My Car Quest

July 17, 2019

The Mystery Ghia Volkswagen by Karmann

by Wallace Wyss –

As a former owner of a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible, which to me was better than the Porsche Convertible D I owned, so I sold the Porsche, (big mistake appreciation wise, I’ll admit). I am always interested in the possibility of Volkswagen bringing the design back.

Originally the Karmann Ghia was designed by Ghia in 1955 but the bodywork was done by Karmann in Germany and hundreds of thousands were sold in coupe and convertible form.

Eventually there was a Euro only version, the Type 34, designed by Tom Tjaarda, a designer from America who was working in Europe for his whole design career. That was mostly a coupe but there were a few prototype convertibles.

And then there’s this one, which copies much of the Mangusta one-off Spyder designed by Giugiaro for DeTomaso. This Karmann Ghia convertible has the same fixed side frames for the windows that the ‘Goose did.

1965_volkswagen_karmann_ghia_prototype

It even has a similar side profile. I would say the side is its best view but the front and rear are negligible by comparison. The front even looks like a series 2 Corvair convertible.

Now this particular Karmann Ghia convertible is somewhat of a mystery car. There is no doubt that it is designed by the incomparable Giorgetto Giugiaro who started out at the age of 19 at Italian coachbuilder, Bertone, in December 1959. For Bertone he did many famous designs including the Alfa Romeo 2000 Sprint, the Gordon Keeble GT (and the car that copied it, the Iso Rivolta), the Aston Martin DB4 GT Jet and the Iso Grifo.

He left Bertone for Ghia in late 1965, where, in only a little over two years he did a lot of memorable cars including the Maserati Ghibli, the DeTomaso Mangusta and others that influenced the direction of car design.

1965_volkswagen_karmann_ghia_prototype

For a recent show in England called VolksWorld, Karmann sent three prototypes to display–the 1953 Karmann Ghia prototype that launched the product line, this 1965 Karmann Ghia convertible prototype that never progressed beyond the concept stage and a 1965 Karmann Ghia hatchback, based on the larger Type 34 Karmann Ghia, the fastback also never seeing production.

Why didn’t the convertible get built? I say politics.

In early 1967 Rowan Controllers, the company owned by DeTomaso’s wealthy in-laws, bought Ghia, and Alejandro De Tomaso became president. It was bad enough for the other executives that he had been working there but with DeTomaso as boss, there was a race for the exit, and both the general manager, Giacomo Moro, and the head designer, Giugiaro, left. Giugiaro then founded his own styling studio, Italdesign, in late 1968.

When DeTomaso and the Haskells, who owned Rowan, sold part of Ghia to Ford in 1970 and all of it by 1973, Ghia evolved from a company that could build a prototype from the ground up to merely being a name used for merchandising fancy interiors. Of course they never had the production capacity after 1970, even the Panteras being made at the Vignale plant DeTomaso also owned. But Ford liked owning Ghia for a time so they could say various models were designed in Italy.

1965_volkswagen_karmann_ghia_prototype

This unique car got lost in the meantime, but apparently Karmann had paid for it so it remained in their collection.

But it was a good calling card for Giugiaro and later on when VW wanted some new designs, they hired Giugiaro at his new firm, who did the Scirocco’s design, and the huge volume-seller, the Mk1 Golf Cabriolet. Volkswagen bought Italdesign in 2010 and Giugiaro recently left VW and has started a new design company.

Now it’s difficult to imagine a prototype car being worth more than $100,000 if it’s VW-based but I think the name “Giugiaro” has to be attached to the phrase “one off” and then it has that sort of upside potential. Not that Karmann is selling it. It’s just interesting to know the turns in the road that were not taken, I think the Karmann Ghia would be with us today had this car been green lighted for production.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of Incredible Barn Finds
series of books, available as a set of four or individually from Enthusiast Books, Hudson, WI.

 

 

1965_volkswagen_karmann_ghia_prototype

Summary
The Mystery Ghia Volkswagen by Karmann
Article Name
The Mystery Ghia Volkswagen by Karmann
Description
This Karmann Ghia convertible looks similar to a De Tomaso Mangusta.
Author

Comments

  1. Ironically, I just finished reading a book about Sergio Sartorelli, the designer of the Karmann Ghia. It is loaded with alternative designs he proposed over the years for the model. Although he’s not a household name, Sartorelli was was an extremely important and influential designer at Ghia, OSI and Fiat from the fifties through the eighties.

  2. scot carr says

    ~ The pale yellow Audi 100 cabriolet in the background of the first picture is very interesting to me. A few seconds with google reveals that it is a prototype debuted at the 1969 Frankfurt IAA. Crayford also built nine coupe conversions. Given the propensity of the 100 for rust finding one today world be highly unlikely.

  3. I see two different cooling vent styles on the car. Did it have both, or are there two cars?

  4. John in Fargo says

    The front end styling kind of predicts the ’68 VW 411.

  5. T. Zandell says

    Any pictures showing the top?

  6. Luiz Miranda says

    You ignore in your text the second brazilian version of Karmann-Ghia, Called Karmann-Ghia TC (touring Coupé) it was introduced in Brazil in 1970 and designed by Georgette Giugiaro too.

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