KG International 2003: Jon House's story

It began with a phone call. Lee caught me one busy work day and between concrete trucks mixing mud and carpenters banging nails I could hear Lee shouting: "You wanna go to England for the big UK Karmann Ghia Club car show?" I managed to yelp out a hearty "Cool!" before nearly being whacked by a two-by-four.

Flash-forward several months and Lee and I are on "da plane" and heading direct for Heathrow. Lee has actually brought a book other than KG related and is READING it while I took turns sleeping. We are met by a chipper Clive Richardson at Heathrow and head through the busy traffic south towards his idyllic home in a quiet hamlet known as Tonbridge. And what a lovely spot it is! A beautiful old home (in UK terms that's a least a hundred years old!) with a very serene back yard. Inside his "tool shed" Lee and I discovered a few Type 3 parts n' pieces and find-lo and behold---the elusive gutter trim that we've been seeking for my T34 resto. Clive gives it up at a fair price, the pounds exchange and Lee & I feel this trip has started out perfectly! Later in the day, after Clive's wife Janet pulls up in her 1965 RHD electric sunroof and unloads the evenings groceries -- it's her daily driver, and an immaculate one at that -- and Lee and I marvel at her rare and beautiful car. Clive also has a beautiful souped-up 1966 racer and a rusty "project car" under the tarps. Clive tells us to take what we want from the car and we manage to scavenge the insulation board on the interior floor board-another great find. Then after a bunch of car photos and drooling, we have a wonderful meal out doors. As if the day hadn't been good enough to us, we head out for a pub, but before we get to the cars, Clive tosses ME the key to his racer and Janet, somewhat hesitantly, gives Lee the keys to her prize jewel sunroof. (Are these Brits crazy? Two jetlagged Yanks with little experience driving the wrong side of the road and right side of the car?) We say nothing and act like we can handle the challenge .. which we do! Great winding roads with awesome turns and bends and green foliage canopies .. a truly beautiful sunset drive. I blow Lee and Janet away with Clive's fast machine, whilst Lee carefully negotiates Janet's creampuff through the turns. We end up at a great pub, have a few pints and elect NOT to drive the cars home! I go back with a giddy Janet (the lady LOVES her car) and Lee gets a harrowing speed run with Clive in his machine. Needless to say, this caps off a perfect first day and we sleep the sleep of the dead that night .. dead, yes, but we have died with a smile on our face!

The next morning Clive drove us to the car rental spot and Lee and I were off to the ancient town of Bath. Clive and Janet Richardson had been great hosts and our time with them unforgettable! We were now heading to visit with Derek Frow and his wife Glenys, providing we could survive driving on the wrong side of the road (again!) and all the wacky roundabouts and twists and turns. Unlike our freeway system where you climb onto the onramp and take one highway for miles and miles, in the UK it seems you go about a hundred yards on one motorway, then circle on a roundabout, go a few more feet on another motorway and then (you guessed it) another roundabout! Lee did a great job of driving and I was the navigator ... the sleeping navigator! On our way we saw Stonehenge which was a amazing sight, and after spending an hour or so driving through Bath and exploring this old city we decided to "find" the Frow's home. Took us another two hours of twists, turns and those damn roundabouts! But we did find them!

Derek Frow is the longtime Chairman of the UK KG Club and a wonderful man. He and Glenys have a nice home with a beautiful green yard and a couple garages filled with nice Ghias. Derek has a 1960 KG Cabrio and an orange 1973 Coupe. Both have been featured in magazines and books and are stunning examples. It was his "other" Ghia that had Lee and I excited .. you guessed it an early-1963 Type 34! Still in the project phase, with lots of work ahead (sound familiar) Derek, unfortunately, lost his qualified resto man who passed away before finishing the job. Over time Derek plans to complete the project, after collecting the additional parts he needs. He and Lee discussed the trials and tribulations of such a job and Lee, ambassador of goodwill to all things T34, thrust out his hand for a handshake and promised that he'd do all he could---with the help of Registry members---to find the needed missing parts and pieces. We had a nice evening out for food and pints and the following day were treated to a tour of Bath from Derek and actually got to visit the ancient Roman baths. I had a chance to drink the "bathwater" and wondered if Montezuma could seek his revenge on me all the way in the Uk? I left Bath with this thought: beautiful town, just don't drink the water!

We continued our drive north to stay with Andy Holmes, wife Theresa and daughter Sophie in Maids Moreton. We had a great stay with the Holmes family in their big and beautiful home in a quaint village with a pub a few doors down! (There always seems to be a pub in England!) Andy has one of the most perfect and alluring Type 34's on the planet and it has been featured in magazine and books. In fact, in "The Essential Karman Ghia" by Laurence Meredith, his 1965 is highly featured and photographed and it was this very car that caught my attention before joining the Registry and got me hooked on Type 34s! Amazing to actually see it in person! Andy has performed a perfect resto and has been true to the year with correct parts. He has owned the car for twenty years and still looks at it with loving eyes. Next to the T34 in his garage is a "project car" an early 62 from South Africa that would challenge the average backyard resto maniac. Not Andy; he's a true enthusiast and no doubt the 62 will be done perfectly and you'll be seeing it in future magazine features. We had a nice evening with Andy and his family and spent time in Andy's office looking over his great T34 lit collection, books, and Type 34 articles. Andy managed to find some images Lee hadn't seen before!

The next day the impossible happened! Andy informed us that we (Lee and I) would be driving up to the Peak District to the big KG 21st Anniversary show in HIS Type 34! Amazing! It was hard to conceal our giddiness at our good fortune, but we played it off real cool. Andy gave us the keys and we followed him and his crew in a nice 1982 black Porsche 911 Carrera. Lee and I just kept pinching ourselves at being able to drive for so many hours and miles in such a pristine car! It was truly amazing to be able to have this rare chance to drive Andy's car, and we made the most of it! Unfortunately, we experienced very heavy traffic and rain, and by the time we got to the picturesque Peak District, it was obscured by clouds and fog and we got to our B&B a couple of very road weary Yanks! We managed to hook up with many of the UK KG club members that evening and looked at all the wonderful cars in the parking lot, but sleep took it's rightful place and we crashed hard.

A good sleep, a big English breakfast (and lot's of toast! They LOVE toast in the UK!) we headed to the BIG day of T34 driving and viewing all of the amazing Karman Ghias and Type 34s that we in attendance at the event. Daniel Baum, in from Israel, had his chance to drive Dave Matthews perfect, unmolested low mileage 1965 T34 to the event and this car, along with Andy's 1965, were to my eyes the standouts of the event. The day of driving offered loops and bends and turns and we were so amazed to see many of the cars in perfect procession ahead and behind us and surrounded by green pastures and old homes and castles along the way! Truly and amazing drive and a great VW experience! That night, the awards ceremony was held at the Snake Pass Inn and we were treated to great food, good drinks, wonderful company and very enthusiastic car owners and as they went through the awards and celebration, I couldn't help but marvel at the high level of commitment these Brits had for their autos and their club. Many of these members had been highly involved for over a decade and people from as far away as France, Germany, Belgium, and throughout the UK all drove to the event! Talk about hard core! The evening wound down with drinks at the pub and high spirits.

Morning greeted us with crystal clear, warm and blue skies for the best weather of the trip! We drove another 40 miles though more great countryside, and had a final lunch at a large park and the final good byes were said under warm skies, happy hearts and full stomachs! We had a final trip home in Andy's T34 and then bid farewell to Andy and his family, giving big thanks for all they had done for us and the generous offer to drive his car so many wonderful miles! Lee said it all when he mentioned to me that his driving experience had been one of the VW highlights of his life. I took a photo of him behind the wheel and his expression said it all!

After a day in London we flew home to the smog and traffic of LA and felt instantly the HUGE difference in driving conditions! No more roundabouts! To sum it all up: the sights, the good company, the open hearts, the amazing cars, the dedicated spirit of the VW club members, and the chance of a lifetime to drive such great Type 34's was a dream come true. In addition, the long miles in a Type 34 exposed for me, a relative newcomer to the T34 world and with only a small amount of driving time in them, what a fantastic car Volkswagen developed when they designed the Type 34. It truly is an extraordinary car and very fun to drive! It renewed my excitement and interest to finish up my own resto project and get out on the highway! The trip also reminded me of how a good "support group" of like-minded people can, with the proper motivation, create an awesome gathering of cars, beautiful sights, good eats, and great driving experiences. The UK Karmann Ghia club impressed us both and we left the event with very high praise for this organized and energetic group. All in all, this was a "jolly good show" and we have VW memories that won't fade anytime soon!