Search This Blog

June 9, 2017

Type 34

I’m a lifelong car nut. But, unlike many such folks, I’ve not been impeded in my appreciation of cars by mechanical skill. I don’t fix them, I just enjoy them. Not that I haven't attempted my share of tinkering in the past. It was a stroke of good fortune that my first-ever car, a 1972½ Datsun 620 pickup truck, was as idiot-proof a mechanical device as has been created. I frequently poked around under the hood making adjustments of no value largely at random. But it was easy and fun to do, and I and the Datsun both survived. That is, until I ran it head-first into a palm tree; but that’s a story for another day. It’s my second car I want to write about.

It was truly special: a 1968 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Coupe, Type 34. And no, it’s not the one you’re thinking of, if you’re thinking one like this:

This was the VW Karmann Ghia Type 14, otherwise known as the Type 1, which was made from 1955 through 1974. It was the sportier twin to the VW Beetle (also a Type 1 drive train) with special coachwork provided by a third-party company called Karmann. The Type 1 Beetle was what you bought if you wanted simple, reliable, inexpensive transportation. If you were the sporting type (and didn't have the funds to spring for a Porsche), you bought the Karmann Ghia.

The VW Type 2, by the way, was called the Transporter. You probably think of it as the VW Bus, or Hippy Wagon.

The VW Type 3 was an air-cooled VW engine that was physically more compact. This set up was then used in the Squareback / Notchback / Fastback family of vehicles. But the same engine set up found its way into an entirely new design of sports car made by Karmann: the VW Karmann Ghia Type 34; that is, a Type 34 body style with a Type 3 drive train.

If all this seems complicated, here’s a simpler way to look at it.

Pretty cool, right? Yes, that was my daily driver for five years, from 1979 to 1983.

The Type 34 was much bigger than the Type 14. It was really quite roomy for two people. There was a rear seat, but it was literally a piece of plywood with thin padding and vinyl tacked over it. It otherwise served as a cover for the floor-mounted battery.

My particular Type 34 was from 1968 – the second to last year of manufacture, I believe – and it was equipped with a factory option offered for the first time ever by VW: an electric sunroof.

This is a rare beast, especially in the U.S. Not so many were built to begin with. Also, the company never exported the car to the U.S. I believe small numbers were sent to Canada for sale. My example was purchased by a U.S. Army Colonel who bought the car while he was stationed in Germany. He had the car shipped back to his home in Texas. I stumbled across an ad for the car in the Indio Daily News, where I was working as a typesetter, and promptly made the purchase for $1,800 from the woman who had purchased it from its original owner and moved it to her home in Palm Desert, California.

An amazing car. Fun to drive. I got a lot of stares. And it was reliable, although I did eventually have to spring for an engine rebuild due to persistent oil leaks.

I loved that car, and it broke my heart to sell it. Here are front and rear angles of a Type 34 in my personal car's "Lotus White" paint color.

If you’ll note, the roof pillars are remarkably slender. The driver has a nearly unobstructed 360-degree view. Also, there was a storage shelf over the rear mounted engine, plus a storage trunk in the front. With the car’s generous interior space, it was quite comfortable. My example had the 1600L engine, which featured dual Solex carburetors and decent (to my low standard) performance.

So here it is – my personal Type 34:

If you look closely you can just make out the raised fairing on the roof, in front of the electric sunroof. The picture was taken in Hawthorne, California, probably in 1982. I was young and single at the time, but not for very much longer. In December 1984, I had to give it up. We were planning a family, and the old Type 34 was just too limited (and too unreliable) to be a family vehicle. So I replaced it with this:

Apologies for all the dead bugs. We had bought the car – an ’85 VW Jetta – brand new on Christmas Eve in 1984, but this was taken during a long road trip up the California coast line. The co-driver licking her nose is Jade, our Lhasa Apso. That was a great car in its own right, carrying us faithfully for nearly 11 years.

I’ve since switched to Jeeps: rugged, relatively simple, fun to drive, practical: everything but a smooth ride and decent fuel mileage. But they’re my choice for conveyance these days, and have been for 20 years now. Would I snap up another Type 34 should one cross my path? It would be mighty tempting….

No comments:

Post a Comment