Home » Coachwork Convergence Of The Contessa And The Karmann Ghia: Cold Start

Coachwork Convergence Of The Contessa And The Karmann Ghia: Cold Start

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Was there only one café that would serve car designers in Italy in 1962? I ask this because I stumbled on a pair of one-off cars, both designed by Italians for rear-engined chassis from more popular economy cars, one made in Japan, one Germany. These two cars, I think bear some really remarkable similarities, though I do not think there was any collaboration or cribbing of designs. And the end results are, I think, uncannily similar in many ways. Am I seeing something that isn’t there? I don’t think so, but just so I’m sure, you should have a look at this one-off Hino Contessa 900 Sprint and this proposed update to the Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia.

I mean, look at these cars; you have to admit, there’s a lot that feels close here. The front end treatment, with the split moustache of wide and long fresh air intakes, with their curved inner edges; the general proportions and shape of the greenhouses and window shapes, even the rear end treatments, with their full-width rear grilles:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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They’re not identical, of course, but they’re strangely close! The Karmann-Ghia update proposal was designed by the same Ghia designer that penned the original Karmann-Ghia, Luigi Segre, in hopes of keeping Volkswagen happy, since Karmann relied heavily on the patronage of the huge company. The design was never actually used, with one styling model built, and VW kept the original Ghia in production until 1974, largely unchanged.

The Hino Contessa was based on the Renault 4CV and developed into a car closer to a Renault Dauphine, built under license by Hino, who would later become part of Toyota. Giovanni Michelotti designed the Contessa’s bodies, including this Sprint version that did the 1962 auto show circuit in Tokyo, Turin, and New York, but never made it into production.

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Though no Contessas were exported, some optimistic brochures and ads for the Contessa 900 Sprint were printed, but that’s as far as it got.

They’re both just lovely, I think. The Hino has a lower nose and a little less bulk than the VW, but I’d have to say these two are siblings, at the very least.

Come on Luigi and Giovanni – who looked at who’s sketchbook? No one will get in trouble, I promise.

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Banpei
Banpei
2 months ago

“Though no Contessas were exported, some optimistic brochures and ads for the Contessa 900 Sprint were printed, but that’s as far as it got.”
I only found this article one year after you wrote it, thanks to David’s article on the Hino truck. Hino exported the Contessa to the Netherlands, Belgium and France. There were even plans to build a factory in the Netherlands to assemble knock down kits. The company importing the Contessa went bankrupt before the factory was built.

Mikan
Mikan
1 year ago

There’s a similar convergence going on between the Giugiaro-designed Isuzu 117 coupe and the Pininfarina-designed Peugeot 504 coupe:

https://global.discourse-cdn.com/forza/original/3X/4/3/436478b4f08bb6418cc499efce7d9624b6d97209.jpeg

https://i0.wp.com/www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/peugeot-504-coupe-1969-_5.jpg

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago
Reply to  Mikan

The front end of the 504 coupe is an abomination compared to its gorgeous rear end or the sedan’s front end.

T Mill
T Mill
1 year ago

Torch – I saw a Scion TC the other day and it hit me; It’s a 2 door Polestar 2!
(Or, more accurately, the Polestar 2 is a 4 door Scion TC…)

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 year ago

A lot of cars from the 60s and 70s show, a house design language if they com from the same studio or common traits,from a specific car. Apart from the examples above consider Michelotti’s BMW 700 and Triumph Herald, Pininfarina’s Fiat Dino and Fiat 124 Spiders, the close family resemblance of the Fiat 130, Ferrari 400 and Bitter SC, the Audi 100 and Ford Five Hundred The most famous shared trait is probably the Hoffmeister kink, originating at BMW but spreading all over. Both the mid 70s Chevy Nova 4 door and the Jaguar XJ6 Series 3 have it and the BMW resemblance is especially strong in the two door VW Jetta A1 which would look completely normal with a kidney grille and roundels. The Corvair influence is also strong crossing not only the Atlantic, NSU and Renault but also the Iron Curtain in the form of the Zhiguli

Convergent evolution is also a factor, consider that crabs evolved twice

Cuzn Ed
Cuzn Ed
1 year ago

They are remarkably similar.

Overall, i think i slightly prefer the Contessa, for reasons i can’t articulate.

Although i’m captivated by the K-G’s back glass, which looks so much bigger than the Contessa’s, and gives the car an airier feel that would’ve been fun, i think. But surely that barely-there C pillar wouldn’t have made it to production…?

I would’ve felt pretty natty tooling around in either of them, though, had i been given the chance, and were i able to fit into it.

Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
1 year ago
Zac H
Zac H
1 year ago

This can all be explained by Plato’s Chair Philosophy: “all chairs in the physical realm are imperfect variations of the ideal chair that exists in the subjective realm”. So all humans have a vague notion of the perfect economy-based, rear-engined, sporty looking car from the subjective realm from before they were born. These designers then tried to recreate said car in the real word based on that shared ideal car that they kind of remember.

Last edited 1 year ago by Zac H
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago
Reply to  Zac H

But can the virtues of such a design be taught, or are they doomed to a cycle of discovery and forgetting?

Maybe Aristotle is right – that designers become better designers by the act of designing cars, constantly improving. Which is why we we don’t see these anymore.

Philosoptian Friday!

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago
Reply to  Zac H

I was going to go with some sort of quantum entanglement theory, but I like your thesis better.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago

I prefer the Hino’s nose and rear, but the Volkswagen’s roof and quarter panels, a mashup of the two might have gone down as one of the prettiest cars of the 1960s, which is quite an achievement, given everything that came out of the decade

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 year ago

Front end looks like a Glas GT too.

Fred Seelig
Fred Seelig
1 year ago

My first car, in 1986 when I was 18, was a 1974 Karmann Ghia. Thank God VW never used that design! IMHO the Karmann Ghia is one of the most beautiful cars from any angle. That “update,” if it were not a study for a Karmann Ghia replacement, could be considered kinda cute. But as an update, it’s an abject failure. And the back end? That’s a failure in all regards.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
1 year ago

“Virgil Exner actually didn’t mind that the Karmann Ghia directly copied his 1953 Chrysler D’Elegance “Hemmings

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
1 year ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

I didn’t know human creations could be as ugly as that Chrysler until today. Virgil is dreaming

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago

Holy crap, you’re not kidding

DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
1 year ago

I’ll go barefoot in that Contessa!

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
1 year ago

Am I the only one seeing a bit of Ford Pinto in that Contessa brochure photo?
https://bringatrailer.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/1972_ford_pinto_1592912998e40810bf523f24deee20200531_144654.jpg

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

That beautiful example reminds me why I am so fond of the early ones. Thanks for posting it!

Max Finkel
Max Finkel
1 year ago

I love those contessas so much. the sedans are cool too, but that coupe? michelotti did NOT have to cook like that.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

That Hino really looks like Finn McMissle (British Intelligence) from the front.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
1 year ago

“The front end treatment, with the split moustache of wide and long fresh air intakes…”

Volkswagen was so desperate to distance themselves from the Nazis that they sold a car with a reverse Hitler mustache.

Convergent design sounds a lot like convergent evolution. Before the earth had crocodilians, it had thecodonts. Thecodonts were large, semi-aquatic carnivorous reptiles with eyes and nostrils on the top of their heads. They filled an ecological niche that is now filled by crocodilians. You could be forgiven for assuming that they were the ancestors of the crocs and gators we know and love today, but they weren’t. Thecodonts were an evolutionary dead end.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Germany, Japan and Italy were all Axis allies in WW II. Coincidence? I think not.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
1 year ago

Maybe not direct copying, but in any era, certain tropes percolate through automotive design–really, any kind of design. Sometimes it’s bound to look particularly on the nose.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago

I think both designs were inspired by the Aston Martin DB4.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago

I dig those side radiator grills on the Contessa…reminds me of the ones on the Mustang concept, which eventually became the vestigial styling cue we know/love.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jack Trade
Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

You mean the same way so many crossovers look like they were designed by the same modestly talented designer?

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
1 year ago

They really do look alike.

Nathan Wong
Nathan Wong
1 year ago

Was there a link to the Volvo P1800? That design looks really similar.

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