The first Karmann Ghia coupes rolled off the production line in 1955 in Osnabrück, 143 miles (230 km) west of Wolfsburg. Volkswagen had asked Karmann, its coachbuilder, to design a car to help build its brand image and because consumers were becoming interested in stylish, sporty cars.
The first convertible Karmann Ghias were built in 1958, and this model, nicknamed “Ruby,” rolled of the line on Oct. 9, 1963.
It’s remarkable this particular car even exists: It was supposed to be used for crash testing but somehow found another purpose. Perhaps the test engineers were smitten with its alluring color and shape and spared it from doom.
When she’s not on the road, Ruby resides in Herndon, VA, at Volkswagen’s North American headquarters. Heritage curators in Herndon traded a 1945 VW Beetle to get Ruby from the Volkswagen Autostadt Museum in Wolfsburg.
Power comes from a 1.2L horizontally opposed naturally aspirated 4-cyl. rated at 34 hp, which is adequate for this compact 2+2 that tips the scales at 1,807 lbs. (820 kg). With the top down, it is not a quiet car. Also, with the top down, the Karmann Ghia seats only two. With top up, a second-row bench seat can be deployed.
Steering is slightly less ponderous than in the 1967 VW Microbus we experienced last week, making the Karmann Ghia more enjoyable to drive. The 4-on-the-floor manual transmission requires your full attention: The clutch engagement point is really high, and shifting from second to third can be exceedingly tricky.
Between 1955 and 1974, Karmann built 364,912 Ghia coupes and 79,326 convertibles.