Posted On: Jun 19th, 2014 By: Nicole Cunningham
Growing up, my mom & dad both had Volkswagens through the 70’s. Mom sported the ’73 Karmann Ghia Automatic, that I named “Ghia”. Ghia was bought brand new, for $2,500. A dream of a sports coupe (in my mind, anyway) boasting a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine, with just 46-horsepower…yeah, you read that right. Despite it’s low power in the boot, it managed to get us through some of the toughest winters Chicago could muster.Starting up immediately when other bloated American models stalled out, our little red Ghia with rear wheel drive, ladybug floor mats, and all of its 46-horsepower, plowed through impossible snow drifts, and got Mommy safely to and from medical school.Ghia always delivered, even when the blizzards and a late-season ice storm crippled the city of Chicago in the winter of 1978.After Mom’s graduation, my folks moved the family out west to California. The Volkswagens came too: Mom’s Ghia, and Dad’s 1970 green and white bus, which I named Vicky Van Volkswagen. She had a tiny 58-horsepower Porsche engine, mom-made psycodelic curtains, all the way around the windows, and a high-powered CB radio. Vicky drove us all the way to California, but held on for only a short time after the big move. Though Ghia was also aging and badly weather-beaten, she sat proudly in our driveway for a couple more years.My older sister was coming of age to drive, and Ghia underwent a beautiful restoration, renewing all of the wear and tear of all those harsh Midwest winters. She was again painted VW red, and returned to her rightful place in the neighborhood, as one of the cool cars, with her distinctive, classic VW engine sound, signaling her arrival and departure from blocks away.
As a tomboy teen with an obsession with go-carts, I just knew that in just a few short years, I would finally be able to drive my beloved Ghia around town, in the California Sunshine. I could get some new wheels on her, maybe build a better engine, tint the windows…I mean, I was planning on taking auto shop when I started high school. My classmates would help me out, right?
My mom was always smart with safety. She decided to purchase my sister a new car, a red Nissan Sentra. My sister loved it. My heart broke. Sure, it was red, but it just wasn’t the same. The engine was quiet, and it had no clutch. No personality. Trunk in the back, Seriously? Ghia remained parked in her rightful place, but we were running out of room to park another car on the driveway. No matter, I turned 15 that summer, counting the seconds to Driver’s Ed. Ghia and me would be rolling soon…not so fast.
We were planning a big move. Leaving the diverse South Bay, for a posh planned community a world away, in South Orange County, CA. Ghia wasn’t getting one of the three garage spaces we were moving-on-up into. She was sold while I was away visiting relatives in the Midwest. I really don’t think anyone ever realized what Ghia meant to me. During my entire life, Ghia was always there. As a family, we went through so many changes, but Ghia always stuck around. When I’d be locked out of the house, I’d sit in her shade, or sometimes sitting inside, inhaling that VW smell…dreaming of the day we’d be cruising to the sounds of my mix tape.
My beloved Ghia was gone, forever.
We moved to our beautiful new home behind the Orange Curtain, and I was doing my best to adjust to my new high school. Back in the day, there was a smoking section at the back of the campus, where all of the Rockers, Stoners, Band Geeks, Goths, Surfers, Rastas, Punks, and the miscellaneous bunch of misfits all gathered for a smoke and conversation with so-called righteous folks. As a preppy dressed rock drummer, with a love of Ska, and early Hip Hop, I fit right in with the often misunderstood, but otherwise loveable Misfits…ok, not really. I spent many of those first lunch breaks sitting on the railings, breathing in second hand smoke, daydreaming, and overlooking the parking lot. I was amazed that many of my new classmates were driving late model Mercedes, BMW’s, a couple of Porsches, 300ZX’s, Camaros, a fleet of Toyota MR2’s, Pontiac Fieros and even a brand-new Alfa Romeo. Big Hair Car Show.
On smoker’s hill, one day, I remember being distracted while waxing poetic, probably about how drum machines are taking over the entire music industry (…where’s the soul? the authenticity…I was right, but anyhow) I heard the distinctive VW engine sound in the parking lot. There were a few restored Beetles among my classmates that I had already scoped, but this felt different…familiar. I ran out to the parking lot, listening for that engine, until it abruptly ended. I jogged through the long aisles of cars, until I stumbled on a sweet Karmann Ghia that had an awesome candy apple red fresh paint job. It was lowered with sick rims, chrome details, and blacked out tinted back windows. Even the interior was black with chrome accents, and ladybug floor mats, too! I swooned. Walking to the rear of the car, I had to take it all in…then I saw the familiar California license plate that I had put on with my dad, years ago. Blue and California Gold: Plate number:XXXXX. Ghia! I dropped my Swatch Watch backpack and let the tears flow. I hung out there for the rest of the lunch period, astounded at how rad My Ghia turned out, tricked out better than how I envisioned.
I didn’t dare touch her, but I’d look forward to hearing her arrivals and departures, and get that little charge of pride when I saw her around town. My Ghia held up so well, throughout high school. She even got some great upgrades including a muffler, transmission, chrome steering wheel on the upgrades along the way.
When it was so hard to fit in, I always felt that at least I had an old friend close by with a lifetime of memories I could daydream about during those awkward high school lunches.
Nicole Cunningham is a Comedian, Actress and TV Weather Forecaster based in Los Angeles, CA. She is an admitted Science and News junkie who loves Cars & Carbs. She was most recently featured in the movies, “How To Get Swagger”, and the upcoming feature, “Still Single?” http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4865352/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1