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Reader Find: Papa’s Ol’ Ghia

1974 Karminn Ghia

Update Dec 29, 2014 – Brian promised himself that he would get his grandfather’s Karmann Ghia back on the road by Christmas and I’m excited to report that not only did he get it back on the road for Christmas, he was able to drive it to over 100 miles without any issues. All the engine needed was a good tune up, but the brakes had to be rebuilt and most of the fuel system needed replacing. It still needs a few things, but they are mostly cosmetics issues. He’s also excited to let everyone know how surprised the whole family was to see it and that when he pulled into the drive way his grandfather was all smiles! It sounds like all the hard work was well worth it! Be sure to read Brian’s original story and see his most recent photos below. Special thanks to Brian for the update!

From Sept 27, 2014 – Some of the best finds really aren’t finds at all. They sometimes are cars that have been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember. They might be our first car or one that we grew up going on family vacations in. And whether they are rare or run of the mill family haulers, they hold a special place in our hearts because of the roll they played in our lives. Well Brian C’s recent find has been a part of the family for nearly 40 years and holds a special place for him. To really do this story justice, I will let Brian tell you it in his own words.

VW GhiaI wanted to share the car I recently picked up. It may not be the rarest vehicle, or the most exciting, but it has a good story, with what I assume will be a pretty happy ending here in the next few months or so! This 1974 VW Karmann Ghia has been in my grandfather’s (Papa’s) hands since 1977. He worked at University Volkswagen in Seattle as a salesman for a majority of his career. He took this in on a trade and decided he liked it enough to keep it. It was his on and off commuter into the early 1990’s when he decided to restore it. He put a new interior in, fixed some small body damage, rebuilt much of the mechanicals and got the car ready for paint.

Ghia Speedo

About that time his 5 children, my mom included, decided it would be a great present to him to have the car painted as a surprise for his birthday or some other holiday, I can’t remember exactly. So they snuck it off to the paint shop and had it sprayed. Low and behold, it was the wrong shade of orange, not factory, as my Papa had wanted. The car was driven slightly thereafter, and I even remember riding in it when I was about 5 years old. Come 1994, the almost perfect condition car is parked and hasn’t seen the road since. Until now at least!

Brian, Papa, and GhiaIt has been parked at my grandparent’s farm and as a car lover myself for the majority of my life, I always wanted to do something with it, but I knew it was sort of a sensitive subject. After 20 years I decided it was time something got said and so I started talking to my Papa about the ol’ Ghia in the gravel. He said take it. But to be fair I gave him some cash. The Ghia, with less than 90,000 original miles, got some new tires and made it to my backyard via trailer where it is now parked next to my Opel GT. Without much work a buddy and I were able to get it sputtering, but it will be a long ways before she’s cruising. However, I told my Papa I would drive the car back out to the farm come Christmas time and hopefully get him back behind the wheel!

Ghia and Opel

So while it may not be the most exciting vehicle, it is certainly a sentimental one. And hopefully someday it will be the right color!

I want to thank Brian for sharing this story with us and I wish him the best with his new project! It is always good to hear stories like this, it reminds me of all the cars that have played a roll in shaping my automotive passion and who I am today. How about you guys, any cars that really made an impact on you?

Updated Photos


  1. Graham Line

    That is a hideous orange. Why do paint shops have such trouble? I’ve had an ivory MGA resprayed in Ford Wimbledon White (Ray Charles could have made a closer match) and a dark blue Fiat shot with medium blue.

    The Ghia could be entertaining as a project. Dump the Riviera wheels, though.

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    • cory

      Guessing the rivieras were put on just to move it

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      • Brian C Member


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    • Dirty Dingus McGee

      I wont blame EVERY paint mixup on the body shop, some would have to go to the supplier that mixes the paint. I know in years past I gave them the code straight off the trim tag and it would turn out to be the wrong shade. The fault lies in some minimum wage schlub in the back that isn’t paying close enough attention to the measurements of the various shades going into the mix. Suddenly the pale yellow you thought you were getting is now lemon yellow. And with the car masked off and in primer you likely won’t notice until you find an original bit of paint during reassembly. And to top it off, I have seen factory mix paint from different suppliers that are slightly different shades. Best bet is to get the paint in advance, test spray a junk part(using the primer you plan to use on the car as it will also effect the color coat) and compare it to the original finish. Yes it’s time consuming, but it beats having to do a complete respray to satisfy a PO’ed customer.

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      • dj

        It’s not the body shop and sometimes not the paint shop either. I had an 1987 E30 BMW that was red. The color code showed it to be red(Zinoberrot) which was the car’s color. Somewhere along the way, BMW changed the color code to match Cinnabar. Which is a more pinkish, cinnamon color. I had no idea they did this. My dad was bored and wanted to spray the car. I never looked at the paint to check the color. Dad’s color blind. So I go to get the car and it’s the wrong color. He didn’t know it. It was too late since I used expensive clear on it. I hated that car after that and sold it. Lesson learned. Always check your paint before leaving the paint store.

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  2. rusty

    nice story…update us when your papa drives it at christmas.

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  3. Jimbosidecar

    HA! Reminds me of a time when I had my BMW motorcycle painted. I asked for British Racing Green, but to make sure the paint matched the powdercoating. What came back was the frame in the same color as an early 70s Plymouth Lime Green, and the paint work a dark, almost black green. Man was it ugly…

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  4. Jim VB

    Two cars of my past. The Ghia and the Opel GT. Loved the GT the best and have had 10 of them including a 20 year barn find.

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  5. DT

    Christmas is coming…hurry up make Papa happy!!!

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  6. Darren

    Lets hear about the OPAL GT ! & pics.

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  7. stanleystalvey

    A scrub brush and some soap wouldn’t hurt. It’s not like having to paint a large car. A quart of paint would be all it takes.. A better color would improve the looks considerably and improve everyone’s enthusiasm for the project. Heck, I’d paint it first and do the mechanical stuff later. Using fender skirts, of course..

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  8. FRED

    the car that does it for me is a 1968 ford mustang that i traded my 1969 mg midget for. my cousin who had just got back from his second tour in vietnam wanted the mg and i wanted the mustang so he gave me the mustang and $300. i loved that car, it was mystic blue with gt wheels. it had a 289 with automatic that i quickly rebuilt. owned it for three years before selling it and regret that i did. have you ever tried looking for a 68 mustang ? impossible to find. i’m still looking so if any of your readers find one please let me know.

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  9. Jim

    Awesome story !!! I’d give it back to my gandpa after restoring it until he passed if it were me.

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  10. Rich Behrends

    First thing I would do is to find out just how rusted the underneat is.
    Sitting outside for 10 years there will be some major rust issues to take care of.
    1974 was the last year of the Karmann Ghia so I would be checking the chassis numbers
    to see just how close it is to being one of the last ones made. If it’s the last one made then every dollar spent to save it is well spent. Only 7,167 are titled as 1974 which is the second lowest production since the first ones where built in 1955. 1955 production was 1,282. A total of 363,401 coupes where built between 1955-1974 as compaired to 80,899 convertibles and none been built in 1955,1956,1974. Fun car when fixed correctly. And by the way 1974’s where built in 1973 but titled as 1974. Chassic numbers for the last production run are. 143·2000·001 through 143·3200·001

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    • Brian C Member

      Thanks for the info! The pan is actually pretty solid. The rear fender has the worst of the rust, and where the battery sits, but besides that (so far) we are looking to be pretty lucky in terms of rust.

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  11. bcav

    Have your paint supplier mix a pint… spray a test panel OVER the primer you will use.
    THEN COMPARE IT TO A CLEAN EXISTING SAMPLE. The sun will always change colors so try to find something under the interior to compare to. FIND A FRIENDLY HAIRDRESSER.
    Thats right… they are great with colors! They will tell you what tints you need to make it right.
    Go back to the mixer/supplier and play with the paint. IF THEY WON’T HELP…
    FIND ANOTHER SUPPLIER! Do not settle for just anything. You are spending $$$ so get it ri ght !.. Nothing is as satisfying as a great respray that reflects the correct hue.
    Enjoy your Ghia, they are cool ! Blood orange is a lot more reddish. You can do it!

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  12. Chuck Foster Chuck F

    I bought a 71 KG in college, late 70s, heater channels were shot, NE Indiana snow belt, I would scrape the inside of the windshield to see where I was going in the middle of winter. I remember putting a header muffler on it and it perked it up quite a bit. I bought it from a body shop, it was pearl yellow, and had mountain murals on the hood and trunk, almost a show car but for the rusty rockers.

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  13. Trickie Dickie Member

    So good to see the car name listed 100% correctly as a VW Karmann Ghia. The last time one was listed in the local paper under sports cars it came out as a VW Common Gear.

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  14. jim s

    will be a nice car to drive but fixing the rust will be costly, most/all of the rest is just VW parts. i would love to own one. thanks for sharing.

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  15. Dolphin Member

    Congrats, Brian, for getting the K-G back on the road. You must have a feeling of satisfaction about getting your Papa’s car into roadworthy shape and then going for a long drive in it.

    If you drive it around town much you will probably get plenty of looks and comments about a car that many people have never seen on the road and want to know more about. To me, the looks, comments, and questions are part of the reward for doing the work on the car because it shows that people are interested in rare and unusual cars like yours that are actually being used. Best of luck with your vintage K-G.

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  16. sir mike

    good job Brian..

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  17. jim s

    on the road again and i hope it stays that way. what a nice job. thanks for sharing and please keep the updates coming.

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    My first car was a ’65 Ghia. Got it from my brother in law in 1974. 40,000 miles -ran like a top but 10 years in Upstate NY did the body in. I was going to fix it up – but when I pulled out the carpet ( I was going to put leftover orange shag in !!!) the rear wheels were staring at me. no wheelwells at all. So, Dad found a ’64 – new paint looked great etc.And it had a gas heater !!! Would fry your toes off. So, the 65 was parked and I scavenged parts off it to keep the 64 going. After the first winter the bondo feel off in 1 inch chunks. Got stopped buy the police for having no tailights on. They were on , but between 6 volts, cold winter weather and the fact that the dealer painted over the bullbs and reflectors they were very dim.
    Great car to learn on – oil changes every 1500 miles ( no filter), swapping carbs, starters, etc. Learned a lot. Would love to have one now – but only from SoCal !!

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  19. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Yay, Brian!!!! Congratulations! I’m hoping at least one of those running pictures was with your grandfather in the car–what a terrific time :-)

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  20. Bobby D

    Great story, I hope grandpa was excited

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