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KÖRA & GAMA Split Window VW Article

Since the introduction of the Volkswagen Sedan in 1938 (called the KdF Wagen back then) and its sudden popularity as a car the German worker could purchase in a savings program, it did not take long for the toy manufacturers of Germany to jump on the band wagon and produced their version of the new Volkswagen in miniature form. Those miniature forms were manufactured in various sizes and included painted diecast metal, painted tin plate metal, tin plate metal with colorful lithographed designs or just molded plastic to name a few.

Our feature Vintage VW toys were manufactured by the two German firms of KÖRA and GAMA that introduced a Split Window VW toy as part of their toy product line. The KÖRA VWs are often called GAMAs and this article will clarify the differences. As far as the history goes, there were many toy firms located in the city of Fürth, near the larger city of Nürnberg that was the main toy district area of Germany. The larger toy companies sold their product under their trade name or logo and the smaller Companies used a distributor, exporter or marketing Company to sell their products. GAMA toys were sold under the GAMA name and the Split Window VW toys made by GAMA were stamped “GAMA”.

KÖRA, actually known as Kölle & Raab, registered in 1923 as a toy exporting and distributing company in Germany. Barbara Kölle, Alfred Kölle and Konrad Raab were the owners. KÖRA represented the smaller "unknown" German toy companies in Fürth. One of those “unknown” toy companies made a KdF Wagen toy starting around 1940 and also the Split VW toys of the post war period as well. Since the actual manufacturer is unknown but the KÖRA insignia appears on the original shipping box, this article will refer to this VW toy as KÖRA and there are 4 versions which will be named V1, V2, V3 and V4. The KÖRA company seized to exist on February 1, 1982.

The body of the KÖRA KdF Wagen V1 is a heavy cast zinc alloy (weighs about 305 grams) with indentations for the windows, front and rear hood and air louvers. The body appears to have had a multi-section opening mold because of smooth out casting marks across the front and rear fenders and along the roofline near the windshield. The basic silhouette of the KdF Wagen shape of the toy car is very good. The front hood indentations are accurate but the rear deck lid does not represent the true “bumble bee wing” design. The headlights are raised circles in the body casting and painted silver. The taillights are also raised in the body casting and have a dab of red paint. The license plate light and license plate are raised in the casting and the license plate registration number is “IIN 4333.” The IIN on the license plate represents the German Bayern vehicle registration area that includes the cities of Nürnberg and Fürth. There are seam lines for the doors and the door handles and windshield wiper blades are casted into the body as well. The body is painted in a cream, red, dark or black enamel and the windows and engine air louvers are painted silver. The KÖRA KdF Wagen toy was also painted the official KdF Wagen blue/gray color as well. The length of the KÖRA KdF Wagen is 140mm (5 1/2 inches) or about 1/30th scale.

The chassis is stamped of tin plate, is painted with black enamel and has a distinct looking tab hole (capitol letter D shape). Attached to the chassis is a key wound clockwerk motor and there is a hole in the side of the body for the key. Rubber tires are mounted on steel rims that are attached to the steel axles. There is steering for the front wheels and they are turned by moving the lever left to right. The front and rear nickel-plated tin stamped bumpers are riveted onto the chassis and the chassis is secured to the body with 4 metal tabs of the chassis. The body casting is hollow so that there is room for the clockwerk motor when the chassis is attached to the body. The front license plate with the “IIN 4333” registration is attached to the bumper and finishes of the details of the KÖRA KdF Wagen. The KÖRA KdF Wagen was packaged inside a very colorful shipping carton. The shipping carton had 2 colorful views of a family cruising down the autobahn and a family in an open sunroof sedan driving along a mountain road. The original box is marked "KdF Wagen, KÖRA/Fürth" and the original box is a very rare Vintage VW treasure in itself!

During this time period in Germany, metals in general used for manufacturing had priorities because of the war, aluminum and zinc being scarcer for use in making airplanes for the Luftwaffe. Perhaps the smaller "unknown" toy company converted their tooling over from the zinc body casting to a pressed steel body for this reason. This steel body KÖRA VW V2 is very similar to the zinc body with minor shape changes to accommodate the steel stamping process. The VW body needs to be easily ejected from the metal stamping dies when opened. With all this taken into account of the metal stamping die design, the appearance of the VW silhouette is somewhat distorted with a streamline look towards the rear section of the KÖRA VWs. It is also common because of the VW shape and the metal stamping process, there is metal fatigue and cracks along the fenders of the KÖRA VWs. The body is painted, usually in an orange/red and has silver painted windows, headlights and taillights. The chassis is very similar to the KÖRA V1 and has the “D” shaped tab hole. Steel button wheels with the same steering is introduced and the bumpers are identical. A key wound clockwerk motor produced by Gebrüder Bühler (pine tree insignia stamping found on the original key) is attached to the chassis. The chassis also has 8 tabs to secure to the body. The IIN4333 license plate is attached to the rear bumper. All steel body KÖRA VW versions were made to a scale of 1/30th (140mm or 5 5/8 inches in length). The next KÖRA KdF VW to appear V3 with the same steel body but painted a KdF blue or red color with silver painted windows and details as well. The KÖRA V3 chassis is also similar to the KÖRA V2 chassis  but may or may not be ink letter stamped “MADE IN GERMANY” and the rear IIN4333 license plate is removed. This version V3 has been found in a plain cardboard box with a small picture of the front of the KdF brochure pasted on the box. The box was hand marked with a price of 1 Reichs Mark!

During the post war era, Germany was divided into four zones by the Allied Powers (1945-1950). The Nürnberg area was geographically located in the US Zone. Goods, including toys, were stamped with the zone in which they were produced. The next KÖRA VWs V4 that appear have the same steel body, silver painted windows-details, no door seams (later production seen with door seams and handles), steel wheels, steering and bumpers. A different chassis, usually painted grey, is made and is stamped “MADE IN US ZONE-GERMANY.” The body colors of green, blue, red, maroon, black, turquoise or a light lavender have been observed. The quality and accuracy of the silver painting details was not perfect by no means as could be understood because this was just an inexpensive, assembly line toy of the era. The silver painting registration, especially of the rear window and louvers is usually off centered and edges were over-sprayed. KÖRA KdF Wagen version V1, V2 and V3 are very scarce with version V4 being somewhat common to be found. Versions V1 and V3 have been found with the original KdF Wagen box and version V4 found originally packaged in a clear cellophane wrapper and no additional packaging information for version V2.

During the late 1940s, it is believed that GAMA acquired the dies, tooling and left over inventory materials from the smaller "unknown" toy company in Fürth that was producing the VWs for KÖRA distribution. The GAMA manufacturing facilities, at the time, moved into and occupied a former military barracks that was also located in Fürth as well. GAMA produced a Split Window VW (GAMA version V1) basically with the same steel body as the KÖRA version V4 with the exception of having 4 body tabs near the running board area. Silver painted windows and details were carried over as well. The chassis was redesigned and was lithographed a shiny black color and actually formed running boards. The chassis still used the same bumpers and steel wheels with steering in the front from the KÖRA VW. The clockwerk motor was the same and had either steel button or rubber wheels. The body attached to the chassis with the four tabs of the body and four tabs of the chassis. The chassis was stamped with the GAMA insignia and “MADE IN US ZONE-GERMANY”. If GAMA had produced those KÖRA versions, then why did they not have the GAMA insignia? Furthermore and most interesting, this new GAMA version was sold in the same box as the KÖRA KdF Wagen version V1! GAMA perhaps used the old box inventory stock, then silver painted over the “KdF WAGEN” and “KÖRA/Fürth” lettering on the box. There is also ink stamped “4333” on the silver painting on the box and to note the “4333” numbers was also used on the KÖRA VW license plates. This GAMA version V1 was painted either red or blue and is seldom found especially with the original modified KÖRA box.

The next GAMA Split Window VW V2 to appear and is the most often found is the red painted fire car. The steel body is the same except for a cast metal siren mounted on the roof and the side windows are not painted silver. The chassis stamping is basically the same except it was equipped a friction motor with rubber tires and the rubber tires in the front had no steering. Mounted on the chassis was a plastic or metal resonator that made a siren sound when the VW was moving. There was no brake lever protruding out the rear deck either. This GAMA VW was sold separately or in a special colorful box that held three of the GAMA VWs. The box top was printed with a boy pushing a blue VW fire car (? – this version only came painted red) and sound waves coming out of the siren. The box is marked GAMA 106 (catalog number of the fire car) and also shows instruction on how to operate the VW by pushing forward and letting go. I thought operating a friction motor toy car was pretty basic without needing instructions but maybe this was an era of progressing from clockwerk to friction motor. The original price from an old GAMA advertisement (circa 1949-1950) lists this VW toy car at Deutsche Mark 1.50, which was about 40 cents back then.

Just to note, one common problem for toy collectors is identifying the manufacturer of VW toys produced in the 1940s and 1950s era. Manufacturers had the tendency of not putting their names or any identifying insignia on the toys they produced such as with KÖRA. The KÖRA VW versions are not marked (fortunately that KÖRA was printed on the original box) but the similar GAMA versions had the GAMA insignia that easily identifies the manufacturer. Overtime, the KÖRA VW versions have mistakenly been called GAMA VWs, which they are not. Hopefully, this article will shed new light as to the history of the KÖRA VWs and similarity with those produced by GAMA.

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