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Your views, pros and cons of VW Karmann Ghia vs Volvo P1800


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Our household is in the early stages of researching and gaining first-hand experience with the VW Karmann Ghia coupe and the Volvo P1800 or P1800es (estate) for purchase in the next year. I'd love to hear views and opinions on these cars from people who have owned or driven them extensively. I'm not really interested in "why don't you buy a Brand X car instead?" since we have narrowed the field down already. This won't be the first nor last old car we buy so plenty of time for others down the road.

Also, the family member who will be using this car most of the time prefers an automatic. I know, but that's the reality here so we are seeking an Autostick VW or an automatic Volvo. I know opinions are low on the Autostick in general among VW folks, but ignoring the comparison to the manual car in each case and judging the autos on their own merits, are there any issues with the automatics themselves that I should be aware of? What car would you choose and why?

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Better ask Irv Gordon. He is the original owner of a 1966 P1800 which he has driven 3,000,000 miles.

http://wot.motortrend.com/1966-volvo-p1800-hits-3-million-miles-with-original-owner-404243.html

I'm a Ghia fan and have owned several of them, but if you want that much experience you will need to talk to about 20 owners and none will be on the original engine.

Also, Volvo used the Borg Warner T35 automatic. VW had their home made joke semi auto.

There is just no comparison of the two as cars. As objet d'art I would give the prize to Karmann Ghia but in every other way the Volvo is a better car.

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I fully agree that the Volvo 1800ES sport wagon is a much better car and will be much more comfortable on longer trips. I had one for several years and my wife made me sell it because she thought I drove it too fast. The ride is smooth and controlled so I often didn't realize how fast I was going. I liked the automatic and the fuel injection I had in mine. It was a California car, so it had smog controls that actually made it the cleanest car the DMV had tested the month that I licensed it.

If you are in Portland, there is IPD near the airport that carries almost anything you will ever need for your Volvo. http://www.ipdusa.com/

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I've never owned either car, but in organizing European car events I've had lot's of experience vicariously with their owners. I agree that the Volvo is the more comfortable, faster, more sophisticated car. The very early P1800s were U.K. built by Jensen, and those cars have some unique body/trim parts that are impossible to find. The later cars have much better parts availability...

..but nothing like the parts availability of rear engine VWs. The Karmann-Ghia would be a breeze to maintain and restore compared to any Volvo. However the bodies are somewhat rust-prone, and are more difficult to restore properly in part because they were so meticulously built by Karmann (http://www.karmannghiaconnection.com/Construction.html). The earliest low-headlamp cars have some nearly impossible to find body/trim parts as well. Also the club support for the VW is orders of magnitude better than that available for the Volvo.

Both cars are more sporty tourers than sports cars. The driving experience does differ, the Ghia being much slower and the poorer handler (unmodified), but neither car would likely be purchased by someone for whom that mattered.

So in the final analysis, the Ghia is mechanically easier to own and has a complex but gorgeously built body. The Volvo is more modern in feel and construction, but may be more limiting in terms of parts and repair/maintenance. Both are very nice cars that should be very enjoyable to own.

:cool:

Edited by Dave@Moon (see edit history)
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Our household is in the early stages of researching and gaining first-hand experience with the VW Karmann Ghia coupe and the Volvo P1800 or P1800es (estate) for purchase in the next year. I'd love to hear views and opinions on these cars from people who have owned or driven them extensively. I'm not really interested in "why don't you buy a Brand X car instead?" since we have narrowed the field down already. This won't be the first nor last old car we buy so plenty of time for others down the road.

Also, the family member who will be using this car most of the time prefers an automatic. I know, but that's the reality here so we are seeking an Autostick VW or an automatic Volvo. I know opinions are low on the Autostick in general among VW folks, but ignoring the comparison to the manual car in each case and judging the autos on their own merits, are there any issues with the automatics themselves that I should be aware of? What car would you choose and why?

I don't have much experience with Volvo, but I think you are comparing apples to oranges. The VW Autostick is a rugged unit but unless ( in city stop and go) you are out of the city to make the car driveable you will need to manually shift it unless you don't mind Dynaflow driving. When I worked for VW as a line and unit repair mechanic we hardly saw them for automatic trouble, and they were easier on the engine as are all automatic's. Most VW air cooled cars don't have their original engines today and for the most part not because they are weak or designed poorly, but moreover because people don't understand them and ignore maintenance. Letting a aircooled engine warm up before driving, I don't drive off until the oil temp is at least 114 degrees, changing oil at 1,500 mile intervals or six months whichever comes first because the crankcase only has 2 1/2 quarts of oil and just a oil screen and no oil filter, and now using ZZDP or equivalent that all engines with flat tappet cams have, adjusting valves every 3,000 miles and clean-adjust-gap spark plugs every 6,000 miles using anti seize on the threads is needed for them to live. While driving never lug a engine below 2,000 and never over 4,000 rpm will let a engine live for a good long time. My 65 111 is a matching numbers car that I rebuilt the engine in 1973 at 120,000 miles and has 178,000 now and my 64 113 whose engine was replaced in 1966 because it's engine didn't get the above mentioned care got a factory KD engine which I rebuilt four years ago and that engine had 168,000 miles before I tore it down.

The Ghia was a steal at it's price when new because it was partially hand built mono-cock body by Karmann. Rust can be a issue as in all cars especially if you don't practice preventative measures, which just like the engine.....people don't do.

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Wow, thanks for the excellent advice so far by all, exactly the type of stuff I was looking for and confirms some of what we have learned. I will say we have been leaning Volvo, for the mentioned elegance and modernity, but as also said by some of you, the VW will be much easier to maintain. I have had several cars that are hard to find parts for so that aspect of the Volvo doesn't scare me, and the PNW has a huge Volvo support system, I even live just a couple of blocks from the main dealer... and he's downhill from me if worst comes to worst! I think the thing keeping us drawn to the Ghia however is that it almost has a Porsche 356 vibe to me for obvious reasons, but that may not be enough for it to be the final choice.

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Mars,

Think of VW when you think of the KG because that is what it is, admittedly in a very pretty body. If 40-50 hp is acceptable to you go for it, but it seems to me that from your previously owned cars you crave a little more comfort then a basic 4 cyl buzz-box with no cabin heat in the winter. It is great in the snow but as those of us who live on the west side of the mountains know that is of little consequence unless you intend to go into the mountains regularly.

The Volvo is so much better car and with the electric OD is a real highway cruiser. The 1800 is the car that retired guy has logged three million miles on and is still going! Just curious but did the ES come from the Seattle area as a good friend passed the car on to someone in Oregon before his recent passing. He wanted me to have it but I waffled too long and then it was gone. I took several of his cars but there are limits to what we can do.-Bill

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Mars,

Think of VW when you think of the KG because that is what it is, admittedly in a very pretty body. If 40-50 hp is acceptable to you go for it, but it seems to me that from your previously owned cars you crave a little more comfort then a basic 4 cyl buzz-box with no cabin heat in the winter. It is great in the snow but as those of us who live on the west side of the mountains know that is of little consequence unless you intend to go into the mountains regularly.

The Volvo is so much better car and with the electric OD is a real highway cruiser. The 1800 is the car that retired guy has logged three million miles on and is still going! Just curious but did the ES come from the Seattle area as a good friend passed the car on to someone in Oregon before his recent passing. He wanted me to have it but I waffled too long and then it was gone. I took several of his cars but there are limits to what we can do.-Bill

Just remember that there is much more you can do over say a stock 60 hp 74 KG. The power options if you want to deviate from stock is almost limitless compared to Volvo, and because so many have done just that the price to go fast is a lot cheaper. It just sounds like if your going Autostick that it was not your top priority to go fast. There are many people who like a pretty body and don't want to go super fast like Porsche 356 & 912 drivers who have about the same HP as the last versions of the KG. All mechanically designed by the same family and friends.

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I drove a VW Karmann (Beetle convertible, not a Ghia, that I selected after looking at both) for almost 15 years and loved it until it simply disintegrated. However, at the time if I could have afforded a P-1800 I would have taken it instead since it is a more advanced car, is less common, and in my personal view is a much more elegant design.

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I drove a VW Karmann (Beetle convertible, not a Ghia, that I selected after looking at both) for almost 15 years and loved it until it simply disintegrated. However, at the time if I could have afforded a P-1800 I would have taken it instead since it is a more advanced car, is less common, and in my personal view is a much more elegant design.

Please school me. What is more advanced on a P1800?

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Hi Helfen. By the wording of your response it sounds like you are an avid Karmann Ghia enthusiast. I really like them as well. It would take a book to go through each and every difference between the Karmann Ghia and the P1800, especially since each went through many improvements and changes throughout their evolutions, but just to mention a couple of reasons why I think the P1800 was the move advanced: the earlier P1800s had an 1800 cc engine developing 100 HP while the earlier Ghias had an 1192 cc engine developing 40 HP. Later P1800s added fuel injection making them 130HP while later Ghias increased their power by increasing the size of their engine to 1500 cc and making them 50HP. The later P1800s also had an electronic overdrive essentially giving them a fifth gear while the Ghias dis not. The earlier P1800s had front disc brakes and rear drums while the earlier Ghias did not. The later Ghias got front disc brakes but by comparison the later P1800s then moved up to front and rear disc brakes.

As I said, I really like the Karmann Ghias, but I think - and this is my opinion and everyone has a right to their opinion - that the P1800s were the more advanced car. I would welcome hearing your opinion on why you think the Karmann Ghia is the more advanced car - comparing models of similar years.

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As far as engines go inline 4 cylinder iron auto engines have been around longer than air cooled boxer engines. The early Ghia which used a 1200 36 hp, and later the new design 1200 40 hp engine ( 1961-65 ) and the 1300 50 hp, 1500 53 hp and finally the dual port 1600 60hp engine are all more advanced in design and simplicity in the time period we are talking about. The VW engine with it's compact design that does not need a water pump, radiator, driveshaft. A engine camshaft that uses one cam lobe to actuate two valves and all weighing 198 lbs is more advanced. That engine was proven in the African desert in WW2 and in Arctic conditions on the Russian front. Granted that the horsepower ratings are different , but the VW factory intentionally made the VW engine this way. If you look at stock cam profiles, valve size, cylinder head port size along with manifold and carburetor size you will understand this. The mission is different. This is why I called the original post here comparing apples to oranges. These two car do not compete in the same market segment.

Suspension wise all those air cooled beetles and their brothers and cousins have fully independent front and rear suspension either swing or double jointed ones first used in 1968 in AutoStick and all lines from 1969 on, which is also more advanced. There are disadvantages to swing axle rear suspensions when used with softly sprung torsion bars, but you can stiffen them up and decrease their travel to be great road racers ( again that is not the goal of Ghia or Beetle for that matter ) Just look at where the development work for that suspension all started for VW and Porsche cars..... The Auto Union Grand Prix race cars that Porsche designed. As far as brakes go, you could get front disc from the mid sixties, Just remember the Road and Track article in the early 70's in which a stock 111 did a 60 to 0 in less than 120' .....with drum brakes beat many sports cars of that era.

One last thing, parts and service all over the world, and with that all the braking / suspension options you need, all the horsepower that you could ever use if you wanted to modify the car.

In stock form it does just what it was designed to do and is apples to oranges from the P1800.

Edited by helfen (see edit history)
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Please school me. What is more advanced on a P1800?

The VW is more advanced, or sophisticated technically with its 4 wheel independent suspension, rear mounted air cooled aluminum engine.

The Volvo is utterly conventional with a front mounted, cast iron 4 cylinder engine. About the only sophisticated thing on the car is the dual carburetors which were pretty well standard equipment on sports cars.

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When I indicated that I thought that the Volvo was a better car I based it on a number of things. The 100-130 hp. and the Borg Warner automatic trans seemed to be much more what you wanted in a car. I think the longevity of the power train speaks for itself. I looked it up and Mr. Gordon now has 4 million miles on his P1800! I have always preferred the front engine rear wheel drive configuration, I prefer my Lincoln Mark 8 to the Cad Eldorado and from a driving standpoint I preferred my Datsun 240Z to either the KG or the P1800 but that was not in the equation so I left it out of previous comments. Sophistication not withstanding from a comfort, reliability, safety and longevity standards I think that it is hands down the Volvo.-Bill

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I find it hard to believe he has racked up 4,000,000 miles. Especially the last million.

If he drove at an average 50MPH, it would take 20,000 hours to drive a million miles. And if he did nothing but drive for 12 hours a day 7 days a week it would take 4 1/2 years.

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It is only fair to point out that in its day the VW was about the cheapest car on the market. While the Volvo was a medium priced car, selling against BMW and the smaller Mercedes.

The Karmann Ghia was an expensive body on the cheapest chassis, the Volvo was an expensive body on a more expensive chassis. I believe the P1800 cost 50% more than a Ghia.

This may not be relevant here, but any air cooled VW is a cinch to hop up and improve, because of the massive amount of development work done by hot rodders and accessory makers.

For example, a friend of mine just ordered a 220HP engine of about 2000ccs from a California company and got it in a week. It bolted into his 1973 Beetle perfectly and he is out driving it around. There is no limit to the suspension, brake, transmission, etc that you can get.

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I'd join and/or participate in some marque-specific club events so that you can see your prospects first hand. Most owners love to talk about their cars and answer questions. In addition, if you strike up the right rapport, some owners may even offer to take you for a ride.

Since you're looking at an automatic, this limits your choices to post-'68 VWs and post '69 Volvos. The good news is that better deals can usually be found on the automatics, as there's lesser demand for these, since many feel that a sports car shouldn't have an automatic.

The Borg Warner 35 found in the later 1800s is more plentiful than the Auto Stick trans found in the Type 1 Ghia, also the 35 seem to be more reliable. The number of shops that can work on a 35 is probably greater than the number of shops that can work on an Auto Stick, since the 35 was used (with slight differences) on Studebakers, Ramblers, Jaguars, and others. Please realize that the automatic does noticeably hurt the performance, as well as the fuel economy for both cars. The Auto Stick is a semi-automatic transmission, meaning that you do have to shift, although it's only between range 1 & 2.

The Type 3 Ghia that Helfen referenced was never officially imported into the U.S. by VW, and examples with an automatic are rare, but out there. The 3 used a different and more reliable (fully automatic) transmission. Comparing the Type 1 and Type 3 Ghias, the 1 is based on the Beetle platform, while the 3 is based upon the Fastback/Squareback platform and has styling reminiscent of that era's Mopar offerings (not surprising since both were influenced by designer Tom Tjaarda.) The 3 is a slightly heavier & wider car, but came with (at the time) a slightly larger engine. More info on the model can be found at: http://leehedges.wix.com/t34world#!

Steering effort will be lighter in the VWs, try a Volvo in parallel parking or a parking lot to see if the effort is too high for you. That lighter steering effort in the VWs is a mixed blessing, at very high speeds it can be disconcerting or cause for concern to some. VWs are also known for pronounced oversteer, this is especially true for the swing axle earlier models. The Volvos have remarkably (for the time) neutral handling characteristics. The Volvo is a heavier (~600 lbs) and larger car, and it does feel in better contact with the road at speed.

The Volvo has more trunk space. The back seats of both cars are more suitable for small cargo than people, as anyone bigger than a five-year old will probably not fit in the seats.

For parts availability, Volvo has a clear advantage, as they have a limited range of parts still available through their dealers. In addition, there are aftermarket suppliers who have contracted with the original suppliers to Volvo and sell many of the parts that Volvo doesn't. Unfortunately, VW with a couple of exceptions, all but discontinued supporting the air-cooled models many years ago. And, due to the demand, the VW aftermarket is flooded with inferior repro parts.

For all of the above reasons, I'd recommend looking at the '70-'72 1800E and the '72-'73 1800ES. If you do go this way, I can recommend a shop in Springfield that does pre-purchase inspections and repairs on these cars. Send me a PM for the contact info.

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Hi all, and thanks for the continued advice.

Helfen & Rusty: As to other cars, I am aware of the other Karmann Ghia (Type 3?) but the style just doesn't speak to me the same. I also do not want a 924 and to the suggestion of a 944, I had one and loved it but want something different I haven't owned.

Writer Jon: I have been trying to seek out owners of both cars but atthe recent Historic Races and Concours here there were no Ghias present but plenty of P1800's. I have chatted up and made friends with one P1800 couple who are wonderful folks and a great source of info and we may even meet up tonight at a local Wednesday cruise-in. Always useful to speak to real world owners! I don't mind heavy steering at all on the Volvo. Trunk space is useful, thanks for that too.

We're decided thanks to all of you taking the time to offer opinions and facts... the Volvo wins. I will post updates as we seek them out or once we buy one.

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