Chronology of Changes
Technical Change History
Initial VW 1500 Karmann Ghia design penned by Sergio Sartorelli
First Drivable Prototype manufactured
September - Official Launch at the Frankfurt Auto Show
Public sales commence
Introduction of sunroof models
Dual Carburettors introduced
12 Volt electrical system update
Four bolt wheels introduced
Front disk brakes added
Introduction of automatic transmission
IRS rear suspension provided for Automatic models
Production ceases with build total of 42,505
T34 Cabriolet Story:
When Volkswagen decided to build the new VW 1500 series they always planned to offer the Sports Coupe & Sports Cabriolet models, following the same marketing plan as the first Karmann Ghia. Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin, Italy would design the Sports Coupe body, then hand a prototype off to the Wilhelm Karmann factory in Osnabruck, Germany. Karmann would then prepare the Sports Coupe for production, work out all the details, make modifications where necessary, and also create the Sports Cabriolet model. Ghia handed-off their VW 1500 Sports Coupe prototype to Karmann in early 1960. Karmann reworked the design and had the two pre-production models available in April 1961 for press photos. Then in September 1961 both models were on public display at the Frankfurt International Auto Show. Interestingly, in 2005 a Karmann engineer confided that the Frankfurt show Cabriolet did not have a functional top frame since there was not enough time to design it before the show.
It is now believed that Karmann built 17 prototype Cabriolet models in the 1961-62 timeframe although Karmann has not released any records to prove it. These were for initial testing & evaluation, promotional events, and press photos. None of these were offered to the public for sale although most ended up in the hands of prominent VW dealerships in Germany as show-pieces for their dealership showrooms.
Volkswagen finally placed an order for "Nullserie" (pre-production) Type 34 Cabriolets in October 1962, one year after the unveiling at Frankfurt. It is not known why there was a delay in this production, but it was common for the Cabriolet model to be released 2 years after the Coupe. Karmann built 10 fully-functional production Cabriolets from October-December 1962 as well as 6 incomplete bodies not mated to a rolling chassis. At the end of 1962 VW cancelled the 341 program at Karmann mainly because Karmann was not fulfilling its contracts for quantities of Beetle Cabriolets, Type 14 Coupes, & Type 14 Cabriolets. The Type 34 Cabriolets were also given to prominent VW dealerships but never offered for sale to the public.
There are currently five existing authentic Type 34 Cabriolets remaining in the world today, all located in Germany.
It was Volkswagens tradition to unveil a new model VW at Germany's Frankfurt International Auto Show. But for the new VW-1500 series, VW was a bit unsure of the publics reaction, so they leaked press photos (above) to the magazines & newspapers to let the public see the body styles. Although it is not clear when these photos were released, it was probably in April-May 1961. There were only two press photos released of the Type 34 Cabriolet, one from the front and the other from overhead. If you look carefully at the front view, you'll see the Ghia shield & Karmann script are mounted to the left rear fender of the Type 34, unlike the Coupes on the right side. Another interesting feature of these two Cabriolets is the front nose emblem has been filled with white cloisonné, a prototype for sure.
And this press photo (above) recently surfaced in mid-2009 showing the right side (with KARMANN script & Ghia shield) which means the M341 prototypes had two sets of these emblems while the Coupes only had them on the right side. It was published in a 1961 STERN German car magazine.
Sales Brochures & Service Literature:
Here is the one page original Type 34 Cabrio sales brochure and the original Type 34 Coupe/Cabrio color options brochure from Volkswagen. Both were printed in late-1962 and widely distributed at VW dealerships during 1962-63. Interesting things: shortened rear seat, same windshield as Coupe, large rear window with aluminum trim. Also, the quarter windows are gone, and the door window glass is rounded off at the top (the easiest way to identify a real M341). These two exploded diagrams are from the rare M341 Parts List book. One clearly shows the sheetmetal modifications necessary to support the body, and the other shows the top frame & material design.
1960's Magazine Photos:
These photos were featured in the March 1962 edition of The VW Salesman, an internal publication for the VW Canada Ltd dealer organization. The VW 1500s were introduced with a fashion show theme in Toronto. The Type 34 Cabrio was considered the beauty queen of the event.
This overhead diagram was featured in a 1963 edition of Motor Revue, a German automotive publication.
These photos (above) were taken at the September 1961 Frankfurt International Auto Show.
This photo is in the 1994 German Type 3 book titled Die grossen VW. It is the only dark-bodied light-roof 341 ever photographed and also features 1964-era beauty rings but with the early-1962 nose emblem.
History of the Type 34
The Type 34 Karmann Ghia Story
The Type 34 Karmann Ghia is referred to by many terms. Often referred to as the "other" Karmann Ghia, it has various nicknames -- the British call it the "Razor Edge", in Germany it is known as "der Grosse Ghia" (the "big" Ghia), and in America it is sometimes referred to as the "Type 3 Ghia" -- but whatever you choose to call it, the Type 34 is a rare and unique model.
While its styling is not to everyone's taste, the Italian-designed coupe, penned just as the stylistic excesses of the 1950s were coming to an end, was arguably ahead of its time. Based on the mechanicals of the VW 1500 (more commonly known as the Type 3), the Type 34 Karmann Ghia employed the same successful combination of standard mechanicals and high-style coachwork as its forerunner, the Type 14 Karmann Ghia.
From a production total of 42,505 cars produced, there are thought to be less than 2,500 Type 34s left. Due to the low production figures, avant garde styling and difficulty in restoration, relatively few survive today. Generally considered a commercial failure, and once shunned by enthusiasts as the "ugly" Ghia, Volkswagen's most exclusive coupe has only started to see a rise in popularity over the past five to ten years.
While the Type 34 Karmann Ghia story is often told with respect to its relationship to the Type 3 model range, this does not really present the correct view of the automotive arena at the time. The Type 34 was aimed at a completely different consumer group than the Type 3 it was based on, and to truly understand the Type 34 story, it has to be read in the correct context.
The initial, and more commonly known Karmann Ghia model, the "Type 14", was commissioned and designed when Volkswagen decided to add a "flagship" car to its range. Designed by Luigi Segre and influenced to some extent by Chrysler's Virgil Exner, the hand-built coupe debuted at the 1953 Paris auto show and was well received. In its first year of production it surpassed all expectations with over 10,000 units sold. Based on Type 1 (Beetle) mechanicals, and marketed as a practical and stylish 2+2 rather than as a true sports car, the Type 14 Karmann Ghia was widely admired and is to this day heralded as one of the world's most beautiful automobile designs. Affectionately known as 'the secretary's Porsche' in Germany, the Type 14 won a place in the hearts of nearly all who saw it.
Its success is based in part to the rise in postwar consumerism. Economic stability, low inflation and high employment rates made the 1950s and 1960s an affluent era. It changed the automobile from being a toy for the rich into the defacto standard for personal transportation. The Karmann Ghia's stylish appeal also helped make it a desirable fashion accessory, and forged its transformation into a household icon.
The planned introduction of the VW 1500 in 1961, with its improved handling and increased power, also provided an opportunity to update to the hugely successful Karmann Ghia. Maintaining the construction technique of utilizing a combined chassis and floorpan borrowed from other production models, the VW 1500 platform provided the perfect basis for a new Karmann Ghia model.
The 1500's new "pancake" engine design satisfied the additional luggage space requirement. Stylists squared off the body, allowing for more interior space and comfort. A number of features were added to the list of standard equipment that were previously non-existent or optional extras on the Beetle and its low-priced competitors. The models that VW proposed for this new VW 1500 series were the basic Sedan (Notchback), station wagon (Variant or Squareback), and a sports coupe (Karmann Ghia). The plan for the 1500 series also included convertibles based on both the sedan and the Karmann Ghia.
Carrozzeria Ghia began working on the initial sketches for the VW 1500 Karmann Ghia in late 1958. Sergio Sartorelli, chief Ghia designer who was also responsible for the Type 14 Ghia's styling update in 1959, had three sketches ready only days after the contract was awarded. One design was chosen for continued work, and Ghia took it from there. Sartorelli had a completed drivable prototype ready by the end of 1959. VW agreed to produce the prototype Karmann Ghia, with only a few changes. By the September 1961 Frankfurt Auto Show, at which the entire VW 1500 range made its public debut, the final production model was featured at Karmann's display. The show featured the prototype Cabriolet as well.
The new Type 34 Karmann Ghia, launched to a very mixed reception. While the success of its forerunner guaranteed a wide exposure, it also had high expectations to meet. It was the most expensive car produced by the Volkswagen group, and at approximately £1287 was more expensive than the base model Porsche 356 for sale at the time at £1146. For the same price as a Type 34 you could also have bought two Beetles, or for only a small amount more a convertible Type 14 Ghia. The hand assembled body and unique trim and interior components were expensive to produce, and they pushed the overall cost of the Type 34 outside of its class, a mistake that was to play a major part in its eventual demise.
While the Type 14 Karmann Ghia was a fashionable icon of its time, making up for a lack of performance with classic Italian lines, the Type 34's haute couture styling was more challenging and even polarizing, and it failed to connect with much of the car buying public. Coupled with the barely adequate 1500cc engine, the Type 34 Karmann Ghia left many with the impression that it was little more than an overpriced and underpowered sports tourer. With other, better performing cars available for the same money or less, the Type 34 Karmann Ghia was fighting from the moment it was launched. This initial response was enough for Volkswagen to postpone the launch of the convertible, and the model was ultimately withdrawn early in the 1963 model year after only a very small number were produced. Only a handful of convertibles survive to this day.
After just seven years of production, and with minimal investment in styling changes, production at the Wilhelm Karmann factory finally ended in 1969. The VW-Porsche 914 soon took its place on Karmann's production line. Ironically, production of the Type 14 Karmann Ghia continued, outlasting its younger sibling by several years until it was finally replaced by the Golf-based Scirocco in 1974.
In total 445,238 Type 14 Karmann Ghias were produced over a period of 24 years, an average of 24,000 units per year, compared with a total of just 42,505 Type 34s produced over its complete 7 year production life. It is easy to see the failed expectations pinned on The Type 34 Karmann Ghia.
Today, the Type 34 Karmann Ghia is finally starting to enjoy the limelight it deserves. Previously shunned by popular Volkswagen culture in favor of the Beetle, its popularity is increasing among air-cooled Volkswagen enthusiasts. The Type 34 has become valued for its rarity and unique style, and it enjoys a new found appeal created by its acceptance by the popular press. Many magazines and websites now regularly feature Type 34s, and what was regarded by some as ugly or outlandish styling has now been accepted as a unique design that seems to have improved with age.
You can also take a look around the prototypes at the Stiftung Automuseum in the following article by Larry Edson
TC Fastback Prototype
VW was thinking about producing this beautiful car! (from the March 2002 Newsletter)
Here's an article by Larry Edson detailing the 2 T34 prototypes he saw at the Stiftung Automuseum.