in the sill closing panels. Regularly check the footwells and under the rear seat – the latter area being especially rustprone where convertibles are concerned. Next lift the lid of the front luggage bay regularly and see if the inner wings and spare wheel well are still all present and correct.

First gear had no synchromesh until 1961, but the later, more fi ned gearbox was even more reliable than the earlier transaxle. The gearbox and differential share a common casing and both of them are pretty tough.

The fi rst sign of trouble is the transmission jumping out of fi rst gear.

Remember, on pre-1968 cars the gearbox oil also has to lubricate the wheel bearings, so it’s especially important that lube isn’t allowed to drop too far or damage will ensue.

Post-1968 cars featured a superior independent rear suspension that has more scope for improving, and you need to check the driveshaft CV joints for split boots regularly.


Trusty VW unit has real scope for tuning in the usual manner but the best speed solution is to go large. And thanks to the air cooled design it’s pretty easy done by changing barrels and cranks. For example, a 1200 can be stretched to 1600 using 85.5mm barrels and pistons along with a 69mm (throw crankshaft); with 90.5mm pistons 1776cc is achieved. Here’s some other options: a 1600 engine with long throw 76mm crank and 1745cc or 1995cc can be realised with larger barrels. Go for 90.4mm pistons and barrels and 2109cc and 2276cc are on the cards depending upon crank choice - the ultimate is 2332cc care of an 84mm shaft. Bear in mind that big cranks

need the engine’s crankcase modifying to make them fi t. Better breathing comes from a Weber 29/36 or rarer Minnow Fish carb (check out websites and autojumbles). Failing this you are looking at Weber 40 IDFs or equivalent Solexes. With a better exhaust a 1600 will yield 75bhp and perhaps around 150+ on a 2.1/2.3 engine.

Head and camshaft changes are available; one ‘trick’ for the latter are high ratio rockers which give a similar effect to a racier cam. On all tuned engines look to a modifi ed ignition - the Bosch 009 distributor is considered essential wear, along with breakerless electronic ignition while extensive tuning means that the air cooling probably needs to be improved; the type of oil used has a signifi cant role to play or the engine can overheat.

If all this is still not enough then turbocharge the engines. No – well, how about installing a Subaru boxer? It’s popular on Campers (American fi tting kits are available) but it also squeezes into the Karmann Ghia (see box out).


Ensuring everything is up to spec is the fi rst step. There’s a good chance that the steering box will have some wear, as might any of the various linkages. All the ball joints and linkage arms are also available at pretty low prices and they’re easy and worthwhile swapping.

Dropping the suspension is popular, to make the car look sportier as well as to improve handling. It’s probably been done already but if you want to return it to standard it may mean a new beam at the front because the original one will have been cut down – unless you’re lucky enough to acquire a car with an adjustable beam already that is. Drop Spindles are now the recommended route to lower a Beetle/Karmann along with shims to suit – drastic lowering can mean the addition of a bump steer kit due to angle of the tie rods. Bear in mind that problems can occur with four and fi ve wheel bolt designs At the back it’s a case of turning the torsion bars on their splines to lower – but you have to de-tension the spring bar itself and care is needed since the torsion bars have a “vernier” arrangement and no reference marks.

Getting the rear geometry right is also critical so speak to a specialist. Uprated anti-roll bars are available; start at the front and don’t tackle the rear fi rst, warn experts, except on IRS cars.

Converting from drum to disc is easy enough and you can use stock VW items or go the aftermarket route; rear discs are available but usually not needed but a ‘Bus’ 22mm bore master cylinder may be for less pedal travel. For most purposes, top brand 175 section tyres are ample to handle the power.

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