Face Off: ’64 Corvair Vs ’74 Karmann Ghia

1964 Chevrolet Corvair

With much of the country in a deep freeze and no end in sight, my thoughts wandered to warm-weather cruising. The daylight is sticking around a few minutes longer each day, so maybe – just maybe – we can start to daydream of dropping the top and going for a drive. That’s why this week’s Face Off features two classic convertibles saddled with automatics for extra leisurely cruising: a 1964 Chevy Corvair with only 25,000 miles on here eBay for $13,990 or best offer and a 1974 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible listed here on craigslist in New Hampshire’s craigslist for $8,995. Let the debate begin!

1964 Chevrolet Corvair Interior

You might notice a number of similarities between this week’s candidates, from the transmission choice to the unconventional engine arrangement. Although I wish I could say this was intentional, it has more to do with these two cars being popular choices for affordable classics that are easy to work on and cheap to own. The Corvair is a bit more expensive due to its unusually low mileage, but it’s said to be rust-free and on the receiving end of a recent valvetrain rebuild and new convertible top. Disappointingly, it has been repainted, which is surprising considering how little it has been used. I hope you like blue because there’s a lot of it, from the exterior to the seating surfaces and even the dash cover!

1974 VW Karmann Ghia

The Karmann Ghia has also been repainted, but with a more dramatic change from its original lime green exterior to a very sedate cream color. It’s also a bit rarer than your typical Ghia as it’s equipped with Volkswagen’s Autostick transmission. Now, I don’t consider this a selling point but it is pretty amazing that the Beetle and Karmann Ghia were two of the first mass-produced cars to demonstrate technology that is now standard in almost every automatic-equipped vehicle sold today. And although I’d prefer to row my own gears, you’re not necessarily going to enjoy anything more than the illusion of speed in a conventional stick-shift equipped Karmann Ghia. The seller is a bit light on the details in his listing, but it does appear largely stock with no obvious signs of rot.

1974 VW Karmann Ghia Convertible

While we may not be rid of winter for a few more weeks, both of these soft tops are excellent candidates for a cheap entry into the world of classic car ownership. Large owners groups exist for both models and parts are rarely in short supply. The Autostick in the Karmann Ghia may lead to some headaches if the unit fails and a replacement is needed, but a quick Google search reveals plenty of devoted enthusiasts willing to lend a hand sourcing parts and providing advice. With the arrival of summer, it will be time for car meets and drive-ins once again, so which one would you most look forward to rolling out on a warm July night? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Vince Habel

    The 64 Corvair was a improvement over the earlier models but the 65-69 was much better

  2. RayT Member

    While my inclination is to go for the VW, the Corvair holds a special place in my heart. My sister’s 64 convertible — in red with a four-speed — was the first car I ever spun out. A memorable experience, to say the least.

    I later found that she had not been checking tire pressures, and the rears each had eight p.s.i in them. I have always maintained that caused my first lurid loop.

    My other sister had a ’60 ‘Vair coupe on which my brother-in-law had installed widened rear wheels fitted with Goodyear racing tires. I could not make it spin!

    The Automatic Stick Shift on the Vee-Dubs was a nasty piece of work. If the KG had a normal manual, it would be a harder choice. And $9K would be easier on my budget than $14K.

  3. JW454

    I think I would go with the VW and quickly plan a manual transmission swap. Although it’s still an older car, it seems to be a more practical choice for a daily driver. Swapping the transmission would be a snap for me and I already have all the parts.

    • Adam

      The frame for the Autostick does not have the tube for the clutch cable. Additionally, you must switch the carb for a non-autostick unit as it has additional vacuum connections that work with the servo unit. Keep it original, the autostick is pretty reliable with a little knowledge and patience.

  4. whiskey runner

    I would have to go with the corvair.. having owned both in the past the corvair was hands down a lot more fun (my style) to drive… but the automatic for standard swap would be the first thing I would do

  5. Ken kittleson

    My sister bought a bright red ’63 Monza and we thought it was a sports car since it had bucket seats and a floor shift. Next sister bought a used maroon ’64 Monza in ’68, thrashed it and gave it to me in’70 and I sold it for $50 in ’71. I’ve owned a ’69 Ghia auto stick convert for 15 years now, looked at converting it to manual during an engine replacement but there was a lot involved with the linkage tube as I recall so left it auto stick, which is basically bulletproof from my experience with it. I vote Ghia!

  6. John b

    Well since it’s winter i would go with the corvair. My ’61 Ralph nader special corvair had far better air-cooled heat then the air-cooled heat of my 65 bug.

  7. Grr

    The VW. It’s better looking.

  8. David Church

    I’ve owned two Corvairs: 60 4-door and 63 Monza. Both had the Powerglide 2 speed auto. Funny thing, so did the Chaparrals of Jim Hall. Out of the hole they were nothing, But leaving the lever in low put the engine right in its optimal power band for running the twisties of SoCal’s mountain roads. Plus you could downshift at 50 mph to help keep the brakes from fading.

    I’ve had a couple of VWs including a 72 Super right now that I would swap in an instant for Another 60 to 64 Monza hard top. Sure I’d like a Turbo Spyder, but the little Monza with the Powerglide is a very good driving car.

  9. joe

    I own a ’64 Monza convertible silver/red with the Powerglide and factory A/C. They are just easy driving cars, and quite durable – as long as you have viton O-rings and other good gaskets in the engines. ’64’s are 2.4 liters, but they went to 2.7 liters in ’65. We can now build them out to 3.1 liters. Much better torque. I am currently re-assembling my ’69 Coupe with “built” 3 liter, 4 carb, disc braked, Koni shocked, upgraded rims/tires/suspension, POSI, quick steering, oil coolered, lightened (200 lbs.) modern air conditioned, American 911S. Any fast curvy road challengers welcomed…….. I rode in a new Ghia convertible back in the day, and thought it was a confining death trap. :-)

    • Vince Habel

      The 64 also had the 164 cubic inch engine as did all Corvairs till the end. The top of the cylinders were different and would not work with the later heads.

      • joe

        Yeah, Vince, you are right about that. Just an “old brain slip-up” on my part.

        Joe

    • Mark Jimmerson

      Joe…quick question, I have a 66 Monza 110 that I would like to have rebuilt. You said “we can now build them out to 3.1 liter.” Who, where?

      Thanks. Mark

  10. Scottymac

    So the Corvair has only 25,000 miles? No wheelwell or rocker moldings? Paint worn off the emergency handle? A cover for the dashpad? Paint worn off the steering wheel? I owned a twin to this car, but with a four speed. Wouldn’t mind another, but not for $13,990!

  11. charlie Member

    I drove both a lot in the late ’60’s, as well as a ’63 Porsche, and the Corvair and the KG were far easier to keep on the road than the Porsche, which demanded constant attention to keeping it going where you wanted it to, leading to driver fatigue and passenger white knuckles. And the Corvair was faster, had a back seat that actual people could sit in, unlike the KG or its expensive cousin, and was just about as good at going around corners. A 45 year old anything in NH was either recently imported from the south, or west, or it is rusted out. So I take the Corvair, hands down, and assuming money was not an issue (say it was mine to use, not to invest in) still the Corvair over the 1963 Porsche.

  12. brian

    I owned a 64 Corvair Monza coupe for 20 years and loved it. Swapped out the auto for a 4 -speed, lowered it and went auto crossing. What a blast! I miss that car

    • Alan (Michigan)

      Very very nice.
      I can see why you miss it.

      • brian

        I replaced it with a fully built 04 Subaru STi then sold that for a 2012 Boss302 but even with all that hp I miss the Vair. It was unique.

  13. fred

    I was a card carrying member of the Corvair club in 1974. Owned a ’62 Monza 4 speed, same color as this car but I painted it a darker blue and put a strobe stripe on the side. Also had a 65 4 door hardtop. John B, the reason your Corvair heater got hotter than the VW is that VW had the safety of a heat exchanger. Not GM (until Ralph came along), who cared about safety?! Air was taken stright over the cooling fins and into the passenger compartment. The slightest leak of oil tubes or exhaust components and you were breathing straight carbon monoxide. Fortunately, even as a stupid teenager I realized this, and went to the nearest junkyard, found a 60 Corvair (only year with a gasoline heater), and retrofitted it. I was the only kid sitting toasty warm in the parking lot with the engine off.

  14. fred

    I was a card carrying member of the Corvair club in 1974. Owned a ’62 Monza 4 speed, same color as this car but I painted it a darker blue and put a strobe stripe on the side. Also had a 65 4 door hardtop. John B, the reason your Corvair heater got hotter than the VW is that VW had the safety of a heat exchanger. Until Ralph came along, GM couldn’t care less about safety. Air was taken stright over the cooling fins and into the passenger compartment. The slightest leak of oil tubes or exhaust components and you were breathing straight carbon monoxide. Fortunately, even as a stupid teenager I realized this, (after feeling woozy a couple of times) and went to the nearest junkyard, found a 60 Corvair (only year with a gasoline heater), and retrofitted it. I was the only kid sitting toasty warm in the parking lot with the engine off.

    Which is faster, Corvair or VW? Well, I can tell you from experience that a stock Monza going up a two lane steep hill will barely beat a hopped up ’66 Bug. Amazing that I lived to tell about it.

  15. Joe Howell

    Had a 63 Turbo Spyder way back in the early seventies. Always smelled gas when the Turbo was on boost. Fun car, great in the snow. My dad had a 2 carb 64 with Powerglide that wouldn’t spin the tires in wet grass. That rear engine took me around in more then one 360 when the back end broke loose :) My Corvair experience is what later caused me to go with the front engined 50/50 weight balanced Porsche 944 series..

  16. Alan (Michigan)

    Premium prices for both cars, I think…

    Not nearly enough photos of the Karmann, but what there is leads me to believe that it is a bondo-mobile below the belt line. Little motor, auto trans, eh, slow country cruising is all it would be comfortable for.

    The Corvair always finds a soft spot for me. The family had two: A ’64 Monza, and a ’66 Corsa that I still own. Both 4-speeds, the only way to go. This car is cute, but as mentioned there are clues which indicate the claimed mileage to be unlikely. Funny how so many cars with 5-digit odometers are claimed to have never rolled past 100K and started over…. Even though there are a bunch of photos, they are all shot from high angles. Show me the sides, and the rockers. And there are none of the underside. Not even one with the top down, and the cover over the folded top. What on earth is that attached to the trunk latch bracket? A horn? A noisemaker for an alarm? Crazy place to put it, right in the way of loading/unloading, and the sound would be contained in the sealed/enclosed trunk. The paint…. Fresh yes. But as little as possible was removed and reinstalled, it was a mask and spray job. Premium price for the non-premium work.

    So, which one? I’d choose the Corvair. Just not the one in this pairing.

    Make it this one instead, as it appears to be a MUCH nicer car:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Chevrolet-Corvair-Monza-1964-green-convertible-professionally-restored-new-brakes-tires-chrome-etc-/251856572166?forcerrptr=true&hash=item3aa3d24f06&item=251856572166&pt=US_Cars_Trucks

    If that does not float your boat, the seller has other interesting rides…. The 944 looks very decent.

  17. jim s

    of the two i would take the VW but only after doing a PI looking for rust. if no rust i would make an offer and plan on doing a switch to manual. both cars are nice finds

  18. Chris

    I love Corvairs! I am not digging the powerglide though. I find these cars very fun to drive and a real head turner. I was lucky enough to find the holy grail of vairs… Corsa Turbo with a 4 speed.

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