You Know You Want To: Subaru'd Karmann Ghia

How do we feel about engine transplants? A divisive issue, especially when it comes to bastardising precious classics with modern engines. Or is it? Classic looks with a bit of modern reliability and performance is a tempting combination.

Looks beautifully original - mechanically isn't!
Looks beautifully original - mechanically isn't!
This spot - hat tip to PHer only1ian for bringing it to our attention - provoked a prolonged period of chin stroking in the PH office. Handy, given that beards are a prerequisite for working here. If we were allowed to smoke pipes we might have done that reflectively too.

New guy Alex with his Ford background had much to say on the subject, there being a fairly relaxed attitude to engine swaps among that particular community. His view is that, assuming there are enough original examples of the base car around, it's OK if done in spirit - and that does make sense. Honda'd Elises and Exiges are a good example, the 'busa engined Suzuki Cappuccino we featured a little while back a perhaps more extreme one.

It's a flat-four Jim, just not as VW knew it
It's a flat-four Jim, just not as VW knew it
So to this Karmann Ghia, according to the advert imported from California in the mid 90s and dry stored/driven ever since, so it's claimed. From the pics it certainly looks like a beaut and wonderfully original. And it's got a flat-four under its elongated rear deck. Only it happens to be one from a Subaru. Sensibly the builder didn't get tempted with any turbocharged nonsense, and it's simply a normally aspirated unit with around 150hp driving through the standard gearbox - enough to spice up the experience and give turn-key modern reliability but not too much to trouble the period running gear. It's got disc brakes up front and the dampers and springs have been upgraded and set up properly, the vendor telling us the new engine doesn't overwhelm the driving experience or classic Karmann vibe. It sounds the part too, or so we're told. We'll have to take him on his word but we'd be tempted to investigate further!

With only the pictures to go on it's easy to be dazzled by the fresh chrome and what looks like a surprisingly neat and sympathetic installation. And in the mid-winter gloom who's to begrudge a bit of Californian sunshine? But is it a stroke of genius or corruption of an innocent old classic? We're erring on the former but what do you reckon?

Why you should: Looks gorgeous and ready to bring a bit of Cali sunshine into your life, as engine conversions go it's in spirit and sympathetically done
Why you shouldn't: Questionable morals of levering modern engines into much-loved classics

See the original advert here.


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Comments (81) Join the discussion on the forum

  • stuartmmcfc 05 May 2014

    I used to have a 71 Karmann Ghia and although pottering along at 60mph was lovely, getting to that speed took forever, and on todays roads was a complete nightmare.
    I'd had this conversion like a shot if I could have afforded it.

  • Ocellia 23 Apr 2014

    Ah, memories of how the original Citroen DS was possibly going to use a Corvair Flat Six air-cooled engine!
    Switching to the 'What would you have in your £100K garage?" might involve a ....Subaru? ....flat six put in there?

  • 22rgt B Squadron 22 Dec 2012

    Nicer if kept original. Very tatty along the bottom edges of the sills, lower rear corners and plenty of new thickly applied underseal on the floorpans. Lots of surface rust and filler in these areas most likely. Very overpriced.

  • Silver Smudger 22 Dec 2012

    sisu said:
    They just bought a Porsche Boxter and put the fenders skins and bonnet from a early Karmann Ghia. So the car has all the appearance of a Karmann Ghia, but all the best bits of a Porsche Boxster.
    Love that!

  • blearyeyedboy 22 Dec 2012

    aka_kerrly said:
    Indeed, rear engine front wheel drive car, that is the sort of ludicrous idea a Rover engineer would come up with.
    You laugh, but I spoke with an engineer who told me that he used to work for Rover and that this was one of the ideas for the first BMW-era Mini. The idea was that the driveshaft would become part of the crash structure and provide a predictably handling yet safe-for-its-weight Mini. Fascinating to talk to the chap.

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