Friday, December 25, 2009

Have a great holiday and new year!

[from the February 1968 issue of Gute Fahrt magazine]

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

VW+VW1500 gift guide

Though it's not very widely known, the small appliance manufacturer Braun offered a few auto accessories in the 1960s. Their T 510/580 portable radios, introduced in 1962, were available with an under-dash slide-in mount that allowed you to use your radio in the car and also take it with you, like the Blaupunkt Derby and similar radios from other manufacturers. What Braun offered that the others didn't was the international-style aesthetic of industrial designer Dieter Rams. Rams has a cult following among design fans and his work for Braun in the '60s is thought to be the inspiration for much of Apple's award-winning product design of the last few years. He's currently the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Design Museum in London. These radios come up for sale occasionally but the under-dash mounts would have to be among the rarest of the rare of auto accessories.

Braun also offered an automotive version of the famous Reinhold Weiss desk fan. The design was also licensed to VDO, so there are both Braun and VDO branded versions out there. One of these would be right at home in an early VW 1500.

Friday, December 18, 2009

VW+VW1500 gift guide

In addition to VDO and Gossen, Weigand also made 85mm tachs that fit in the VW 1500 dash. The 7000 rpm Weigand tach pictured in this 1969 ad is similar to one that's advertised for sale on The Samba right now.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

VW+VW1500 gift guide

Kamei offered lots of practical and functional kitsch for the VW 1500 including accelerator pedal covers and parcel trays.

According to the ad, the pedal cover keeps the accelerator mechanism clean, protects the floor mat and tunnel from wear, relaxes the foot muscles and promotes good circulation. It also makes your accelerator pedal look like it's melting!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

VW+VW1500 gift guide

The Petri/VDM model 355 steering wheel, aka the "coach" or "carriage" wheel, was available for the VW 1500 beginning in 1965 and was a popular upgrade. Here's an early ad:

This ad from 1969 lists a different version for Karmann-Ghias after 1967:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

VW+VW1500 gift guide

A Hirschmann auto antenna to go along with your new radio.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

VW+VW1500 gift guide

Jokon accessory reverse lights, including the VW 1500 version.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sergio Sartorelli, 1928–2009

Sad news came in today from Italy: Sergio Sartorelli, the man responsible for the design of the VW 1500 Karmann-Ghia, died yesterday at the age of 81.

Sartorelli joined Carrozzeria Ghia in 1956 and within a year he became the head of styling for the prototyping department, a position he held until 1963. In that time he designed and supervised the design of dozens of automotive projects. His work on the 1500 Ghia began in early 1959 and continued through 1960. Though the 1500 Ghia was designed with collaborative assistance from young American stylist Tom Tjaarda, there's no question that it was almost entirely Sartorelli's design.

Sartorelli's original 1500 Ghia prototype [photo: Larry Edson]

After Ghia he went on to work with Centro Stile OSI (a styling, prototyping, and production facility originally affiliated with Ghia) and later with Fiat. In addition to the 1500 Ghia his most celebrated designs include the Fiat 2300S Coupe, the Ghia 1500 GT Coupe, and the Ford/OSI Taunus 12M TS.

Sartorelli (second from right) with the OSI design team in the mid-1960s

Just over a year ago the Karmann Ghia Club Italia honored Sartorelli at a club meeting in Turin. At the event Sartorelli reminisced about his career and the development of the 1500 Ghia, and he was able to connect directly with a group of people who are highly appreciative his life's work. I hope he knew that group was also representative of a larger worldwide community that thanks him for his unique creative vision every day.

Sartorelli with a 1500 Ghia at the Karmann Ghia Club Italia event in October 2008.  [Images from the Karmann Ghia Club Italia]

More information on Sartorelli's work can be found here:
Karmann Ghia Club Italia
Karmann Komment, the magazine of the Karmann Ghia Owner's Club of Great Britain (pdf)
The Type 34 Registry

I seek the grail

I was lucky enough to find an original VDO 6-volt tachometer for the Type 34 Ghia. I've been trying to track one down for years. It's a very rare original accessory part—I've only seen three of them in person in 22 years of looking, and I only know of a handful of others that exist. VDO Type 3 tachs are pretty common in comparison. It needs restoration but seems to be relatively sound. It doesn't appear to have been opened for repair in the past. Cosmetically, the biggest restoration challenge will be the cracked "glass."

It has a white needle and silver knob and escutcheon. That and the fact that it's 6-volt means it was intended for a late '65 or '66 Type 34. All Type 34 VDO tachs were 6000 RPM to my knowledge. I had never noticed before when looking at others that the scale is progressive—it expands at the higher RPMs.

The bevel in the back of the housing was to allow clearance for the windshield wiper armature.

It has a May 1967 date of manufacture on the back. The terminals are marked (from left to right): +12 (blank terminal), +6, 1, and -, where +6 goes to the fuse block, 1 goes to the corresponding terminal on the coil, and - goes to ground.

A VW technical bulletin with installation instructions for the Type 3 VDO tach is available here. Conventional Type 34 wisdom says that when a tach is installed in the clock's location the clock is then supposed to replace the in-dash speaker, but these instructions offer a slightly different take on this idea:

The installation and wiring of the rev. counter on the 1500 Karmann-Ghia takes place in the same manner. On this vehicle it is also possible to fit the clock in place of the insert for the loud speaker opening if a radio is not included.
[emphasis mine]

So, at least in VW's view, with a tach installed you could have a clock or a radio but not both. In practice of course the solution is simply to relocate the speaker elsewhere.

When I have this tach restored for my car I will substitute an earlier brass center knob and escutcheon to match the other gauges. Red needle too, of course. I'll keep the original silver parts so it will be possible to revert to the '65/'66 style in the future. Interestingly, the center knob is plated plastic, unlike the early knobs which are solid polished brass. (Were all silver colored gauge knobs plastic? A late-model Type 34 owner would know.) It appears that the knob and escutcheon aren't unique to the tach, but seem to be parts that are shared with the other gauges. That will help.

More information on Type 3 and Type 34 tachometers is available here and here and here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Unwrapping an NOS Blaupunkt Type 34 speaker

Seeing the light of day for the first time in over 40 years.

Is it just me or does it look like it's smiling? The foam seal that goes between the speaker and the grille has begun to decompose, but everything else looks o.k.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The French Connection

A nice VW 1500 illustration on a package of Serflex clamps.

[image borrowed from an eBay auction]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

We advertise the VW 1500

Johannes Krasenbrink, owner of a few very early VW 1500s including probably the nicest low-mileage '62 1500 Ghia on earth, sent me these photos of an amazing 1961 dealer information brochure. Titled Wir werben für den VW 1500 (We advertise the VW 1500), it shows all the different components of the Volkswagen + VW 1500 advertising campaign that could be ordered by the dealers.

It includes a few of the campaign pieces I've been able to find, including an advertising stamp (21) and a postage meter ad (23).

If I was able to read the dimensions I could have some facsimile wheat paste posters made at their original size. I'd love to see the rest of this rare brochure!

Saturday, November 7, 2009


This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which has me thinking about where and when the VW 1500 Karmann-Ghia got its start and about its historical significance.

The are many different reasons that people are drawn to the 1500 Ghia. Some appreciate it for its relative rarity. Others see in it an opportunity to own an affordable and reliable coachbuilt classic. Some just like the unique lines. For me it's all of the above, but I'm also interested in what the Ghia meant in its historical context. In a symbolic way, its design is an interesting automotive example of the so-called "German economic miracle," or Wirtschaftswunder.

["People's Dream Car," Hobby magazine, December 1961]

Nearly fifty years on it's easy to lose sight of the context in which the 1500 Ghia was developed. Germany was still a recently defeated, divided country that was the front line of the Cold War, and tensions between East and West were very high, the two Germanys representing the geopolitical conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union by proxy. While the new VW 1500s were being unveiled in Frankfurt in late 1961 the Berlin Wall was literally under construction. It was a tense and dangerous time for the world.

[East German workers building the Berlin Wall, November 1961. From Wikipedia Commons.]

Against this backdrop of competing political ideologies, a related competition between economic theories was playing out. The Wirtschaftswunder was the rapid economic recovery that West Germany experienced after the war, the result of both U.S. economic aid under the Marshall Plan and the revaluation of its currency. By the late 1950s, just over ten years after the widespread destruction and defeat of the war, West Germany was experiencing a surprising prosperity. While East Germany, under Soviet influence, attempted to separate itself from the horror and shame of its recent past through the creation of a socialist society, the West chose a kind of amnesia through all-out consumerism. A growing middle class found itself with money to spend and suddenly there were a lot of things to spend it on—fully stocked supermarkets, consumer electronics, modern furniture, and of course a wide selection of automobiles.

[A spotlessly modern VW/Porsche showroom in Karlsruhe with mid-century American furniture and abstract expressionist art, from VW Informationen no. 50, 1960]

It was into this cultural environment that the VW 1500s were introduced. Basic transportation—the immediate postwar need that the Beetle and other small cars addressed so effectively—was no longer sufficient. There was consumer interest in larger, more comfortable, more style-conscious cars, with design that pointed optimistically toward a bright, modern future and away from the horrific past and the potentially apocalyptic present. The original Karmann-Ghia is an early example of this tendency, but the larger, more luxurious 1500 Ghia, with its flamboyant, American-influenced styling, was an even more pointed rejection of both the past and the East. The fact that it was also a Volkswagen, with the attendant connotations of everyday transportation for all, underscores the point with a touch of irony. This was a different kind of "people's car" for a newly confident, wealthier, and more materialistic people.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Type 3 engine lid graphics

As a followup to a recent discussion among Type 34 Ghia owners about how to reproduce the "auf/zu" graphics that appear on every Type 3 engine lid, I've created high resolution vector pdf artwork based on direct scans of an original 1963 lid that Everett Barnes supplied. This version of the graphics was used from 1963 until sometime after 1966, when the letters O and C were replaced by the words Open and Closed. The pdfs can be downloaded and used in a number of ways to recreate the graphics.

[Everett's engine lid scans]

The easiest way to do it would probably be to have a sign shop use their plotter to cut a graphic in black vinyl (matte black vinyl would probably look best). As a reference for position, the dashed line triangular shapes on the graphics correspond to the recesses for the handles, though placement was probably a little different on every car. The files are actual size. If you're not familiar with how to apply vinyl graphics your sign shop should be able to advise you. I would recommend dry application.

A sign shop could also make the graphic as a stencil that you could apply to the surface if you would rather use paint. Another suggestion was to have wood blocks laser cut and use them to block print the graphics with printing ink. I suppose rubber stamps could also be made and used the same way.

Click the images below to download the pdfs, and if you try using them to make graphics for your car please let me know how it goes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In order to form a more perfect Notchback

Jason Weigel (a.k.a. Notchboy) is embarking on a comprehensive detailing project on his low-mileage, all-original and already nearly perfect '63 sunroof Notchback. He started a video blog thread on so we can follow along on his progress.

You can follow the thread here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

VW 1500: der große Personenwagen

Similar to another scale model that I wrote about a couple of years ago, this bus model carries an ad for the VW 1500. I'd like to think that ads like this were all over the streets in West Germany in the early '60s. Are models like this based on documentary photos of street scenes?

[image swiped from an eBay auction]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Factory-style key tags

Jeff Grant (a.k.a. "Anchovy" on has started offering these cool reproduction aluminum key tags stamped to order with your VIN for just $12.

When VWs were originally delivered the keys came with an identifying tag like this. Our '65 Squareback's keys still had their original tag—lucky for us, as most were discarded by the original owners. Though the tags became increasingly thin and more crudely stamped as the years went on, the '58 tag Jeff modeled his reproduction on was cut in a nicely rounded shape from heavy-gauge aluminum.

It's the perfect key fob for your set of original keys. Go here to order yours.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

'41 Tatra joyride

A couple of weeks ago Jonny Lieberman sent me a text message from the back seat of a Tatra T87. He had gone to a meeting of the local Citroen club and met Paul Greenstein, owner of many interesting and unusual cars including the T87, and he said I needed to drop everything and head over to Echo Park right away to see it. About 10 minutes later I was standing in front of Paul's immaculately restored 1941 Tatra, which recently returned to Los Angeles from the Czech Republic, where it was on display in the Tatra Museum. Incredible car—larger than you might think from photographs, the black teardrop coachwork with its central fin and three headlights suggesting some sort of art deco Batmobile from an alternate future. Paul asked if we wanted to go for a ride, and we were like...yeah!

Here's Jonny's cameraphone shot from the back seat as we made our way around the Silver Lake reservoir. The T87 felt right at home on the neighborhood's twisting 1920s hillside streets, the suspension surprisingly well-sprung and smooth for a nearly 70-year-old car. The rear-mounted aircooled V8 had a deep, throaty burble, not the VW-like clatter that I would have expected. Probably the most remarkable thing about the drive was that nobody on the street seemed to give the car a second look. No double-takes for a Tatra? Are we Angelenos really that jaded? Apparently so.

You can read the full story of Paul's T87 on Mike Bumbeck's great site Clunkbucket.

Thanks Paul and Jonny!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Car and Driver on the VW 1500 gray market

How did so many VW Type 3s find their way to the United States before the VW 1600s were officially introduced to the American market in the fall of 1965? Conventional wisdom says that the cars were brought over individually from Germany by servicemen and tourists, or brought over the border from Canada, where the 1500s were available from their introduction in 1961. While there's no doubt that many 1500s found their way here through those channels, there was also a more formalized gray market supplying 1500s to the U.S. market in the early '60s. There were companies that acted as semi-official importers, supplying dealers with nearly new "used" Type 3s outfitted with sealed-beam headlights, MPH speedometers, etc. This allowed even authorized VW dealers to sell Type 3s years before they were officially imported (as seen here and here). VWoA tolerated the gray market, though when speaking on the record they were against it.

This great article from the April 1964 issue of Car and Driver on VW's reasons for not bringing the VW 1500 to the American market explains how these gray market importers brought VW 1500s into the U.S., including how they set up special "Americanizing" factories in Germany just to prepare 1500s for export. The article posits that VW didn't interfere with the gray market because it was actually a profitable way to sell more cars here indirectly without upsetting the official balance of trade between Germany and the U.S. If VW had increased its export volume by expanding its range of models in the U.S. it could potentially have lead to trade sanctions—after all, a trade dispute between Germany and the U.S. just a few years earlier resulted in the U.S. government slapping a retaliatory $257 tariff on all German trucks, including VWs. The gray market was actually a win/win/win for VW, the gray market importers, and American consumers.

Walter Henry Nelson's Small Wonder and the February 1964 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine are other good sources for information on the VW gray and black markets that were thriving in the early 1960s.