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.