Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sometimes the swan turns into an ugly duckling

Some cars just don't do well in New York City. This little former child model is an example:
This is a 1973 Volkswagon Karmann Ghia in the very noticeable color Olympic Blue. Karmann Ghias are actually VW Beetles with a different body, but the elegance and class of this model makes it seem like an entirely unique ride.
These little beauties were manufactured almost as long as the Beetle; from 1955-1974. The very early examples from the '50s had delicate chrome bumpers, tiny vent grills in the front, and taillights that were like little art deco lamps. This one being from the '70s has larger safety-mandated bumpers and turn signals, but still manages to look elegant.
You've got to give it up for the Ghia styling! The front fender trailing off into the door, rear fender hump originating in a lower door crease, and the way the window opening mimics the gentle rounded shape of the overall design all contribute to what I consider the most beautiful Volkswagon ever created. Unlike the Beetle with its bolt-on fenders, the Karmann Ghia was welded together for a bit more rigidity.
That extra rigidity is moot however once the East Coast winter salt gets a hold of the body! A trait that the Ghia does share with the Beetle is that it rusts away like a sugar cube dropped in boiling water. Even the chrome of the hubcaps is flaking away.
Oof. Things are not looking much better as we scan along the bottom edge. The rocker panels and fenders are giving up their grip on the floor in true VW fashion. Unfortunately this has the same heating system as the Beetle, which consists of heater channels running up along the rocker panels from metal boxes hugging the engine. These are just as rust prone as the rest of the car so you get the double indignity of a rusty car that suddenly has no heat whatsoever!
The city is especially hard on these delicate little cars. That dent on the back looks brutal, but was probably just a larger truck pulling up behind it to park.
Those vents along the top of the trunk let you know that the engine is in the back. Like the Beetle these cars are air-cooled, negating the need for a radiator, water pump, hoses, and antifreeze. When kept in decent tune and with the flexible air hoses attached these manage to run well even on hot summer days.
The naming of this car is as literal as it gets. The designer was the Italian powerhouse Ghia, and the company that hand-built the bodywork was the German company Karmann.
The collection of curves that make up this design are on display here, as is the mashed-down rear bumper unfortunately.
See that round chrome shape on the lower rear fender just in front of the rear wheel? That is a removable disc covering up the jack point where you are supposed to place the factory jack for changing a tire. Many of these cars were damaged because Joe Schmo just rolled the jack underneath in a generic spot and started pumping. This would cause dents and creases in the floorboards and an easy access for rust to take hold. The jack point on the other side is rusted clean out.
That little door next to the trunk (which is in the front of course) is hiding the gas cap. This is a convenience of the '70s Karmann Ghia. The earliest examples required you to pop the trunk to fill 'er up! God help you if you spilled a few drops in the trunk and then had to drive around smelling gas fumes (I know this from experience with a couple of 1963 Beetles in my past).
Poor Ghia got socked right in the kisser by some unsympathetic parallel parker! With the low bumpers and fragile bodywork this really is the least practical car to park on the street, but somebody out there obviously loves her enough to drive around in her so hats off to their perseverance. 
If you see one of these please try not to bash into it.

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