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By BoB Gilmore

The Wilhelm Karmann Coachwerks in Germany had been doing business with Volkswagenwerks since 1949. This Coachbuilder was commissioned by Volkswagen to produce a Convertible Beetle introduced into the product line for Volkswagen in 1949. In the early 1950's, Volkswagen was ready to add a sporty looking coupe into their product line. The Karmann Coachwerks had negotiated a contract with the Italian Automobile designer CAROZZERIA GHIA of Turin, Italy to create a design for this sporty looking VW coupe. Karmann had specifications for the chassis and running gear that was of course to be furnished by Volkswagen and GHIA was to produce a body design suitable to mate to the VW chassis. This chassis was similar but not identical to the Beetle chassis. The GHIA design studio, under the direction of Luigi Segre, came up with a suitable body and had the full approval of the Karmann Coachwerks. With the acceptance of the new design from Volkswagenwerks and their commitment to provide ample quantities of the chassis’s for production, Karmann began setting up the tooling for the new assembly line in 1954. The Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was presented at major auto shows in 1955 and was also available for delivery in that same year. This Karmann Ghia Coupe would represent a car with the proven dependable Volkswagen drive train and the styling of a sporty Coupe and be priced below the comparable Porsche 356 of the time.

Well it did not take long for the toy and model companies to produce their version of the new VW Karmann Ghia in miniature and we have an early release tin Karmann Ghia toy from Japan featured in this issue. This tin Karmann Ghia Coupe appeared in the late 1950's and is manufactured by ALPS of Japan. The original shipping carton is perhaps more interesting than the tin car itself. The artwork drawing of the car on the shipping carton looks like a toss up between a 1950s Rometsch Coupe or a 1960s Studebaker Silver Hawk. It has "VOLKSWAGEN" printed all over the box though. Now, lets open the shipping carton, carefully not to tear the flaps, and reveal what could be inside. Whoops, there goes the original air out of the box. Oh well, such is life. Now is it really a Karmann Ghia under the paper wrapper? YES. Well, almost.

In describing the findings of the contents inside the carton, the toy Ghia has a stamped tin body that is more often painted grey or also found in a Bordeaux red color and has cut out windows. The one-piece body stamping is very nice for the unusual shape of the Karmann Ghia itself. The Karmann factory has to fabricate and weld many body pieces together just to produce the single body. The tin Ghia is about 1/25 scale, 6.25 inches or about 160 mm in length. The rear of the tin car has good likeness of the fenders, engine compartment lid with air louvers and license plate indentations. The front section has the round nose with the small air louver indentations. There are also details of the front hood indentation and raised lines for the hood trim. The interior has a turquoise checkerboard design lithographed tin insert which looks like a generic car or a carnival ride vehicle. The interior does not match that of the Karmann Ghia at all. The dashboard water temperature gauge is a dead give away. There is nickel plated metal trim around the front and rear window openings and trim pieces for the door handles, front hood emblem and headlights finish off the details of the body.

Now comes the big surprise, you thought all along this was your typical wimpy 36 H.P. VW. Well, look twice! The tin chassis is lithographed with a big Detroit V8 mounted in the front along with rear wheel drive shaft, differential, exhaust system, and a heavy-duty frame, etc. We are talking a "Big Block V8-VW Sleeper" here and this Ghia eats Split & Oval VW Beetles for breakfast! There is even a high torque friction motor mounted to the chassis to smoke the real rubber tires if necessary. Front and rear tin bumpers are attached to the chassis and a front license plate reads "357" (perhaps cubic inches of engine displacement, maybe horse power or price in YEN - who knows for sure).

Over the years, the 1955-59 production era of the Karmann Ghia Coupe have become known as the “Lowlight” Ghia because of the low position of the headlights and the two louvered front air grilles. These ALPS VW Karmann Ghia’s are collector’s items sought after by Vintage VW toy collectors as well as by Japanese tin car collectors in general.  From time to time, they can be found searching on the online auctions. Good luck and happy collecting.

Additional Info

  • Manufacturer: ALPS
  • Scale: 1/25
  • Length: 160mm
  • Production Era: 1958-1960
  • Country: Japan
  • Materials: Tin Plate
  • Color: Grey, Bordeaux Red
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