When you see this 1969 Karmann Ghia in all her glory, you might swoon. She’s that pretty.
But when you read the story behind this 1969 Karmann Ghia build, you might cry… and then smile. After all, who doesn’t love a happy ending?
We’re really proud of VolksAmerica and glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this excellent magazine on a regular basis. Sometimes, it’s a tech article, showing readers how to tackle a restoration or maintenance task. Sometimes, it’s the story of a build – and every build has a story.
Here’s the story of the Currans’ 1969 Karmann Ghia. It’s almost like a country song… in reverse. You’ll see.
It’s The Thought That Counts, Right?
Buying just the right present for someone you love can be tough. By the time we reach a certain age, it’s like, “If they really wanted it, they’d already have it.”
But when Margo and Brian Curran chatted about their upcoming trio of big milestones – they were both turning 50 and coming up on their 25thwedding anniversary all in the same year – they knew just how to do it right, Volkswagen Karmann Ghia style. After all, what better way to celebrate longevity, faithfulness, and fun than to do it in a classic Volkswagen?
Margo had loved Ghias from the time she was little. A favorite uncle who’s since passed had one, and early on, she’d fallen for the sleek curves and quirkiness of these beauties. Not only was this going to be fun to drive, their Ghia would also serve as a lovely tribute, a way to rekindle her memories of her uncle.
What Is It They Say About The Best-Laid Plans?
The Currans bought a Ghia that was advertised as having been partially restored. Sight unseen, halfway across the country. This bold move turned out to be the first step into heartache. The second step was taking it to a shop to complete the restoration.
Know that feeling in the gut when you suspect you’ve made a horrible mistake? That was next in the trajectory of this debacle. It was only when the Currans showed their new old Ghia to a neighbor that their uneasiness found a voice. One look in the engine bay, which was riveted together, and their neighbor urged them to take their poor Volkswagen Karmann Ghia to someone who knows what they’re doing. First up, getting a bumper-to-bumper check-up to make sure it was roadworthy.
Zip Ties? REALLY?
After a conversation with Airkooled Kustoms in Hazel Green, Alabama, the Currans knew they’d finally found someone who’d shoot straight with them. The shop’s engine builder, “Crazy Uncle Floyd” Husband, took a two-hour road trip with the trailer to fetch it.
“Shoddy” is not a strong enough word for the restoration work done on this ride. There were zip-ties holding the frame together. Yes, plastic zip-ties. That wasn’t the half of all the death-trap features included in this travesty of short-cuts and cosmetic improvements.
Within minutes of getting the Ghia onto the lift, the shop’s late Roger “00-Dub” Moore knew he had a very unpleasant phone call to make. Sure, the shop could tear it all down and start fresh, but who knows what other surprises were in store?
Bad News, then a Good Idea
After breaking the bad news, he told the Currans he had an idea. Just yards away from the shop, there was a similar Ghia, completely unrestored and yet in way better shape. As if he somehow knew his days on earth were coming to a too-early end even then, he admitted his plans to one day restore this ride were unlikely to come to fruition. It was a solid core, and even unrestored would leave the Currans in a better situation than they were currently in with the hunk of junk on the lift.
They said yes. The “lipstick on a pig” ride went bye-bye, off to become some brave soul’s project car (all faults disclosed prior to sale, of course). The solid core began its journey through the restoration process.
Here’s What We Did to this 1969 Karmann Ghia
Transforming this ride from one that was unsafe at any speed – or even standing still – into a reliable and gorgeous brand new, very old car began with a swap out. The 1969 core took on a disk brake upgrade, an upgraded suspension package with rear sway bar, and a 3” narrowed beam.
Then it got a kustom paint job, a tri-stage double ice white jaw-dropper Spook named Snow Blind while he was working on it, and renamed it Whipped Cream once he was done. In the sunlight, you’d understand how this color inspired so many names. Mountain Honey did the semi-custom interior.
For more go, go, go, we dropped a 1776 cc engine in, backed by a Stage 2 transmission from Tony Walker at Aircooled Werks. All that gorgeousness rolls past you on EMPI eight-spoke aluminum rims.
As with all complete restorations at Airkooled Kustoms, this gorgeous Ghia boasts three signature skull logo imprints in her paint. Brian says he’s hunted for them, but still can’t find them. That means the $100 bill in Spook’s wallet, earmarked for any client who can find all three, is safe… for now.
Photo Credit Bryan Bacon
The Gift That’ll Keep On Giving
Now that the hard part’s over, the Currans get to the good part – enjoying their Ghia. Like many classic car owners, this ride’s got a name: Storm, like in the X-Men.
They’re babying Storm, of course, since she’s an antique. But you might catch a glimpse if you’re in the right place at the right time, cruising around one of the scenic lakes near Pell City, Alabama.
You’ll find Margo behind the wheel, most likely. Brian’s only driven it once since Storm’s restoration wrapped. They get head-turns everywhere they go, and as you’d expect, lots of conversation about how Storm brings back memories of their Dub. It took some doing, but the Ghia of their dreams is finally the one in their driveway.
Some Parting Words of Wisdom
Honestly, it takes a lot to gross Spook out. Roger was the same way – and the whole krew in the shop, too. These guys get gashed, smashed, and burnt on the regular. They’ve cleared out decades’ worth of dead vermin, old food, and even ancient used diapers in the process of starting restoration projects.
But that’s all part of the job.
Seeing a client get ripped off, though? That’s where they get disgusted.
Spook recounts the moment they put the Curran’s original “restored” up on the lift to figure out why it wasn’t running quite right. What you’d expect to see as the lift rises is a car that might be a little dirty, but that stays “solid” as it goes up. NOT one that bows in the middle. Their “something’s not right here” led to the discovery of the zip ties. From there, it was like going down a rabbit hole of botched repair shortcuts. To know these lovely people had sunk good money into such bad workmanship was enough to turn his stomach.
I asked what the cautionary tale is here.
If you’re buying a vehicle to restore, get someone you trust to inspect it closely before you buy. That goes double if it’s already been restored. For a couple hundred dollars, you’ll buy yourself some peace of mind, knowing you’re not about to get some really bad news that comes too late.
You can find out more about this 1969 Karmann Ghia build and see hundreds and hundreds of more photos here. Plus, if you attend this year’s Low Down in Dub Town, you can feast your eyes on restorations just like this one.
Car-man Gee-Uh… otherwise known as “Dammmmmmmm” in the case of a 1965 Razor.
We’d sure love to get our dirty, bloody, bruised, greasy, and burnt hands on a Razor Ghia to restore. We’ve got a gorgeous 1969 Ghia on the floor right now, and you can see more than 1,000 build pics, too.
If you’re a VW purist you may want to stop reading now, because this is not your average build.
Way back in 2000 while in high school, Las Vegas local Richard Jones purchased what was then a mostly factory 1965 Volkswagen Type 34 Karmann Ghia as a daily driverfor his girlfriend, Shannon.
While most VWs tend to let you know just before they’re about to give up with a host of warning lights, this car was built before that type of technology existed, and not too long into ownership, the original engine decided to quit. Richard decided this would be a perfect time to swap in a big 2443cc motor and take it street racing. This went on for a few years before that motor blew too, and at that time Shannon handed the car back to Richard. “That is when the fun began,” he says.
Richard would always pick up custom truck magazines like Mini Truckin’ and see everything on adjustable suspension, allowing them to lay completely flat on the ground. He set a goal to get his car as low as he could, but he had no experience with suspension design or metal work. Richard put some time into reading and gathering as much information on the subject as possible, and in eight short months he had the front suspension on a cantilever setup using air cans, while the rear was bagged. He would then use his newfound knowledge to create a factory-looking, right-hand drive dashboard.
Now that the VW’s stance was taken care of, Richard started to hunt down parts for the outside of the vehicle. Realizing that people didn’t give up these rare components easily or cheaply, he purchased two parts cars to get the finishing pieces required.
Richard and his family enjoyed the Ghia for a few years until one day another car pulled out in front of him. The resulting collision destroyed all of the front sheet metal and bent the pan. Richard was left heart broken; all of his hard work had just been undone in a split second. But he didn’t let the wreck get to him for long, and soon decided that a rebuild should happen. He persuaded the insurance company to not total it, as a salvage title would put a damper on the history of the car.
Richard went back and forth trying to decide what he should do, but he knew he wanted to push his capabilities to the limit. In the end, his goal was to mix his love for VWs and mini trucks to create a one-off custom. The Ghia was taken to the side yard of his house, braced, roof cut off, and flipped upside down in order for Richard to start fabricating an entirely new suspension setup. This is where all the years of research would come into play as he hand-built a full tube-frame chassis.
The front suspension now utilizes upper A-arms from a circle track car and hand-made lower arms, while the rear now runs hand-made trailing arms.
The air suspension was replaced with a 24-volt, single-pump, six-dump hydraulic setup with accumulators using Dice Suspension manifolds and cylinders all powered by two Odyssey batteries.
Given that the chassis and suspension had been completely customized, there was no way Richard was going to run a predictable motor. Instead, he opted for a naturally aspirated Mazda 13B twin-rotor engine out of an FC3S Mazda RX-7.
The bridgeported 13B sucks air and fuel through a 48mm Weber carburetor mounted to a RotaryShack manifold, while spark is provided by MSD coils and a 6AL module. Richard custom built a 2-inch steel header running into a 2.5-inch stainless muffler, and swapped the stock pulleys for a Gilmer Drive belt setup to keep things turning in the right direction. That trademark Gilmer sound doesn’t hurt either.
More than air would be needed to keep the motor nice and cool now, so Richard installed a 4-core custom-built radiator with two electric fans, and hand-made an aluminum expansion tank and overflow box. As for the driveline, that consists of a Volkswagen Type 2 091 gearbox with race-prepped Type 2 CVs, a lightened flywheel and a 2400lb clutch.
With all of this custom momentum, Richard couldn’t leave the brake system factory either. A Wilwood Pro Spindle brake kit along with Wilwood 4-piston calipers all around fed by CNC master cylinders were installed to make sure stopping power was up to task. Rounding it all out is a rack and pinion steering setup designed for a sand car.
Richard knew he wanted to run larger wheels, so while the car’s chassis was being built he tubbed the wells. The triple-laced Dayton wire wheels that were chosen for the build are not what you’d usually see on a VW, but they work so well. The fronts are 17×7-inch wrapped in Yokohama 195/40R17s, while the rears are 18×8-inch with 215/35R18s.
Even with all of these modifications, Richard wanted to keep the outside relatively factory but with a few personal touches. He’d come this far, so why not, right? The fresh air vents were deleted along with the door locks and wipers. The engine compartment also got some custom sheet metal work in order to fit the new power plant.
You’ve Got Red On You
Richard spent plenty of time and money inside the car too, and the new blood-red leather retrim contrasts perfectly with the VW’s off-white exterior.
The interior also runs Speedhut gauges, a Bug-Tech shifter, Tilton pedals and a hand-made roller throttle pedal.
As you can see, it’s been one long adventure getting the Ghia to where it is now. Richard has pushed through the aggravation of having his car almost totaled, which is a tough thing to do when you’ve watched your dreams literally crushed in front of your eyes.
Most people would have thrown in the towel at this point, but Richard has a very strong support group he surrounds himself with. First and foremost he would like to thank his now wife Shannon Jones. He says her love and faith in him, and her awesome sandwich making skills, kept him going throughout all the trials and tribulations. Thanks also go out to Juan at Snail Motorsports for the powder-coating, Corey for installing the Rebel wiring harness, Chris for rebuilding the engine, as well as Kevin, Marcus, Brien, Keith, AcroSean, Joe, Whiz, Lauren, Jake, Alex, Shane, and Tom Carsten (RIP) for their inspiration to think differently and to push the bar.
This car proves that with the right people and the pursuit of educating yourself, you can do anything. Mistakes and tragic events may happen along the way, but in the end, if you keep pushing yourself and surrounding yourself with a good crew, amazing things can happen.
How to Buy a Karmann Ghia That’s Both Very Old and Brand New
If you’re already to the point of wondering how to buy a Karmann Ghia, you’ve got it bad. There’s just something about that shapely shape that’ll get your eyebrows doing that waggly thing they do when you see something you like.
Most Ghias that you see out and about (if you happen to live anywhere that Ghia owners hang out) are in various states of disrepair (AKA rusty and rocking a patina that might have you wondering how that Dub’s still on the road) OR they’ve been restored.
At Airkooled Kustoms, we just finished the restoration on one gorgeous 1971 Karmann Ghia – and we’ve got another one in the works, a gorgeous 1969 Karmann Ghia that goes perfectly with the song “Sex and Candy”.
You can go bone stock or completely custom – and either way, if we’re doing it, the restoration will be done right. Our preference? Slammed to the ground.
Here’s one that might just be low enough.
This Stunning Karmann Ghia Has A Dirty Little Secret – CarBuzz
Whether you approve of the mods this guy made to his VW Karmann Ghia or not, there’s no doubt he deserves respect for saving the thing. The car was bound for the scrap heap, and he saved it from death. He then added some Subaru power, transforming the iconic little sports car into something that will scare small children and make grown men laugh. Dubbed the turbocharged ice scraper for its slammed stance, this thing is so sweet.
If you’re across the pond from Airkooled Kustoms, and you’re jonesing for a James Dean-style early Porsche, you might want to head on over to the Simply Porsche 2016 show. Write a check for one that’s for sale (and really, they’re all for sale for the right price), and get it shipped over to the Darkside for a total kustom (or bone stock) restoration.
No problem. Easy-peasy.
Here’s more info on where to buy classic cars in the UK.
Beaulieu’s Simply Porsche 2016 show returns to the National Motor Museum for its fourth year on Sunday 5th June.
The popular Simply Porsche 2016 event welcomes Porsche sports cars and enthusiasts of all ages and models into the picturesque grounds of the National Motor Museum.
Simply Porsche 2016 – What’s on?
Simply Porsche is open to all types of this legendary German sports car ranging from the earliest 356 models, through to classic 911, 914 and 928, up to the modern Boxster, Panamera and Cayman.
See all models of Porsche Sportscar, new and old at Simply Porsche 2016
Held in association with The Independent Porsche Enthusiasts Club (TIPEC), Porsche drivers are encouraged to bring along their much-loved sports cars, admire other the other cars on show and chat with like-minded owners and Porsche enthusiasts.
Throughout the day, rally visitors will have the chance to vote for their favourite Porsche in the People’s Choice Awards.
A commemorative trophy and Autoglym prize will be awarded to the owner of the Porsche that receives the most votes on the day.
Visitors get to vote on their favourite Porsche at the rally
Not only is Simply Porsche a great opportunity to see a fantastic selection of Porsches, visitors can also enjoy all of the features of the Beaulieu National Motor Museum including favourites like On Screen Carsand the World of Top Gear or the new Driving Change display, exploring motoring innovations, technology and safety throughout motoring history.
Tickets and Admission
Porsche-driving visitors to Simply Porsche 2016 can drive into the attraction grounds from 9.30am, when the Brabazon restaurant will be serving hot and cold drinks and breakfast snacks.
Here’s a video tour of one of the classic car restorations underway at Airkooled Kustoms this week.
Here you’ll see the luscious Fergie’s 1969 Ghia, nicknamed Sex and Candy, which is up on the lift. Even her pan is sleek and sexy – and you’ll get a glimpse of her 15″ Fuchs and Spook’s kustom “I Want Juice” Juicy Ginger paint which never fails to have visitors’ jaws drop on first sight.
You can find out more about one of the finest classic car restorations you’ll ever see by visiting Fergie’s Ghia on her own page. There’s also a link there where you can check out thousands of pictures from the build file.