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20 Jan 2015

VW Karmann Ghia

VW Karmann Ghia

Karma What?

Text and photos: Reinis Babrovskis

If there was a car that really made an impression in Northern Ireland’s car scene in 2014 it certainly has to be Matt’s stunning 1972 VW Karmann Ghia. When the car made its debut entrance at the Loughgall Festival of Motorsport show there wasn’t a person left unimpressed. A huge crowd gathered round the impressive machine, including me. I remember somebody amongst the crowd asking “Is that a Porsche? No, it’s an Aston! - somebody answered”. There are not too many Karmann Ghias on these shores as you can imagine so unless you were born in the 50’s or heavily into the VW scene it is not a shame to admit you haven’t heard of this car before.
Produced in the 1950s this magical VW stunned the world from the day of its launch. Contracted by the VW the respectable automotive and coach firm Carrozzeria Ghia’s designer Luigi Segre came up with the concept in 1953. The car was introduced as a 2+2 seater in the Paris Motor show and offered as an alternative to the popular Beetle model. Following the positive feedback from the general public VW immediately contracted the independent car manufacturer Karmann to start the production of the vehicles. The sales of the Karmann Ghia, internationally known as Type 14, began in 1955 and around half a million Karmann Ghias were produced for the European and U.S. markets.
The Karmann Ghia shared its chassis and engine with its daddy – the Beetle; the small, underpowered engine though meant it never obtained the sports car title. The appeal; however, came from the glorious looks – in contrast to the raw Beetle with its machine welded body, bolt-on fenders, the Ghias were butt-welded, hand shaped and smoothed resulting in much more appealing design and higher price tag. Smooth body lines, beautiful interior and the flat four noise (even if underpowered) was the perfect combination and it is of no surprise this car has been described as “one of the world's most beautifully designed products” by the American industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague. 
For Matt owning a Ghia was a dream car true, since it was The Car he desired for the last 20 years. With the rest of the world sharing such a passion for the car it’s not a surprise that finding one is tricky enough, so when the car came up for sale in 2013 Matt couldn’t resist. 
Matt’s Karmann Ghia began its life in San Bruno in 1972, it was green and equipped with the facelift 1600cc engine. It spent most of its life in the sunny California before it was imported to the UK in 1996. The Ghia was fully restored, re-sprayed in silver and upgraded to the 2110cc engine. In 2013 the car sadly was involved in a heart breaking accident, when due to a hand brake failure previous owner’s VW Camper van rolled into the Karmann Ghia damaging the front of the car. The car was stripped of its engine and advertised on ebay. Outbidded by £50 in the last second Matt was left heartbroken. Luckily for him the phone rang 24h later and the owner informed that the bidder withdrew so after 20 years Matt was now the proud owner of a VW Karmann Ghia. After 6 long and painful weeks of waiting a trailer was arranged and a road trip to the south of England was arranged to transport the car to its new home.
Owning a damaged car repair business and being very handy with a spray gun meant that majority of the work , apart from the interior trim, would be done by Matt and his sons! The long and dark winter nights were the perfect time to do the project for the upcoming show season. The car was completely stripped revealing that the car bodywork was actually in a very good condition with barely any rust. To his surprise the frontal damage turned out to be minimal. Car was primed and ready for the paint. Matt admits he didn’t want the car to look too modern so the colour choice was a unique silver mixture.

Matt ordered a couple of nose grills, 15W Porsche Fuch replicas and an SS bumper that he sourced from Vietnam. When the bodywork was returned to the former glory it was time to turn to the engine…that the car was still missing.

The choice of the engine was tough – after having driven his friend’s 1600cc Ghia he knew that the car deserved more power. For a moment Matt was toying with the idea of a Subaru boxter transplant; however, the air cooled flat four engine had its appeal. In the end he sourced the 2165cc stroker engine from the VW camper, ironically from the one that damaged the car in the first place. The engine had developed a bottom rattle it required a complete rebuild. Engine was rebuilt on a raised-roof crankcase with CB Performance Magnum cylinder heads, twin-40 Dellorto carbs, external oil cooler set-up, Engle 110 cam, Mahle pistons, SCAT I-beam rods, chromoly pushrods and many more goodies. The Ghia also received a new lightened and balanced flywheel and a Stage 2 Kennedy clutch. The car sounds marvellous and has plenty of torque and power to match the looks. 
Dropped on the spindles the arch gaps are filled with the stunning Porsche Fuchs replicas. In order to accommodate the wheels the brakes had to be re-drilled from the standard 4X130 to the Porsche 5X130 stud pattern. The stance is certainly strong with this one! 
Once the exterior was sorted it was time to turn to the interior; seats, dash as well as the bonnet compartment and headlining were re-trimed in stunning red leather. The Headrests were removed from the Recaro seats to add a more classical flavour to them. Other modifications include the wooden Grant steering wheel, uber cool Gene Berg gear level, insane Sport Comp monster tach , custom gauges that complement the majestic standard dials.

Matt has ticked all the boxes with his project taking what would have been an already incredible car back in the fifties to the next level. The “Cali” stanced Ghia turned necks throughout the whole 2014 show season bringing home multiple prizes, including a couple “Car of the show” awards; by the end of the summer 2014 the Ghia was posing on top of the magazine covers. Matt; I must add though, is has some tricks up his sleeve that he wants to complete during the long winter evenings again and the 2015 show season should see the car return with some more surprises.


  1. Looks like Matt and his sons put in a lot of work on that car. Every detail was well-planned, and the design was spectacular. I also commend them for picking those striking colors for the interior and exterior. Anyway, you never fail to present exquisite photos, Reinis. I look forward to seeing other cars that you’ll feature in your future posts. I wish you all the best!

    Bob Dunn

  2. Such a lovely masterpiece, love this......