Rare AutoStick: 1968 VW Karmann Ghia

Over the years, I’ve spent plenty of time in cars with hybrid automatic transmissions, the ones that offer you the ability to “shift it yourself” while retaining the conveniences of a conventional automatic. It’s a bunch of baloney, as far I’m concerned, because it doesn’t get anywhere close to the experience of rowing your own gears. But this 1968 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia here on eBay is an early pioneer in the manumatic universe, equipped with the rare “AutoStick” transmission. 

Of course, what’s amazing is this approach to shifting has been in existence for so long and there’s still much work to be done when trying to make automatic-equipped vehicles mimic the manual shifting experience. The Karmann-Ghia seen here makes sense as a platform for such deployments, as the sporty looks and handling might seem appropriate for an automatic that still invites some driver engagement. Regardless of intent, this KG coupe is a long way from engaging anything.

The seller says most of the rust is surface-only, but that the driver and passenger floor each has what sounds like holes on the side. Still, it could have been a much more dire prognosis given how long this Karmann Ghia has obviously been sitting, especially in a warm climate like Mississippi where dampness can get locked in. The seats appear presentable and the dash looks complete. Here’s some trivia: is it an AutoStick or a SportoMatic? I’ve seen both used.

The asking price is $2,800 for this Karmann Ghia, which seems steep to me given it’s a non-runner. And frankly, you could argue the AutoStick is less desirable given the layer of complexity it adds to a car like this, along with the impact on what meager performance it offered to begin with. But the novelty factor is there, and an air-cooled enthusiast may see this as the missing piece of a collection.

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  1. Beatnik Bedouin

    I would suggest that there’s more than surface rust in this particular K. Ghia. The Automatic Stickshift is a definite minus – if you’ve ever driven one you’ll understand why.

    On the plus side, it’s far more desirable than my low-km, unrestored Vespa PK50 Automatica (the least desirable Vespa of all time!)… ;-)

    Caveat emptor.

    • Rabbit

      Had a 73 Auto Stick & a 69 4-speed. Guess which one I kept more than a couple months. Rule #1 with the ASS: You’d better have a functioning parking brake, cuz you can’t just park it in gear. Had mine try to roll away a couple times before I finally replaced the cables.

  2. Mark Member

    My neighbor bought a new 71 VW KAMPMOBILE with the automatic transmission

    I thought it was a pretty cool idea

    But then my Grandma was still driving her 1949 Chrysler with the semiautomatic transmission.

  3. j liu

    Auto stickshift was a bad option. I bought a Super beetle with that option from a co-worker, oh dear. On even minor road grades, I had to move into the far right lane with flashers on..soooo slow. I re-sold that car in just a few months.
    Car was great, transmission not so much.

  4. Derek

    They’re nice wee cars. I’d argue that $2.8k isn’t too bad for a slightly tired 50-year-old car compared with some of the other daftness that goes on. It’s a coachbuilt Beetle, after all (not a selling point for me).

    Plus you can stuff a Porsche motor into it…!

  5. Somer

    Not a bad price but it says stored for 30 years, yet it has an antique tag! I doubt it was an antique in 1990!

  6. daCabbie

    How much would it cost to have someone reprint the ‘ Automatic Stickshift’ badge on this Ghia?… because, that is what it’s worth.

    Nothing more. Nothing less.

  7. Doug B

    Re: Auto Stick shift. So the early versions are the seeds of evolution. True they’re crude and funky. And the current models that exist on new cars are nearly useless, since few people use them and even less are even aware of them. But to discount them as completely useless denies the importance of engineering in the automotive industry. They have become the cutting edge of shifting as evidenced by paddle shifters on Formula One cars. Anyone that denies the Darwinian role of Auto Stickshifts are seriously out of touch.

  8. Steve

    I also had a Karmann with the “automatic stickshift” – a 1969, I believe. I drove it like a 3-speed manual transmission, albeit with no clutch pedal. It was underwhelming, to say the least. But it never left me stranded…

  9. Wolfgang Gullich

    I restored a 69 Beetle AutoStick in college about 20 years ago. Great idea gone horribly wrong. Essentially you drive it like a 2 speed as the lowest gear is only good to about 8mph. Also, there’s not really anything automatic about it. There’s a sensor switch in the shifter that activated a vacuum servo that disengaged the clutch and then re-engaged it when you weren’t touching it anymore.

    The Porsche SportoMatic is the same transmission with an extra gear and better spread of ratios, but it’s still a terrible transmission.

    These are fun for the novelty, but become a nightmare when you realize many of the parts are unobtanium… Even the carburator is different from a normal Type 1 engine as it has special vacuum ports that connect to the servo system.

  10. Edward

    Always has been a real dog! With body as rough as it is, the unknown engine characteristics, and finally an unwanted transmission type, only an eternal optimist would spend the asking price.

  11. John B

    Anyone that can’t operate a VW manual transmission should not have a license. Easiest one ever. The autostick might have seemed like a good idea for convenience alone, but in the real world…it stunk. We had a Bug with one in my high school drivers ed fleet, always broken down.

  12. Sivad

    Had 3 AutoStick Beetles/Superbeetles in family back in the Seventies/Eighties.

    Never had any transmission issues on any of them in combined 200k+ miles of driving.

  13. Ed

    Well I have one and it’s great so put that in your pipes .

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