Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

The European Union has approved Volkswagen’s purchase of bankrupt Wilhelm Karmann GmbH, according to Automotive News. This provides control of Karmann's divisions for car and components development, contract manufacturing, plant engineering and equipment and tool development. “Given (so many) considerable suppliers and Karmann’s moderate market share, the Commission concluded that car manufacturers would still have alternative suppliers,” according to the competition watchdog. Karmann filed for bankruptcy after it stopped making the Mercedes-Benz CLK in 2009.

Valmet of Finland took over roof-making in Osnabrück and Zary, Poland; Canadian Magna International acquired roof business in Japan, while Webasto gained Karmann’s concession for the US and Mexico.

Karmann made its name with the VW Beetle-based Karmann Ghia and VW has plans for cars at Karmann’s Osnabrück factory in Lower Saxony, starting next spring with a Golf convertible. Will it have the grace and style of a Karmann Ghia? VW CEO Martin Winterkorn had kind words. “Over the decades, some of the most beautiful models in the automobile world have left here. We will be carrying on this tradition from 2011.”

A definite maybe perhaps, yet it could scarcely have the perfect proportions of the little Karmann Ghia, over which I eulogised in my first ever motoring column. “It has faults in its handling,” which I apparently found easy to master. Well, no denying the perils of swing-axles. I can’t have been going fast enough.

Here is my test car of 1959
VW hit upon the idea of the sleek coupe in 1954 and the first were displayed the following year at European motor shows. Italian studios were all the rage and VW commissioned Carrozzeria Ghia, which created haute couture Cadillacs for Rita Hayworth and was in league with Chrysler. One of its less accomplished designs was the Chrysler Norseman, which took 15 months and $150,000 to build in 1956, before being shipped off to New York. Unfortunately it was on the Andrea Doria, which collided with the MS Stockholm off Nantucket and the Norseman went down with the ship.

Ghia assigned Luigi Segre to base a design on the VW platform chassis, with air-cooled flat four at the back. There was no question of competing with Porsches, which looked quirky and had only just got under way. Karmann made 444,300 up to 1974.

I had not quite got into my writing style in 1959. I was quite new.
Demonstrator cars had plastic seat covers; I was already into taking interior pictures. Right-click to read motoring column