Recent reviews by thecountrydriver staff testing in North-East Victoria and the Southern Riverina
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MY DREAM CAR
Volkswagen Type 34 -
Der Grosse Karmann
FROM veteran to vintage and classic, muscle cars to sports cars to European exotics, everyone has a favourite, or dream, car they would like to own.
Mine is the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 34, the bigger, and rarer, stablemate to the more popular Karmann Ghia Type 14.
If you have never seen one on Australian roads it was because the Type 34 was not a commercial success for Volkswagen and after a build run of only 42,498, production ceased.
They were produced between 1962 and 1969, with a few examples privately imported into Australia, but never sold by Volkswagen Australia.
I have driven a couple and had the opportunity to buy one from a used car dealer on Parramatta Road, Sydney, in the mid-1980s, but it was in poor condition and needed plenty of dollars thrown at it which, at the time, I did not have.
I know of a few still kicking around and there are still examples of the Type 14 variety for sale, but there is just something about the ‘Razor Edge’ or Der Grosse Karmann (the big Karmann) that makes it a standout.
Whereas the sleek, Italian-styled-by-Ghia 2+2 Type 14 was based on the Beetle platform powered by an air-cooled, four-cylinder engine out back, the Type 34 was based on a new Type 3 platform (Notchback, Fastback, station wagon), again with an air-cooled four-cylinder engine slung out back, but of the ‘pancake’, or flat, variety.
It ‘stood’ just 46cm.
This engine design also allowed a front and rear boot.
VW introduced the VW 1500 Karmann Ghia, or Type 34, in September 1961 and while it was based on the same sports coupe formula of the Beetle-based Karmann Ghia, it was bigger and featured a much more technocratic razor-edged body style penned by Carrozzeria Ghia’s Sergio Sartorelli.
Other notable designs by the Turin-based Sartorelli included the Fiat 2300 S Coupe and the baby Fiat 126.
Unlike its smaller cousin, the Type 34 had an aggressive eyebrow ridge over the headlamp clusters, which continued down the body sides to terminate in a clipped, and angular, rear-end treatment.
There was no convertible version because of body stiffening problems although 17 prototypes were produced in 1962 and a convertible was featured in marketing literature.
An electrically operated sliding steel sunroof was optional in 1962, the second automobile model in the world to have this option.
The Type 34’s 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 and lower dash pads, door pads, and 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, costing twice as much as a Beetle in many markets.
While the Type 34 was mechanically the same as other Type 3s, its bodywork, interior, glass, bumpers and most of the lenses were unique to the car.
It was built in the Wilhelm Karmann factory at Osnabrook in Germany on an assembly line which later produced the VW-Porsche 914, the Type 34's replacement.
While the Type 34 sold in small numbers due to their low production and high price, they brought foot traffic into VW showrooms in Europe and, to a lesser extent, the US and Canada.
For the tech-minded, the Type 34 shared the same 2400mm wheelbase as its older sibling but was 1397mm longer and was 90-kilograms heavier.
In original single-carburetted form, the 1.5-litre engine made 40kW at 4000 rpm, a reasonable amount to be handled by the car’s fully independent torsion-bar suspension and four-wheel drum brakes.
With storage available under the front and rear decks and behind the folding rear bench, the 34 could accept a total 622-litres of cargo.
The Type 3 family enjoyed a mechanical update in 1967, which included front disc brakes and a displacement and carburetion bump to 1.6-litres and twin downdraft Solexes.
The renamed 1600 Karmann Ghia’s 50kW at 4600rpm was enough to push the car to a top speed/cruising speed of 144km/h and there was also the option of replacing the car’s four-speed manual transmission with a fully automatic three-speed gearbox.
The flagship Karmann Ghia Type 34 was controversial for both its design and its hefty price tag but, the latter aside, it was/is a car that captured my heart. – Darryl Starr