My Ghia was born on 8 February 1974 at the Karmann factory in Osnabru:ck Germany. Being a Friday car hasn't bothered it much. It left Germany the following Wednesday for the United States, finally arriving at Bill Kirk Volkswagen in Garrison MD, just northwest of Baltimore. With spring fast approaching, a red Ghia convertible was not going to sit for very long. The car was sold to its first owners, Rick and Joan, on 15 March 1974.
The story now jumps ahead almost 20 years. It is December 1993. The odometer sits idle at 72,285 miles. The Ghia has been parked for many years, perhaps as many as ten. It was running when it was parked, but the carb was giving it trouble. Their son tried tinkering with it, but soon it wouldn't run at all. Later, even the son lost interest. Then it lost its spot in the garage and was rolled outside to sit in the weather for a year or two. Finally, the time had come for it to find a new home.
Rick and Joan knew somebody who had access to the Internet, and he agreed to run an ad for them. The ad was posted the evening of 28 December 1993 and read simply: "1974 Karmann Ghia convertible for sale. Restorable. Solid body. $500 OBO. Car is in Baltimore. Reply by e-mail for contact telephone number." The ad was posted to rec.autos.antique.
Later that same evening I was reading rec.autos.antique. I have a rather decrepit 1969 Chevy Impala convertible that has been in various stages of refurbishment since I bought it in 1982. It came off the road in 1985 for a body-off restoration. This work has repeatedly bogged down for various reasons and was still a long way from being finished. Meanwhile I'm going through "ragtop withdrawl." Then I find this ad for a Ghia convertible. I've thought about getting a beater convertible to drive while I finish the Chevy, and this old VW might be a cheap solution. I replied to the ad, got the number and set up an appointment to see the car.
I arrived at the meeting, cash in pocket, ready to close the deal if it was suitable for my plans. It was covered with 4" of snow. The top was torn and leaking despite being covered with a plastic tarp. The carpets were soaked. The rear pans were rusted out. The rear storage cover and driver's door panel were both damaged beyond repair, but the seats were intact. The trunk was full of old spikes lying on top of the boot cover. The bumpers were gone. The body was repainted at some time and the prep work was not adequate; the paint was peeling and flaking badly. The body had some minor rust and dings, including the characteristic dent in the nose which had been repaired reasonably. The engine compartment was a mess, with the deck lid unbolted, the muffler gone and the tins tossed in loose. The carb was loose and partially apart, as was the distributor. A cigar box held unknown loose parts. Loose hoses and wires abounded.
It needed a good bit of work, but what did I expect for $500? Actually, it was much better than I'd expected. I offered $400, which was accepted. Papers were signed and cash exchanged. As of 6pm on 30 December 1993 the Ghia had its second owner. I came back with my truck and a dolly to get the "beater" a week later. The bumpers had been dug out of the snow next to the garage and put inside the car, along with other boxes of assorted parts, a Haynes shop manual and a brand-new Leistritz muffler and exhaust tips, still in their original box with a receipt dated August 1989.
I got home and pulled out the wet remains of the interior, tore down the carb and drowned it in a bucket of solvent and started sizing up the job. I subscribed to rec.autos.vw (and soon to VintagVW) and began reading up on Karmann Ghias. As the work went along I'd say "As long as I'm here I may as well fix this up, too." As I read more I began to appreciate just what a rare, valuable car I had. Within three months I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have another full restoration project. In the fear of having two endless car projects, I've "kept my feet to the fire" on this one, in part by contracting out a good bit of the work.
It's now a little over a year later and the Ghia is almost ready to go on the road and the show circuit. It's picked up several few hundred miles being towed to/from VW Restoration and Custom in Manassas VA, where the body and paint work was done. Some of the high points of the restoration:
Starting it for the first time, around March 1994. The carb needed a complete rebuild, being badly gummed up (probably the original problem) and missing the float pin retaining clip (most likely the son's tinkering). The timing was wrong, sparking at BDC on the power stroke. No wonder it wouldn't run! With these fixed, new plugs and fuel pump, fresh oil and a valve adjustment, it fired right up. A little tweaking of the distributor and carb had it idling smoothly at 850 rpm in no time. A warm compression check came in at 130 psi all the way around. This motor is just like new!
Replacing the hopelessly plugged main fuel line. Despite hearing it was an impossible task, I ran a new line down the center tube and out the original holes without cutting any access holes in the car that were not already there. I've written a description on how I did this. Contact me if you'd like a copy.
Locating a correct AM/FM radio in a salvage yard, a Sapphire XIX.
This model was only used in 1974 VW, Audi and Porsche autos. It wasn't
working when I got it, but I finally put my EE degree to good use
Telling this story to Paul Suplizio, owner of VW Restoration and
Custom. He was positively floored when I told him what I'd paid for it,
the best deal he'd heard in a long, long time. He said he knows a lot of
people looking for a Ghia convertible in any shape to restore, and could
have gotten $2000 for it as is (was). This is when I realized just what
a great deal I'd gotten. I now feel guilty about talking down the price.
Work is continuing on the Ghia, and I hope to have it ready to show at
the Bug-Out in Manassas VA on Memorial Day Sunday 1995. It's going to
be real close. Look for it in VW Restoration and Custom's display area.
In time, my bank account will recover and I'll finish the Chevy. Just
don't hold your breath waiting for me to sell my "beater" when its done!
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Bill Leavitt (aka Mr. Bill)
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Last Modified: May 3, 1997
Melvin R. Bacani
Karman Ghia World
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Telling this story to Paul Suplizio, owner of VW Restoration and Custom. He was positively floored when I told him what I'd paid for it, the best deal he'd heard in a long, long time. He said he knows a lot of people looking for a Ghia convertible in any shape to restore, and could have gotten $2000 for it as is (was). This is when I realized just what a great deal I'd gotten. I now feel guilty about talking down the price.
Work is continuing on the Ghia, and I hope to have it ready to show at the Bug-Out in Manassas VA on Memorial Day Sunday 1995. It's going to be real close. Look for it in VW Restoration and Custom's display area. In time, my bank account will recover and I'll finish the Chevy. Just don't hold your breath waiting for me to sell my "beater" when its done!
All contents copyright (C)