In our family it's a 1956 Karmann Ghia, still running on the same 36-horsepower engine from that first year Ghias were exported.
Still shiny as ever in faux Mercedes silver gray. Every member of the family has put their dent in it, but the Ghia endures on the road and in our hearts. Earlene hasn't exactly wrecked it, but the steering wheel came off in her hands once. She made a safe emergency landing, stuck the steering wheel back into place and made it to a mechanic.
I remember her words: "I'm afraid I did something terrible to the Ghia!"
The mileage odometer broke in the late '50s and I thought the repair price was outrageous, so we never fixed it. The speedometer still registers in kilometers-per-hour like a finely tuned cuckoo clock. By family estimates, there are enough miles on the Ghia to reach the moon and back.
While in Europe ('56-'64), it went from one end of the continent to the other. Then it moved with the family to the U.S. ('64-to now) where it traveled cross country at least five times and north-south as many, in addition to years of ferrying all the kids to school.
It has had its share of bumps and scrapes: a busted windshield that I had to fix in Aachen, Germany, while headed for the Brussels World Fair, a broken Ghia nose several times, and a smash up at a stop sign by a monster Oldsmobile when the insurance wanted to wash out the wreckage. The family made me buy back the hulk and my father, a master body-and-fender man from the old school, made it whole again.
Small price to pay for restoration of the slowest car ever driven by Grand Prix driver Leo Levine around the Nurburgring.
There's still a dent in the dashboard made by daughter Carole's chin when her sis Deb bopped the rear end of a big station wagon. We still have a "US Forces in Germany" license under the Arizona historic plate and a DDR (East Germany) plate in front that doesn't even represent a country anymore.
Who says VW air conditioning doesn't work? It's been driven on the Mille Miglia course like a race car and across the Brenner Pass maybe 10 times. I can vouch that you get brisk cooling out of the heater pipes going down a mountain or hot air from the same pipes in the hot summer while toiling through the gears going uphill.
With Quartermaster gas in those days at 12 cents a gallon, but only available at bases in Germany, I would put a five-gallon GI jerry can in the Ghia's front luggage hatch. That reserve would take me from, say, Frankfurt to Vienna and back, or from Germany to Denmark and home through the Netherlands or from central Germany to the boot of Italy and back. No gas gauge existed in the early model Ghias; you kicked a reserve lever for 1.5 more gallons on the first engine sputter.
But at least it has directional signals and not the old mox-nix stix seen on VWs of that era.
On the night Charles deGaulle was brought back into the presidency of France I got caught in the bumper-to-bumper celebration on the Champs Elysees where Gaullists were jumping from the top of one car to another waving the Cross of Lorraine. I spent the gridlocked night sitting on top of the Ghia to shoo Gaullists away.
Son-in-law Todd has Ghia custody now and wins prizes in shows and at rallyes. I can always tell the sound of all 36-horsepower on that washing-machine engine ticking away when Todd leaves for work.
Oh yes. I used the Ghia to take Earlene to the Frankfurt Army Hospital to deliver three of our children.
I confess that I'm afraid to drive it now. Might put a dent in it. And the whole family would be upset.