How Works a Volkswagen? Karmann Ghia Type III Rebuild, Part 1

There are more than 600 ber-exotic Porsche Carrera GTs in North America. My buddy Scott estimates there are between 30 and 40 first-year (1962) Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type IIIs on this continent — and he asked me to help him rebuild his. Luckily, for the both of us, the rare two-door is considered a Type III, but was badged and sold as a VW 1500 Karmann-Ghia.

The car in question was a daily driver until five years ago, when "something" went askew in cylinder #2. Since Scott had a Squareback to fix up in the interim, the funky Karmann sat waiting — until now. On one of the hottest, most miserable Los Angeles afternoons in memory, we dropped and stripped the engine. We had two goals: ascertain why the bad cylinder had lost compression, and get it ready for an upcoming rebuild.

How Works a Volkswagen? Karmann Ghia Type III Rebuild, Part 1


We wound up snapping a torque wrench trying to remove the fan bolt. However, for a mill that hadn't turned over in five years, things were in surprisingly good shape. We found no metal bits in the oil or stripped screws. Only a single bolt was seized, but Scott feels a bigger screwdriver will do the trick.

How Works a Volkswagen? Karmann Ghia Type III Rebuild, Part 1


My favorite part of the day was checking out the factory tools Scott's collected. One is a flywheel lock, another a fan puller, both the height of pistonhead chic.

How Works a Volkswagen? Karmann Ghia Type III Rebuild, Part 1


Perhaps even cooler than the car itself is the ancient but storied manual we consulted during the teardown, "How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat (sic) Idiot." Written and illustrated by hippies in the R. Crumb style, it covers everything from proper gear speeds for various engines to where to bang to remove a stuck head, noting, "This is very important — especially in San Francisco."

How Works a Volkswagen? Karmann Ghia Type III Rebuild, Part 1

How Works a Volkswagen? Karmann Ghia Type III Rebuild, Part 1


After checking out the book (and rubber-malleting the appropriate screws) we discovered the culprit was not, in fact, a bad piston (as Scott had hoped) or bum cylinder (as Scott had feared), but instead a "sucked" exhaust valve, possibly the result of a cracked head. The engine had been through at least one cheeseball rebuild (using rivets in place of bolts!) and much TLC will be needed to get it shipshape. Scott is also replacing the 1.5-liter cylinders, which pump out a paltry 54 hp, with 1.6-liter guys. The resulting 70 hp won't snap any necks, but should be plenty to motivate the one-ton-ish Ghia around town just fine for Sunday drives.

How Works a Volkswagen? Karmann Ghia Type III Rebuild, Part 1


The car's original pastel green (still visible in the engine bay) and the repainted canary yellow both offend Scott's sensibilities. Luckily, black was a paint option back in '62.

[by Jonny Lieberman]

Author's Note: This article is the first of three. Stay tuned to see how the engine performs once it comes back from the machinist and how it looks after it is blacked out and the chrome gets polished. After that, I get to drive it!