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Karmann, Wilhelm
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Wilhelm Karmann Jr., whose coach-building company produced the classic Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and other cars, was born on Dec. 4, 1914 in Osnabruck Germany, and died in 1998 at his home in Osnabruck, Germany. He was 83.

In 1901, Mr. Karmann's father bought Klases, a coach-building company established in 1874, and renamed it after himself. The company grew with the fledgling automobile industry, producing bodies for Opel and Minerva, and after World War I, for Adler and Ford. The Karmann factory was leveled in World War II, but was rebuilt after the war, and it provided body components and tooling for many European car makers, including Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Renault, BMW and Saab.

It was, however, the relationship with Volkswagen, which began in 1948, that established Karmann's place in automotive history. The company won an early contract to build a convertible version of the new VW Beetle, which remained in production until 1980. Karmann G.m.b.H. today manufactures the Golf Cabriolet for Volkswagen.

Mr. Karmann got his start as a 19-year-old apprentice in his father's factory. He attended technical school near Berlin from 1935 to 1937 and fought in World War II, returning to help rebuild the family business. The cornerstone for the Osnabruck factory operating today was laid in 1949.

After his father's death in 1952 at age 88, Mr. Karmann took over management of the family business. It was through his friendship with Luigi Segre, the owner and chief stylist of Carrozzeria Ghia of Turin, Italy, that the Karmann Ghia came to be built. Volkswagen had earlier asked Karmann to design a sports car on the Beetle chassis, but had rejected all of the prototypes.

Mr. Karmann mentioned this to Mr. Segre, who without the knowledge of either Karmann or Volkswagen bought a standard Beetle, removed its body and built the curvaceous design. He showed it to a surprised Wilhelm Karmann in 1953, who in turn showed the car to an impressed team of Volkswagen executives. The Karmann Ghia entered production in mid-1955, and it was an instant success.

The Karmann Ghia received a mild facelift in 1958, and it underwent various chassis and engine improvements along with the Beetle until it was discontinued in 1975. A total of about 283,000 coupes and 81,000 cabriolets, or convertibles, were built. Although Karmann and Ghia introduced a more modern-looking successor in 1961, known internally as the Type 34, it was never as popular as the original and ceased production in 1969, with only 42,000 made. Karmann also produced the Volkswagen Scirocco and Corrado sport coupes, and the midengine Porsche 914.

At the time Mr. Karmann took over the family business from his father in 1952, it had 1,452 employees and annual sales of $15 million. By 1989, the company had annual sales of $625 million. Today, Wilhelm Karmann G.m.b.H. employs 6,400 people in Germany and 2,600 others in operations in Brazil, Portugal and near Detroit.


Mr. Karmann is survived by his wife, Christiane; his son, Wilhelm Dietrich, who is a manager of the company; two daughters, Christiane and Stephanie, and eight grandchildren.

Karmann today: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karmann 

Notable designs

  • Karmann Ghia 1955
  • Karmann Cheetah Concept 1970



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