Thursday, April 6, 2017

Volkswagen's First Karmann-Ghia

Nearly half a million were built over 1955-1975 in Germany and Brazil.  That was the original version of Volkswagen's sporty Karmann-Ghia coupe/cabriolet.  The platform was from the VW Beetle, making the car convenient to own and maintain.

The Wikipedia entry notes that bodies were built by the Karmann firm, but the design was by Ghia's Luigi Segre.

But the matter of styling wasn't that simple.  During the early 1950s, Chrysler Corporation contracted with Ghia to build customized show cars designed by Virgil Exner and his staff.  It happened that the Karmann-Ghia used a number of styling cues from the Chrysler D'Elegance show car of 1952-53.  (It was built in 1952 and displayed at the Paris auto show, but didn't debut in the USA until 1953 -- so both years have been cited for it.)

Regardless, the Karmann-Ghia is widely considered an outstanding design.


The 1952 Chrysler Parade Phaeton.  Its fender line was adapted for the restyled 1955 Chryslers and DeSotos.  A variation of the horizontal character line and kick-up rear fender line appeared on the D'Elegance.

Side view of the D'Elegance (RM Sotheby's auction photo: the 2011 hammer price was nearly $1 million).

Side view of a 1957 Karmann-Ghia.  Compare to the D'Elegance in the previous photo.  Clearly the platforms (full-size Chrysler versus VW Beetle) affected the proportions, so Segre did indeed contribute a good deal of original design input.  Still, the spirit of the side treatment and the greenhouse are that of the D'Elegance.

Front three-quarter view of a 1957 Karmann-Ghia (Barrett-Jackson auction photo).  Note that the prow thrusts forward to the point that it isn't protected by the front bumper.  I owned a Karmann-Ghia for a while during grad school years at Penn, and the nose got dinged several times while parked on Philadelphia's Pine Street (between 39th and 40th streets).

Rear three-quarter view of the same car.  The vents are for the rear-mounted air-cooled motor.

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