Before we begin with this blog post I’ll first acknowledge the obvious; I’m writing a post today about a ’73 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and there is no way on earth it could ever be related to a muscle car. That being said, it has everything to do with the fact that you’re reading this here at The MuscleCar Place, but it’ll take me a bit to explain.
First, whether you’re a regular reader here of you’ve just stumbled upon this website, it all started for me as a little kid when I fell in love with my parents ’64 Chevelle. It was my dad’s work car, was a rusted out hulk, and was my friend. I’ll let you read the About Us page (or every other blog post) to learn more about my Chevelle, but in the end know that that car was the beginning of my love for muscle cars. More than that though I viewed the car as a kind of a friend/pet hybrid. It’s alive and it has a soul; I know it. My dad stopped driving the Chevelle in the early ’80’s since it was literally a rusting time bomb and my folks kept it in storage so my dad and I could restore it together. After he stopped driving the Chevelle he needed a different car, and that’s where the Ghia enters the story.
The Ghia came into our family in 1979. My mom had wanted one since her college days when a friend took her for a ride in her two-tone Karmann Ghia coupe. She talked my dad into buying one as a fun car for her to drive and he located a yellow ’73 convertible that originally started it’s life out as a kind of lima-bean green (which I have since discovered was a cool color as well). It was in decent shape, needed rockers, and had a disconnected air conditioner, but was otherwise good to go. He bought it, had the rockers replaced, and then handed her the keys. She drove it for a single winter and discovered that air cooled VW’s require Eskimo gear to stay warm in during January in Iowa. Not enjoying the cold she went back to driving her Oldsmobile and my dad assumed the Ghia as his daily driver (and the Chevelle went into storage, awaiting it’s fate).
Around this time I was a 6 or 7 year old kid, and surprise, surprise, the Karmann Ghia and I quickly became friends. I loved that it was cool looking, loved that it was a convertible, and loved that it was a 2-seater that could only hold my dad and I. I also loved that it was a stick-shift (the only one in our family) and my dad let me shift it from the passenger seat whenever we rode together. He worked the pedals and I became a master of shifting quickly from 1st to 2nd going up hills, downshifting in the turns, and generally learning to shift by engine pitch while simultaneously being in sync with my dad. We rarely talked while doing it; there was no need. (Side note: with my left handed shifter training I’ve always thought that I could easily transition to driving right-hand drive cars. I have yet to find out if that’s true.)
By the time I was in 6th grade the little Ghia had been shredded by the Iowa salt, a typical fate of VW’s in the salt climates. It had no floors or rockers, the front beam was the consistency of burnt toast, and putting the top down was ceased to prevent the car from folding in half. My dad started looking for something else and located a used Buick Riviera on a small car lot just a few blocks from our house. He and my mom broke the news to me that the transaction was going to happen, and I was utterly devastated. I asked if we could keep it like we did with the Chevelle and fix it up someday, but they replied that time and finances just couldn’t allow it and a family with two licensed drivers didn’t need 5 vehicles.
I couldn’t stand the thought of my little Ghia being gone in someone else’s care. I couldn’t stand the thought that my dad and I wouldn’t have it as “ours” any more. More specifically though, I knew that the Ghia would be scared without me and I was powerless to stop it. I felt like we had just taken Fido to the family vet for a checkup only to find out that we were going to put him down instead.
The big day came when it was time to trade the Ghia and I knew my dad was to do the transaction somewhere around 5PM, leaving me plenty of time to meet him there on my bike in the hopes that somehow my presence would avoid the inevitable. He handed me the keys while he was doing the paperwork and asked me to lock up the Ghia. I was already tearing up. I walked out and sat in it one last time, said my goodbye’s, then closed the door to lock it from the outside. The Ghia knew what was happening, and the door didn’t latch as a result. I tearfully told the Ghia that it wasn’t my car anymore and closed the door again, and this time it latched shut tight. I locked it up, went inside, and then rode my bike home behind my dad’s Riviera.
I had never been quite so crushed, but in a mere 24 hours I would be on top of the world, the Ghia would be back, and my dad would do yet another monumental feat that would shape me as a kid, a man, a husband, and a dad. To hear the rest of the story though you’ll have to stay tuned for next week’s blog!