Neither Dave Kawell nor  Kawell Racing Engines are affiliated or associated with Volkswagen or Volkswagen of America, Inc., General Motors, Inc. or DaimlerChrysler.
Any references to VW, GMC, Chevrolet or DaimlerChrysler and their vehicles or products are for descriptive or reference purposes only and do not imply any association.    So there !

Kawell Racing Engines
787 Miller Loop,  Friendship, TN  38034     (731) 677-2160

All photos on this site are the property of  Dave Kawell dba Kawell Racing Engines
~ Critters Negotiable ~

The Ghia The Ghia

Late '68 or early '69 (?) while working at Don Burns VW, Dave Kawell and a fellow line mechanic, Sam Samaras, attended Bug-In
at OCIR and decided it was something they were interested in doing.....pavement drag racing.  Dave had prior 1/4 mile drag racing experience and his enthusiasm convinced Sam they needed to do this.

A rusted out 1955 Karmann Ghia was traded in at Burns for a new car and sat in the "back lot" waiting to be (argh) recycled. The Ghia was purchased for $55.00 and the 36 hp engine, burnt valve and all, was sold to another Burn's mechanic for $50.00. They
had the makings of a race car !  Early on they were emphatically told that a Karmann Ghia could "never be used for drag racing"
as it would not transfer  ? Never given an acceptable reason why by the guru, the project began....with little or no money of course.

Many hours were spent chatter gunning any and all excessive weight out until the all steel car weighed 1320# without driver per NHRA I/G rules (11# per c.i.) to accomodate the anticipated 74mmX92mm engine and make it NHRA I/G legal.  Still realizing the need to keep the weight of the car down, Dave found an article in an obscure magazine about a Hugh Mitchell that was spinning all aluminum front spindle mount wheels for altereds, slingshot dragsters and other light weight 1/4 mile drag cars.  No business name, no address, no phone number and of course no internet....just Hugh Mitchell.  After four months of searching, Hugh was found working at an independent repair shop in the Los Angeles area.  Several conversations convinced Hugh, even tho the major problem at the time was to get the wheels to run out straight after welding, to make a set of wheels for The Ghia and they were the first Mitchell Wheels to be used in 1/4 mile drag racing as well as the start of the Mitchell Wheel Company. As Hugh's health began to fail, the company was sold and is now known as  Douglas Wheels.  Hugh remained a good friend over the years and many other VW drag cars soon adopted and ran the Mitchell front spindle mount wheels.

Most of The Ghia's original engine parts were cast offs of Casey Collier, Service Writer at Don Burns VW and engine builder and driver of Don Burn's I/G Super Bug car.  The original cylinder heads for The Ghia were also hand-me-downs, deemed "did not work" as was the 74mm SPG roller crank. When time and money permitted, a brand new set of OEM cylinder heads were ported and polished by Dave, on the ground, in the back lot behind Don Burn's VW Agency.  The Don Burn's Super Bug was later purchased and successfully NHRA campaigned by John Smith of Santa Ana, CA who traveled with The Anderson Brothers, Ron and Rick who campaigned the I/G Here Comes Da Bug car.

It worked !   The  The Ghia  worked and became a regular successful competitor at Lion's Drag Strip in Long Beach, CA, Fontana Dragstrip, Orange County International Raceway as well as many other local, smaller dragstrips.  At the first appearance at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, CA, Dave, now campaigning the car alone, was told that he "needed" to make the car a little more presentable in order to compete.  Shakey Jake, a good friend and supporter, immediately joined the effort and gold leafed
The Ghia  on the side of the car as well as letter all sponsors, Rimco, Weber Cams & Clutches, Errol Thompson and others.
*Note: Truly the Gold Leaf was worth much more than the car.  Brown strapping tape was added as a doll up item, well actually to cover up the rust at the bottom of the doors.  In picture above, please note Mitchell front wheels and stock rear wheels.   The car, The Ghia was the first Karmann Ghia to 1/4 mile drag race and was named as such so any that saw, laughed at and berated it's concept and pitiful condition would know.....it was THE Ghia, gold leaf, rust and all and an idea and a dream of two VW line mechanics.


Moral of the story....NEVER give up on an idea....it just may work.

The Ghia Time SlipNot exactly sure what year NHRA changed from H and I/G to L and M/G ? but M/G was equivilent to I/G.  After this run, Darrel Vittone came over and asked something to the effect of "Was that you that went the 118 ? That car sure works, it's charging on the big end". What we didn't tell Darryl was that the transmission had been raised and that Ed "Pappy" Riddle (Rimco Machine) had hand made some front dropped spindles to get the car lower to the ground which made The Ghia the lowest VW car in the gas classes and the first car to raise the tranny and lower the front with dropped spindles. Most other I/G (or M/G) cars were running in the 114+ mph range at the time.




When "Pappy" Riddle (Rimco Machine) decided to really get involved with VW drag racing and sponsor a race car, the original
The Ghia
was parked and a tube chassis car was built resulting in the second, or red The Ghia. The original The Ghia was eventually sold to Hap Ponce, another Don Burns line mechanic who successfully ran the car until it was broadsided on the trailer coming out of Irwindale Raceway and was restored, by Hap, to better than new condition and was repainted with a beautiful grey and black design.  After Hap's passing, the car was sold to a young man (sorry, name unknown) in Fullerton, CA who repainted the car to look like the 2nd, or red The Ghia.  The car was once again sold and it was transported to Japan where I believe it was again repainted back to Hap Ponce's beautiful black and grey scheme and is still being raced painted as when Hap Ponce ran it ?

More pictures of The Ghia

Quite sure many of you are bored by now with my yammering so will stop here and move on to the 2nd The Ghia, the red one....