While writing this blog, we’ve met so many people whose love for cars turned into a career involving cars in one way or another. Some people become mechanics or journalists. Others become salespeople or professional racing drivers. However, the kind of people you don’t hear about or meet terribly often, aside from executives, are the people who work for manufacturers. Pete is one of a select (relative)few who have been able to turn their passion for a specific auto brand into a career with the same company. His current project car, a 1970 VW Karmann Ghia coupe is an excellent representation of the culmination of his knowledge of and passion for Volkswagen, where he is employed as a Quality Technical Manager Region Leader for the central United States. In speaking with Pete, this passion and knowledge both shine through and show why his choice restore a Karmann Ghia over so many other possible Volkswagens is significant as somebody who works for the company.
Pete grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland absolutely enamored with cars, as young boys tend to be. His brother fed into this interest with cars because he was a mechanic with his own garage. He often hung around with his brother and helped out wherever he could. As Pete gained experience working on cars, though, he came to be frustrated with the poor reliability of the British-built Fords that he and his brother often worked on together. Pete began to appreciate other cars for their reliability and engineering, notably Volkswagens. While speaking with us, Pete mentions specifically that he began gravitating towards Volkswagens simply because they lasted longer without rusting in Ireland’s car-unfriendly climate. He knew that he wanted to work on cars for a living, like his brother, and pursued an automotive degree in college. As he began building his career, Pete was fortunate to land an apprenticeship under Terry McEvoy, a Volkswagen-Audi-Porsche mechanic who was considered one of the best mechanics in Ireland. This apprenticeship would lead to a career as a mechanic that would eventually get Pete a job with Volkswagen corporate. Along the way he owned several different Volkswagens.
Pete has much respect for older, air-cooled VW’s like his current project car, but he grew up driving more modern, water-cooled models. He still remembers his first car, a VW Polo, which he crashed rather quickly. He says that he “drove like a lunatic” when he was young and often crashed his cars as a result of his recklessness. After his first Polo came another one, 3 Mk2 Golfs including a GTI, so many Mk4 GTI’s that he lost count, and even a 5-cylinder Audi 90 Sport coupe. For years, Pete lived and breathed VW on the daily and still does. He worked around many different models of VW that are still popular today, often being seen at shows put on by younger enthusiasts, such as Radwood. However, about a year ago, Pete spotted a VW Karmann Ghia project for sale on Facebook. He’d never owned an older air-cooled VW model and was interested in rectifying that.
When Pete bought his Karmann Ghia, it was just a shell and some parts that were packaged with it. The previous owner had bought the car, hoping to fix it up for his daughter, but she took one look at it and said she didn’t want to drive it. It was too ugly for her. This disappointment for the previous owner was Pete’s lucky day. He brought the Ghia home and quickly set about working to get it back on the road. The engine was removed, taken apart, and cleaned. He also took the body shell, which had already been prepared for painting, was painted a lovely combination of blue with a white roof. Chrome “California style” trim around the windows was added, and the interior was redone by a California-based company called Preston Interiors. The one thing Pete says he doesn’t want to do is tune the engine for performance. That makes sense, considering that the Ghia was designed to be more of a comfortable cruiser, rather than an entry level Porsche. Sure, the car was built partly because Porsche couldn’t build enough cars to satisfy demand in the US, but its commonalities with the ever-popular Beetle would prevent the Ghia from being an all-out sports car. Pete’s decision to not tune the engine also shows how well he understands the car and its unusual history.
One of the reasons that Pete bought his Karmann Ghia is because he considers them to be one of the most unique cars that Volkswagen has ever made. Considering the background of the car, he makes a good point. Aside from making up for inadequate production from partner company, Porsche, the Ghia was meant to be an upscale car to draw attention to the Volkswagen brand: a halo car. In modern times, Volkswagen has had other halo cars such as the Bentley Continental-based Phaeton, the CC, and currently, the Arteon. However, the important difference between these cars and the Ghia was that it wasn’t being sold on luxury or features. It was simply being sold as a comfortable cruiser with a gorgeous design. In this way, the Ghia is a lot like the first generation Ford Thunderbird. Both cars were built on the platforms of much more basic models in their respective companies’ lineups, but were sold as comfortable 2-door cruisers with slightly nicer interiors than the rest of their manufacturers’ other models. In fact, the Ghia was built with the North American market heavily in mind, so it could be said that a Ghia is an American cruiser built Euro-style.
What helped the Ghia stand apart was its styling by Italian design house Carrozzeria Ghia, and handbuilt bodywork by Karmann. Despite the bodywork, which required a much longer fabrication process that usual, the car was built in the hundreds of thousands. In this way, the Karmann Ghia coupe is very different in that it was designed and built using collaborations outside of Volkswagen. This created a handbuilt halo car for the brand that ultimately stayed true to VW’s tradition of mass production. When Pete says he chose the car because it’s unique, that wasn’t a simple comment on the car’s styling. He understands the significance of the model’s history, including why and how it was built. His choice of the Karmann Ghia is truly a testament to why Volkswagen hired Pete in the first place. He understands the cars beyond their mechanical aspects to see what truly makes them stand out or appeal to consumers and enthusiasts alike.
As for what Pete plans to do once he has the Ghia up and running, he says that he wants to share the car with his family. More importantly, he says he plans to garage the car during the summer. After all, as nice as a Karmann Ghia is, many of them are missing one thing: air conditioning.