VW's visually pleasing Karmann Ghia is 60
Volkswagen's Karmann Ghia prototype was first shown to company executives in Paris in 1953. The reception the design enjoyed was so positive that the car was immediately adopted for production and the Osnabrück-built sportster started the Volkswagen brand's move upmarket.
Thus, thanks to coachbuilders and designers Karmann Ghia, Volkswagen had gained a car in its line-up that was positioned above the classic Beetle, allowing the company to appeal to a broader customer base.
It is now 60 years since that prototype was seen, while the first full production example roll off the line two years later. Today the one-off prototype is one of the stars of Volkswagen's Osnabrück Automobile Collection.
The genesis of the car came from Wilhelm Karmann, who hired Luigi Segre of Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin to transform his ideas for an upmarket coupe into reality in early 1953 and this was without even consulting Volkswagen, so confident was Herr Karmann that his ideas would "take."
Initially, a convertible sports car was also envisaged, but the prototype was actually a coupe.
In October 1953, the car was taken to a small garage in Paris and shown by Ghia to Karmann, who had travelled to the city for the Paris Motor Show. Wilhelm Karmann was thrilled, and in November of that year he showed the voluptuously-lined new small car to the notoriously conservative Volkswagen chief Heinrich Nordhoff.
Karmann was able to do this because a close relationship already existed between the two Wolfsburg companies as Karmann's operation had been building the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet since 1949.
The prototype won-over Volkswagen's managing director. Once the costing was worked out, a decision was soon made to go into full production. The delay between decision and production allowed for some body detail changes and interior refinements to be made, although the basic form remained as Ghia had designed it. Volkswagen Beetle running gear underpinned all 450,000 Karmann Ghias, known internally as the type 14, made between 1955 and 1974.
Wilhelm Karmann's dream of a convertible version also became reality: At another internal presentation in Wolfsburg, the cabriolet - once again designed by Luigi Segre and his team - made a big impact. Full production of the convertible version began in 1957. By the time Karmann Ghia production ended in 1974, 362,601 coupes and 80,881 cabriolets had rolled off the line.
Like the Beetle itself, the "Beetle in a sports coat" as it was known, was also a huge success story.
The one-off coupe prototype is part of the Volkswagen Osnabrück private collection, but can be admired outside of the factory on special occasions as it will next month at the 5th Schloss Bensberg Classics (from September 6-8).
The Karmann factory is now part of the VW Group as Volkswagen Osnabrück GmbH and produces the Golf Cabriolet, the Porsche Boxster and Cayman, and the Volkswagen XL1.
- © Fairfax NZ News