Vintage & Classics

The best-looking Volkswagen was a Beetle underneath, but on top it was a stone cold fox

The Karmann Ghia was a German car but it had very Italian design nods.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The Volkswagen Beetle can be called a lot of things but, it's not beautiful. In fact, throughout automotive history, few Volkswagens have been good looking. Quirky, sure. Sexy? Sophisticated? Only one comes to mind: Karmann Ghia.

Eighteen years after VW was founded, the first Karmann Ghia was produced. A coupe, it had the heart and underpinnings of the German Beetle. On top, and to the outside world, it was Italian.

Known as the Type 14, the Karmann Ghia was the brainchild of Wilhelm Karmann, a contract car manufacturer who got his start building convertibles. Karmann was the sole supplier of Beetle convertibles, which were made at his factory in Osnabruck, Germany.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia The prototype Karmann Ghia was very nearly the same as the model that made it into production.Photo by Tim Hoppe / GARP

In 1953, Karmann met with Carrozzeria Ghia owner Luigi Segre at an auto show and convinced him to take the chassis of a Beetle and design a convertible sports car while talking with the company's owner. Ghia, an automotive design house and coachbuilding firm in Turin, Italy, had risen to notoriety as a contemporary of Pininfarina by building aluminum bodied cars like the Alfa Romeo 6C 1500, which one the Mille Miglia in 1929, and special bodied models for Lancia and Fiat.

Ghia worked in secret for four months, finally showing Karmann the result. Instead of a convertible, it was a coupe. Ghia had customized the platform and delivered, nearly one year to the day after the first conversation regarding the car between Karmann and Segre.

Karmann shared the prototype with Volkswagen's Managing Director at the time, Heinrich Nordhoff, and the two agreed to build a production 2+2 seater coupe and convertible in November 1953. From Volkswagen:

"The prototype Karmann Ghia looked nothing like the Beetle. An elegant nose and front cargo area flowed smoothly into a sizable seating area for two passengers. The thin roof pillars and gracious curves gave the Ghia a sense of motion even at rest, and it has a sporty stance because the body sits seven inches lower than the Beetle. The Beetle engine was stock, but the suspension was altered with a front sway bar and different springs for better handling response. While some of the Karmann Ghia's lines were inspired by other models, it was clearly its own model – and a striking departure for Volkswagen."

Refinements were made by a variety of designers over the next year and a half. The model debuted to the public at the Paris and Frankfurt auto shows in 1955. It had a fresh set of chrome vents on the nose but otherwise left most of the body intact.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia The Karmannn Ghia was produced at Karmann's Osnabruck plant.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Engineers gave the car 36 more horsepower than the Beetle and 150 more pounds of weight. Like the Beetle, it wasn't fast. One magazine reported that it took a whopping 28 seconds to get to 60 mph off the line.

Each Karmann Ghia took hours of hand-built metalworking to come to life. Production began in August 1955 and the first model reached U.S. shores in 1956. VW sold the model for $900 more than the Beetle. It was a hit.

VW would end up building nearly half a million Karmann Ghias over the next 19 years - 362,601 coupes and 80,881 convertibles. Nearly 279,000 of those were sold in the U.S.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia The Karmann Ghia had design that was very of its time.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Throughout its run, the looks of the model changed slightly but the basic outline never changes. A second Karmann Ghia was made, the Type 34, but it never was officially sold in the U.S.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The front of the concept is very EV in its design.

Photo courtesy of Honda

The Honda SUV e:concept debuted in China this week signaling what's ahead for a future mass-production model of the Honda brand's first electric vehicle to be introduced in China. While what's sold in China doesn't always make it to American shores, there are a few things to be learned by taking a closer look at the concept.

We know that the vehicle's powertrain is electric. How many motors? What type of battery? How much power? In a nutshell, we have no idea. However, that could be where Honda's relationship with General Motors kicks in. A recent agreement to share platforms and co-build future vehicles builds on the electric vehicle platform sharing agreement the two automakers signed in April. In the first agreement agreement, Honda agreed to work with GM to develop two new electric vehicles based on GM's global EV platform powered by Ultium batteries.

Honda SUV e:concept The sloping roofline of the concept is indicative of another Honda model.Photo courtesy of Honda

The concept's sweeping looks are more crossover than SUV. While there's plenty of doubt that the model will be a two-door vehicle when it arrives in showrooms, its overall aesthetic is new for Honda, though it has hints of the current-generation CR-V and Accord in its nose.

The roofline of the SUV and side profile look a lot like the 2020 Honda Avancier, a true crossover that got its start as a station wagon and now sits as the company's flagship in China. If indeed this model is an electric Avancier, it means that the U.S. market is unlikely to see it.

From a business perspective, this makes sense. Electric vehicles are not nearly as popular in the U.S. as they are in China and Europe, where they have been regulated into residents' lifestyles. Additionally, the U.S. electric vehicle charging infrastructure leaves much to be desired.

2020 Honda Avancier

Photo courtesy of Honda

Cars built for the Chinese market also do not have to meet the same strict safety testing standards as American vehicles so they can be made for less and sold for less. Upping to U.S. standards costs more and, when shipping and taxes are added in, the model may be priced out of sensibility for American Honda customers.

Wherever it's destined to go, the Honda will be a mass-production electric vehicle.

The company is committed to equipping the car with a number of safety technologies including omnidirectional advanced driver assistance systems, the next-generation Honda SENSING safety and driver-assistive system with improved recognition, predication and decision-making performance, as well as the next-generation Honda Connect, which features an AI assistant interface, smartphone link, and wireless updates.

Honda SUV e:concept The model features a unique black end with slim lights.Photo courtesy of Honda

Expect to see the next steps in the evolution of this concept in the coming year, even if it's just in spy photos.

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This McLaren Senna GTR LM wears the classic Harrods livery.

Photo courtesy of McLaren Automobiles

The 1995 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a milestone in McLaren history. That year, five McLaren F1 GTRs finished in the top 15, placing 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 13th. Five customer-commissioned McLaren Senna GTR models celebrate that iconic race.

The five cars wear a bespoke, hand-painted livery that either replicates or pays tribute to the design of each of the 1995 cars.

Each of the models is a unique creation raking more than 800 hours of craftsmanship by McLaren Special Operations to complete. Two of the five models are headed to the U.S. - one in Gulf livery and the other an art car that required several thousand hours of work to complete its unique airbrush paintwork.

McLaren Senna GTR Le Mans 1995 Tribute Each of the models pays tribute to vehicles raced in the 1995 24 Horus of Le Mans.Photo courtesy of McLaren Automobiles

The McLaren Senna GTR is the fastest-lapping car McLaren has ever made outside of Formula 1. These models include an upgraded twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter engine that puts out 833 brake horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque.

Scroll down to see models and read descriptions of each, provided by McLaren.

McLaren Senna GTR LM 825/1

Photo courtesy of McLaren Automobiles

An homage to McLaren F1/01R, often referenced as 'The Ueno Clinic car' and the outright winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995

The car bearing race number 59 was driven in 1995 by two-time Le Mans winner Yannick Dalmas, Japanese veteran Masanori Sekiya and former Formula One driver, JJ Lehto.

The race was one of the wettest in Le Mans' history, which played into the hands of the bulletproof reliability of the McLaren F1 and also the skills of the drivers – especially Lehto, who was so quick in the wet his team tried to persuade him to slow down.

The charcoal grey livery branded with the name of Japanese sponsor Ueno Clinic was not widely recognised at the time but has since passed into legend. The MSO team has faithfully recreated it on the McLaren Senna GTR LM, precisely matching the color by mixing a new tone dubbed 'Ueno Grey' – a fitting tribute to achievements of the car, and of course its three drivers.

This car has been very authentically reproduced from the original race-winning F1 GTR, echoing every last detail right down to recreating car 59's unique driving lamps, which have been specially commissioned by the GTR LM's owner*.

The OZ Racing wheels are finished in matching grey, completing the menacing look that still sends shivers down the spine of race fans 25 years after the chequered flag fell.

McLaren Senna GTR LM 825/6

Photo courtesy of McLaren Automobiles

An homage to McLaren F1/06R, often referenced as 'The Harrods car'

Car number 51, driven by an all-British line up of Andy Wallace, Derek Bell and Justin Bell, might well have won had it not suffered a transmission glitch two hours from the flag that saw Wallace have to nurse the car home in third place.

The car's famous yellow livery with bold green stripe bore the name of iconic London department store, Harrods – and that prestigious relationship has been reunited for the GTR LM. While the colors have been worn again by a McLaren since the 1995 race – a McLaren P1™ GTR was finished in the livery in 2015 – this is the first time that the famous Harrods logo has been seen on a McLaren for 25 years.

The MSO paint team used a vivid color called Solar Yellow for the body of the car, and that distinctive wide stripe is applied in Heritage Green, shadowed by a matching green pinstripe and green detailing within the front aero diffuser.

McLaren Senna GTR LM 825/2

Photo courtesy of McLaren Automobiles

An homage to McLaren F1/02R, often referenced as 'The Gulf car'

Brazilian Maurizio Sandro Sala joined Brits Mark Blundell and Ray Bellm behind the wheel of the McLaren F1 GTR for 291 rain-lashed laps of La Sarthe in 1995, eventually finishing in fourth place.

Car number 24 had arguably the most iconic livery of any of the cars. The Gulf Racing blue, perfectly reimagined here by MSO as Gulf 95 Blue, fits the McLaren Senna GTR LM seamlessly. Its 'Gulf 95 Orange' pinstripe traces the rear diffuser and the imposing shape of the rear wing's LMP1-style endplates, tracks along the lower sill and unites at the front with vivid orange blades on the front splitter.

The OZ Racing wheels conform to the theme, being finished in equally vivid orange, while the lower sills and roof stripe are painted in Gulf 95 Silver. The actual Gulf Oil logo appears on the bonnet and doors, and a finishing touch is provided by Ayrton Senna's signature boldly recreated on the rear quarter of the bodywork.

McLaren Senna GTR LM 825/7

Photo courtesy of McLaren Automobiles

An homage to McLaren F1/07R, often referenced as 'The Jacadi car'

Car number 50 was run by French-based customer team Giroix Racing. Two French drivers – Fabien Giroix and Olivier Grouillard – joined Swiss pilot Jean-Denis Deletraz to bring the car home in fifth place, just a lap down on the Gulf car.

The unmistakeable royal blue livery was proudly French-themed and has been preserved by the McLaren Senna GTR LM's new owner by the specification of a startlingly bright color called Le Mans Blue for the body of the car. It looks particularly stunning on the GTR LM's massive rear diffuser.

That blue is complemented by a blue metallic called 'Polaris', and further offset by the use of authentic Elf logos belonging to the French oil company which sponsored the 1995 race car. The car is the only one of the five to wear the French Tricolour flag.

McLaren Senna GTR LM 825/5

Photo courtesy of McLaren Automobiles

An homage to McLaren F1/05R, often referenced as 'The Cesar car'

Displaying the most intricate livery design of all the McLaren F1 GTRs that raced in 1995, car number 42 finished 13th position, completing the McLaren roll of honour of finishers.

Run by French team Société BBA, the striking car was driven by an all-French line-up of Jean-Luc Maury-Laribiere, Marc Sourd and Hervé Poulin. Maury-Laribiere and Poulin were pioneers of 'art cars' and asked renowned artist Cesar Baldaccini to envisage a livery for the F1 GTR they would be racing at Le Mans.

An experienced endurance racer, Poulin's fine collection of racing trophies became the inspiration for Cesar's work on the McLaren.

McLaren Senna GTR LM 825/5 is a modern reinterpretation of the livery, drawing in new elements, such as pole position lap times; contemporary race trophies and Le Mans branding cues.

An immensely complex piece of work produced using many techniques – including extensive airbrushing – this was the car that took longest to paint, to the point that MSO stopped recording the time taken. As an estimate, several thousand hours of work were needed to finish the project to the exemplary standard that is now so evident.

All five McLaren Senna GTR LMs have now been completed and will be delivered to owners in the United States, Europe and the UK. As with all bespoke commissions created by McLaren Special Operations, their value remains undisclosed unless the owners choose to share this detail.

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