NEW HARTFORD, CT – Regina Wexler grew up in a family that had a fondness for German-made Volkswagens. “We had Beetles, we had square backs, my cousins had a big bus, and my grandparents, who immigrated here from Germany, they had a Karmann Ghia,” Wexler recalled as she stood beside a blue and white 1972 Kharmann Ghia model that sat outside her New Hartford home.
Her grandparents had 1974 Karmann Ghia and she learned to drive on it. “It was a semi-automatic, so it had a stick shift but no clutch on the floor,” she reported before explaining how she came to drive it.
“My grandmother didn’t learn how to drive until she was in her late 40s, early 50s and my grandfather’s vision started to fail, so this was an easy car for her to drive. Unfortunately, my grandfather died a year after they got it. So it was, sad to say, perfect timing for my sister and myself because I was just getting my driver’s license and my grandmother was more than happy to let us do the driving. I essentially drove that Karmann Ghia any place she wanted to go until I went off to college, and I always wanted to find another one.”
Check out RIDE-CT’s video on the 1972 Karmann Ghia:
It was roughly nine years ago that Wexler located a Karmann Ghia to her liking in Agawam, Mass. “The body was in decent shape. There was no Bondo,” she said, referring to the body filler used to restore car exteriors. “There had never been any attempts to restore it.”
The Karmann Ghia came with extensive paperwork from its original owner; a woman who lived in the South. “You could really track this lady’s life. You could see when she got married. You could she when her name changed back to her maiden name. She appeared to get married again, and at one point she did move to Colorado and there’s a Rocky Mountain Triple-A sticker on the back bumper which I’ve kept there,” Wexler said.
Originally solid blue, the first owner added an aftermarket black vinyl top. When the woman died, her nephew sold the car to a man in Agawam from whom Wexler acquired it. “When it came to me, that vinyl top had been peeled off,” she said. “I kind of equate the vinyl top as grandma putting plastic on the couch. You’re protecting it from what? When I first got it, the body paint was pretty faded but the paint on the top was beautiful; like it has never seen daylight.”
Getting the rear-engine Karmann Ghia running again was a team effort that took two years. Wexler had cousins who handled the exterior. An old high school friend, who was a mechanic, took care of the 1,600cc, four-cylinder engine. “It purrs like a kitten. Starts right up every spring. I try to drive it at least a few times every week so it doesn’t sit because it likes to run,” she said.
Volkswagen built the Karmann Ghia between 1955 and 1974. It was a 2+2 model with bucket seats in front and tiny seats in the rear. “None of them really have a back seat. This pretends to, but unless you’re a person who can sit cross-legged, there’s no place to actually put your legs in back if anyone over five feet tall is driving in front,” Wexler said.
The Karmann Ghia came in two body styles – coupe and convertible. Wexler desired a coupe. “I really did not want a convertible. My hair is crazy enough. I didn’t need that additional wind issue and, plus, I like to have my little dog as a co-pilot and don’t want him jumping out of a convertible, so I purposely was looking for a coupe,” she said.
While the Karmann Ghia was all blue as delivered from the factory, Wexler preferred a two-tone look. “In Europe, it was very common to actually paint them two-tone. If you look through the Karmann Ghia literature you can see that this was a pretty common color combination in Europe – the Aegean blue body, and this was original color that we had matched and a white top.”
The Karmann Ghia was built on a VW Beetle platform. “It’s got more of a sports car feel certainly than a Beetle and obviously it’s a little more aerodynamic than a Beetle is,” said Wexler, acknowledging that the model isn’t that quick.
“It’s not going to win any races with riding mowers, but it is fun and that’s the point to me. I’m now a retired divorce lawyer, so I’m not used to having people wave at me and smile but driving this, that’s what they do. And I can’t tell you what a comfort that’s been to me on some really bad days.”
(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the “Republican-American” newspaper on Feb. 5, 2022)