Sometimes amusing, frequently frustrating, but always a fun drive
The most glaring problem, initially, was that the accelerator pedal wire would come loose with some frequency. Usually in city driving, though it did occur on the freeway once or twice, and, most embarrassingly, just before reaching the top of a large hill. (Thank God the emergency brake was up to par!)
The next thing was a chipped first gear, worn and damaged by the previous owner's wishful thinking -- the car is not a Porsche and should never be driven as such. Eventually (read: six years later) the car would not go into first gear at all. This was remedied by a tranny overhaul.
The electrical has always been a mess. There was a small fire in the trunk at one point that charred the fuel gauge and spedo wiring into an unrecognizable mound of plastic and metal. Rewiring afterwards fixed much of this, though the fuel gauge is still finicky and refuses to give an accurate reading.
The windshield wipers are a beast all unto themselves. The passenger-side wiper is gimpy and waggles all over the place when at highway speeds. The driver's side only works at one speed -- far too fast for drizzle and yet too slow to be of use in real rain -- and burns out its fuse on a regular basis.
Oversteering is an issue to consider, especially during any sort of weather. The car lost control on a rain-soaked freeway onramp (I do accept a large part of the guilt, as I should have known to compensate for a rear-wheel-drive, rear-engined car on a tight turn), did a 180 upon reaching the freeway proper, then promptly killed its own engine as if in shock. No damage done, no one injured, but I would hesitate to take the car out in light rain ever again. Oddly, the car did quite well in a torrenting downpour.
The sunroof doesn't leak, but the rear- and quarter-windows do.
The fuel pump shattered while the car was in the shop for something totally unrelated. The mechanic was not amused.
As much as can go (and has gone) wrong with this car, I doubt I would trade it for anything.
Reliability is something that Volkswagen is known for, and the Karmann Ghia does not disappoint. With me, the car has functioned for almost ten years as a daily driver and has suffered a great many injuries (including two high-speed rear-endings), but has emerged from these none the worse for wear and more than willing to keep going. If I ask it to go across half the state on a whim, no new oil and a cold-start at 5am, it does so without a single complaint.
Being a 40+ year old car, there are issues that occur. But very few have ever been totally crippling. Like its Beetle cousin, the Ghia has been able to run on serious damage (ex, a crushed engine compartment) as if it were little more than an inconvenience.
Getting 30-40mpg (depending on the car's mood) is a definite plus.
Lacking the size of even a newer subcompact is a slightly scary experience. Beware SUVs with wide wheelbases and high doors -- they probably won't even know you exist.
The pickup may be terrible (0-60mph? Go make some coffee!), but its ability to maintain freeway speeds in 110 degree weather without overheating is admirable.
Hard left turns will leave you smelling gasoline. That's normal. Usually.
Ghia repair kit: Hammer, screwdriver, electrical tape. These three things will be your constant traveling companions.
Although a newer car might be easier to drive and have creature comforts like A/C and power steering, there's absolutely nothing like driving a Ghia. They may be slow, cantankerous, and downright frightening on the highway, but their reliability, ease of repair, and not-quite-a-sportscar nature most certainly make up for it.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 8th July, 2008