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Restoration: 1971 Karmann Ghia Cabriolet

About This Vehicle

These photographs document this vehicle's complete restoration at our hands.

This vehicle came to us needing "a tune-up." The owner had bought it and it had never run right for them. The found it difficult to start and keep running and ran well on the highway but not around town. They needed someone competent and came to us.

We found the problem in mere moments; the vehicle had been an autostickshift and was incompletely converted for the standard transaxle as after removal of the autostickshift control mechanism, the pneumatic power take-off at the intake manifold had been left open to the atmosphere! Plugged, the engine ran great and the vehicle was on its way - it was a very inexpensive fix for a major running fault.

Delighted we didn't try and rip her off when others already had, the owner brought the car back, said she loved it and and asked for our opinion on what it might need as she was planning to keep the car long term. We knew it had rust issues because of the clear signs (photographs below), so we informed her. She said that she had bought the car very inexpensively, and now knew why, but asked if there was something that could be done.

Well, yes. We worked up a quote doing a restoration she could afford. We agreed on a pay-as-you-go plan, and things started off smoothly. However, a few months in, at the worst possible time, she got a new boyfriend who did not like the car and she abandoned the job. We ended up having to sell the car for unpaid storage fees and one of us bought it, then they put it up for sale.

Nobody seemed interested in a car except for salvage until one day someone decided they'd love to buy the car IF it were restored and converted into an electric car! The idea was a contract purchase for the completed car, as opposed to them purchasing it and then having it restored. Importantly, modification of the body in any way that would prevent it from "being returned to stock" fairly easily was refused. However, during the work, the buyer asked that the original stock dash - that was in pretty darned good condition, we think - be replaced with an early '60s dash. That was agreed to. And, some additional holes were added, in the stock locations Karmann added additional gauges in, to provide for the specialized gauges the electric system would require.

In the images below, pay attention to the hoist we use to lift (and work on) Karmann Ghia bodies. We have two such hoists and they replicate the original design used by Karmann when the cars were first manufactured.

Also note that we use a body-dolley which is an old Beetle chassis. Its only purpose is to help us move bodies around while protecting the original chassis. Note that the dolley has no floor sections whatsoever!

Don't overlook the door-opening braces either! These are key to protecting the fit of the doors following major work like replacing the rocker sections.


Here are some before shots:

Here's the obvious rust damage - look for the cracks:



And Center:

We could have captured more shots through the early restoration process - we think we have more... We'll add them as we find them, or contact us for specific requests if you'd like.

In particular, the denuded rockers were an ugly sight to behold. Most of that metal has gone off to make new coat-hangers somewhere, but we may have some pics of them...

The Body

We pick up next with the right side rocker mid-way through:

Above we see the inner stucture with the rusted parts cut away, and new metal welded in - mostly - and it's all painted with POR-15 to prevent any further rusting. Whenever the POR-15 gets scratched, ground away or otherwise compromised, we usually apply more over the top, but sometimes we cover it with enamel. You can pick out a few such places in these images where you see the texture change.

OK, and below, we see the rear section of this same area:

Next, we installed the stiffener unique to cabriolets. Note that the right and left sides have stiffeners made by different manufacturers! This was purely due to availability issues - neither type was available as pairs at the moment they were needed.

The one on the right is least like the originals, but is probably stronger.

Again, note the extra paint applied along the top edge. You simply cannot have too much paint protecting your rockers!

Now for the left side - we took more photos of the left side...

First, below, we see the inner substructure mostly already repared. You can see that many patches were used.

Now, with the last of the sub-structure patches applied:

We always trial fit pieces, and on this side we found a serious problem. Note in this image (below) that we've tacked in place the convertible-only stiffener. (Yes, this one is the one that's most like the stock stiffener.) Pay close attention to the metal at the bottom edge.

Now note the same area with the stiffener welded in - and coated with POR-15 (the gloss gives it away) - and note that there's more metal below the stiffener. This piece had to be added in order to accommodate the outer skin properly. We'll show you why a bit further down.

Alright, why did we have to do that? Take a look at the bottom edge of the outer skin in the next photograph. Yes, the skin's welded in already, but look for the lower edge as it runs fore-aft. Roughly where it meets the back edge of the door (below the "lock pillar") and you'll see that it dips down at this point, lower. If we had not added the extra metal for the skin to weld to, that portion of the outer skins lower lip would have "run off" the rocker's substructure in that area.

We're not entirely sure why this piece was short. We have an NOS rocker skin hidden away; maybe someday we'll measure things very carefully and be able to report back where the fault on this lay - was it our fault for not making a tall enough repair to the original substructure? We think not! More likely, the reproduction skin isn't quite what the original was. But, it doesn't matter so long as the parts are welded in properly and it's all sealed up nicely. ...Do note that we subsequently cut off the extra material, keeping the line horizontal.

Finally, the front area. On the right, the stiffener was sufficiently long that it went under the reinforcement piece that strengthens the hing pillar area. So, instead of having to cut it off, as the hinge pillar stiffener was rotted away at the very bottom, we just tied it in to the rocker stiffener and we're sure it's stronger than new.

However, on the left, this more-stock-like convertible stiffener doesn't go far enough forward. So, if you look very carefully - it's all black! - you can see that we added two diagonal guesets to the bottom of a very thick metal plate we welded to the bottom of the hinge pillar reinforcement stiffener. What you can't see at all is that we used a very thick piece of material in the fore-aft direction - and welded it in from the back-side, too - just at the bottom of the reinforcement stiffener. These pieces were made out of bar stock and welded with heavy gussetting.

The reason did it this way was because the hinge pillar stiffener was rotted away, but only at the very bottom, and the new part is on the order of $100 and we'd only be using the bottom inch and a half, at most. (The whole part is around a foot tall.)

Following this, the remaining four pieces of fender skin were installed, the rear ends of the fronts, and the front ends of the rears, and then that body of work was complete. Next up was the dash.

Yes, our customer asked us to replace the dash with one from an earlier car. So, we sourced the replacement dash first, then got out the plasma cutter and removed the original dash - at the moment it remains available for someone who needs to fix a younger Ghia!

Here's the cut out dash:

Here is the hole we left behind - now ready for the "new" one!

OK, so far so good - how well did we do? Hmmm, trial fit, of course!

All right, now weld it in!

Now it's welded in, and ONLY now can we "surface" it correctly, in the same order as the factory did, though the earliest cars had much better steel pressings and had a lot more bodywork attention given to the dashes as they were welded in. This surfacing cannot be done prior to installation because the surface level of the dash is dependent upon the exact alignment of the lips of the cowel and dash pressings at the windshield's mounting lip. Thus, we continued on as follows - note multiple applications of plastic filler was required in the area between the radio grille and the passenger side air vent:

We don't have any specific shots of it, but at this point, we double-checked that ALL the underneath areas were thoroughly painted with POR-15, not only the rocker areas we worked on, but all the other areas, too. It took several passes to ensure there were no places that were not fully protected.

It is important to note that our customer did not wish to pay us to fix all the body's problems, but were willing to pay us to fully apply POR-15 on the areas we were to leave alone. And we're happy for that because we couldn't imagine leaving anything to rust.

Now, with all the metal work done and all the painting underneath behind us, it's time to put the body on the dolley so it's not moving around while trying to do the sanding and other finish work.

We did a bit of plastic work on the weld areas of the outer skin in the vacinity of the rocker repairs and then later wheeled the machine out of the bay and took this photo.

And lets not ignore the left side, though it's up against the shed:

Ouch, there's a nasty scratch in the front right fender. While we knocked all the dents out and the metal is at the right "height", the undercoating prevents perfect hammer-and-dolley work and while we could have removed the undercoating that wouldn't have helped with the significant gouge into the metal itself:

So , we filled it:



The Electric Conversion

We ordered up our custom-designed dual-winding motor from Kostov in Bulgaria and about 8 months later, we received this:

And removed from the crate, we got this:

We needed a hub to mate a flywheel to the motor, and, due to length, we couldn't use a standard off-the-shelf part from a Volkswagen EV kit. (Same thing for the mounting of the motor to the transaxle, too, by the way!)

So, we got on the laythe, made a round piece with a shoulder for the flywheel that would index on the OD, mated to the maximum length of the motor shaft, broached a keyway, slit it, made threaded high-grade pinch bolt bores, drilled dowel pin holes and threaded four high-grade mounting bolts for the flywheel to the hub. We finished all this off by balancing the flywheel on the hub, with the pressure plate, and then made a special bushing for the transaxle input shaft.

We photographed some of this:




We then had to notch the motor's mounting flange to provide access to the hub's inner pinch bolt. Here it is with the flywheel mounted to the motor via the hub:

Then we had to fabricate the motor to transaxle mounting plate. This we did in two aluminum parts bolted on and together with four high-grade socket head screws. Making the plate was hard because of the size and the need for holding pretty good tolerances for concentricity across several parts.

This was a lot more tricky than it might appear, but we don't want to give away the ingredients to all our secret sauces! So, these few images will have to suffice - lets just say, this is not a trivial job...


Cutting the center away was a lot more challenging than it might appear here...

OK, the plate's all done but the mounting holes to the transaxle, but then there's the "spacer", that centers and spaces everything.

The spacer has the same basic problem - how to cut the center out when the part is too large for the laythe?! AND keep it to half a thousandth of an inch tolerance!

We know, it looks really easy... but it's not, especially if you don't want to turn all the unneeded material into chips.

OK, OK, here's a little more about doing the spacer:

Here are the completed parts:

And here they are all installed:





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