SCHMOOTH KARMANN GHIA HYGIENICALLY CLEAN VW COUPE
VW Karmann Ghia You’d be hard pushed to find another Karmann Ghia as spotless as this one. In fact, we had to go all the way down under to check out what has to be the cleanest on the planet.
RETRO RIDE: KARMANN GHIA / WORDS: Daniel Bevis / PHOTOGRAPHY: Ben Hosking
Pat Eung’s Karmann is an exercise in emphasising the timeless prettiness of the Ghia form. But look closer and you’ll see a few modern tricks…
Even the engine bay is absolutely spotless.
Like photosynthesis or the patterns of the tides, modifying Volkswagens is one of those universal constants. It’s just something that happens. For as long as there have been aircooled VWs in the world, there have been people champing at the bit to customise them, from the inception of the Type 1 (which you may variously know as the Beetle, Käfer, Coccinelle, Fusca... you name it) through the enduring cult of the Type 2 (aka Kombi, Transporter, Microbus, Camper) and every other model on the spectrum. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done to them – dragsters, lowriders, race cars, surf wagons, every conceivable style exists within the VW scene.
Nowadays of course the watercooled VeeDub scene is equally massive, and it’s leading the charge in the modern repurposing of the word ‘stance’. If you want to see what’s hot in the world of high-end wheels and low-down suspension, you look to the VW crowd.
Naturally there are always cars that offer a bridge between the two eras of the VW modding carnival, fusing old and new, aircooled and watercooled, smashing styles together like tiny particles at CERN. There’s a VW K70 doing the rounds that’s been bodydropped over a Passat W8 chassis, a Mk1 Golf rocking aircooled Beetle running gear. All sorts. But perhaps one of the most cohesive and aesthetically joyful offerings is the car you see before you here, Pat Eung’s 1967 Karmann Ghia. It simultaneously shimmers with the memories of SoCal circa 1975, and lassos a knapsackful of cues from the modern stop-drop-and-roll Golf kaleidoscope. And while the Beetle and Microbus are such iconic silhouettes that pretty much everybody in the world would probably be able to recognise them, the Karmann Ghia is something rather more offbeat.
“The reason I chose it is that the first time I saw one, I assumed it was a Porsche,” Pat admits. Although, to be fair, there’s more than a little shared DNA between Porsche and VW, so such a guess isn’t too much of a stretch.
The Karmann Ghia was one of those good ideas that we can all be thankful was pushed into existence. Fusing the bombproof aircooled underpinnings of the VW Beetle with an achingly gorgeous body styled by Ghia’s Luigi Segre, the hand-built coupé was a runaway success. It quickly became the USA’s biggest automotive import of its time, and the global production figure topped 445,000 in its 19-year run.
“THE KARMANN GHIA IS SOMETHING RATHER MORE OFFBEAT”
Okay, they weren’t quick. But they were easily tuneable, although the model was always meant to be more of a boulevard cruiser than a sports car. And that’s a brief that, as standard, it fulfils perfectly. These things operate on a sliding scale though, don’t they?
“I bought the KG because I saw my watercooled VW, a Passat CC, rapidly devaluing, while the insurance was going up,” says Pat. “It seemed a bit crazy, so I bit the bullet and bought something desirable that I could ultimately hand down to my son one day. It was restored by a retired engineer in the States who worked on it out of passion, and modified it to his liking. When I first had it imported over to Australia, I was only really planning on lowering it… How wrong I was!”
Indeed, there have been a fair few changes made to the car under Pat’s tenure, many of which are hiding under the skin beneath that flawless Polar Silver paint. But let’s look at the suspension first, shall we, given that it was priority number one in the grand plan?
Rather than go down the old-school route of drop spindles and what-have-you, Pat’s opted to employ the ever-so modern method of air-ride. Okay airride’s actually been around since World War Two. But you can’t deny it’s the darling of the stance scene these days. So it’s that the car borrows heavily from its younger VW brethren, by running Monroe air shocks at the front and a Limebug air-ride kit with Air Lift bags at the rear – to get the thing sitting snake’s-belly low on the showground, while also letting Pat keep his sump intact should he happen across a speed bump.
Speaking of sumps, let’s take a peek under that engine decklid. Remember how we were talking about the Ghia being a boulevard cruiser? Not so much here. “It’s running a Porsche 914 2.0-litre motor,” says Pat. “The internals are largely stock, but there’s a mild cam in there and it’s fuelled by twin Weber 40IDAs.” The performance figures may not look massive on paper, but as a percentage gain it’s really quite phenomenal.
A stock KG would offer somewhere south of 50bhp, while this 914 unit provides a dyno-certified 73bhp. Feisty, huh? In order to ensure that these newfound avenues of performance potential were easily mineable, the stock 1600 transmission was rebuilt with Freeway Flyer gears and a short-shift, while a rebuilt Airkewld steering box found its way up front. In combination with the top-flight air-ride setup and a beefed-up braking system (DBA front discs, and an Empi conversion to discs at the rear too), the refined chassis and Porsche flat-four now work in perfect harmony to keep this shimmering butterfly of a car streamlining along as it should.
With the go and the show taken care of – along with the stop, the sway, and plenty of wahey – the final piece of the puzzle was the interior. Pat’s had the stock seats retrimmed in a tasteful two-tone fusion of black vinyl and brown tweed, topping things off with a classy old-school Porsche-sourced Mota-Lita steering wheel. Timeless stuff, although again it’s interesting to note that Porsche accessories and tweed trim are heavy-hitters on the watercooled scene… further evidence of Pat’s over-arching artistic vision. And while the exterior is an exercise in textbook Karmann Ghia class, from the Euro bumpers to the custom front airdam, it’s the wheels that really are the cherry on the fusion-cooking cake: Schmidt TH Lines, as you’d expect to see on a slammed Polo or somesuch, but cunningly narrowed to fi t into the aircooled logic sphere.
What Pat’s achieved with this project is to harness the spirit of his more modern VWs and infuse it into a retro Dub platform; old school, new rules – and by keeping it all relatively restrained, the more outrageous features really shine through. As a family legacy, we imagine his son can’t wait to grow up and grab the keys.
DRIVER: PAT EUNG
What was the hardest part of the build? “The air-ride! Despite being a bolt-on kit, there were a lot of modi¬fications and tinkering to make it work. The wheels cost a fortune as they had to be rebuilt to ¬ t in with the suspension!”
What part of the build was the most enjoyable? “Again, the wheels and air-ride. As much as it was a headache, it was well worth it seeing people’s reactions to the end result. I took a gamble on the wheel choice, but it paid off.” Is there anything you’d do differently if you were to do it all over again?
“I would have taken it straight to Mike at CBB Tuning from the start. It would have saved me a lot of the hassle I had with other mechanics!”
Any modern extras are perfectly hidden away. We’re loving the custom tweed too!
Pat’s wheels neatly reflect this Karmann Ghia’s fusion of old and new, taking a design that’s popular and desirable in the watercooled scene and rebuilding it to aircooled specs. He began with a set of 8x17-inch Schmidt TH Lines, and artfully readjusted them to fit the bagged Ghia chassis. The rears have been barrelled down just a smidge to a slightly less arch-troubling 7-inch width, but the fronts are the real showstoppers: they measure an almost dragsterlike 4.5x17-inches, tucking perfectly into the front wings and giving a real nu-wave/retro vibe. The widths are classic, the diameter distinctly modern.
They certainly don’t come any cleaner than this.
TECH SPEC: Karmann Ghia
TUNING #1974 #Porsche-914
2.0-litre flat-four, fully rebuilt, stock internals, mild cam, twin #Weber
40IDFs, Pertronics electronic points, electric fuel pump, #Vintage-Speed
Type IV extractor system and Type 1 exhaust, stock gearbox rebuilt with Freeway Flyer gears, Vintage Speed short-shift.
CHASSIS 4.5x17in (front) and 7x17in (rear) #Schmidt-TH-Line
Lines, 165/40 (front) and 195/40 (rear) Nankangs, DBA front discs, #EMPI
rear disc conversion, early short axle, #Monroe
air shocks, #Limebug
rear air suspension kit, #AirLift
EXTERIOR Polar Silver paint, perfected by Elite Body Repairs, Euro bumpers, custom aluminium airdam and grille.
Porsche steering wheel, seats retrimmed in custom black vinyl and brown tweed by Sewfine, #VDO
gauges, Pioneer headunit with custom speakers in rear.
THANKS All the guys from Liverpool Harry’s for all their help and support – especially Rick and Ali. My wife Ley for putting up with my expensive habits and turning a blind eye most of the time!