The Ital­ian conec­tion

Classics Monthly - - Reader Resto -

Es­tab­lished in 1915, the Tori­nese firm of Ghia be­gan life as a tra­di­tional car­rozze­ria but found it­self in­creas­ingly in­volved in con­cept pro­duc­tion and styling work for Chrysler after a post­war agree­ment be­tween the US firm and Fiat which ex­changed Chrysler’s pro­duc­tion know-how for an in­tro­duc­tion to the Ital­ian styling houses.

Ghia’s skills in pro­to­type con­struc­tion saw ties with Chrysler strength­ened and de­signer Vir­gil Exner was soon send­ing pro­to­type styling mod­els from Michi­gan to be turned into sheet metal re­al­ity by the skilled ar­ti­sans at Ghia. Dur­ing the early ’50s a whole series of Ghia-built show con­cepts was shipped back to the USA for ex­hi­bi­tion, the idea be­ing that these fu­tur­is­tic cre­ations would al­low Chrysler to shake off its dowdy im­age.

In 1953, Ghia ac­cepted a com­mis­sion from Volk­swa­gen to cre­ate a coupe on the Bee­tle floor­pan and al­though the re­sult­ing car is com­monly re­garded as the work of Ghia boss Luigi Se­gre, as David Burgess-Wise pointed out in his 1985 work Ghia: Ford’s Car­rozze­ria, that’s not the whole truth. In 1952 Ghia had built the K-310 show car styled by Exner and a brief glance shows the VW to be very much a scaled-down ver­sion of the K-310.

With vol­umes pre­dicted to be around 40,000 cars a year, Ghia lacked the ca­pac­ity to pro­duce the car and so pro­duc­tion was han­dled by Kar­mann. Un­like the Bee­tle though, the Kar­mann-Ghia is more like a hand­built car, lack­ing the sim­ple bolt-on wings and with a widened ver­sion of the Bee­tle’s plat­form chas­sis. The run­ning gear was pure Bee­tle though, de­spite the Porsche looks: ini­tially the 1200cc, 34 bhp unit and later the 1584cc, 50 bhp unit. A con­vert­ible model was pro­duced along­side the coupe and the orig­i­nal ‘Type 1’ Bee­tle-based Kar­mann-Ghia would be pro­duced un­til 1974.

Mean­while, an all-new Kar­mann-Ghia was pro­duced from 1961, based on the VW 1500 sa­loon and this time us­ing a stan­dard pro­duc­tion chas­sis.

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