Years later, when he finally got old enough to — legally — drive, he met the opportunity to obtain a Beetle via his sister-in-law. Through his grandfather, who was a bit of a MacGyver type, he picked up some wrenching skills. Because of this, he was able to fix the car up himself whenever any issues occurred.
However lovely Beetles may be, they're far from interesting anymore. As it is one of the most recognized cars ever, an appearance of it may only cause for few to stop and twist their heads. Even though Greg adored his Käfer, he too understood his feelings about it, and in turn, started eyeing other cars. In comes the more unusual, rather eccentric Karmann Ghia. Logically, with less demand, the car would be far more difficult to come across. Spotting the car in France at the time meant that you witnessed something quite unique. Examples that remained were usually hidden at the back of climate-controlled garages, where they saw little to no daylight. Especially in the off-season, these Ghias were kept far from the wet, brine roads. And even if you were lucky enough to spot one, chances were low that you could actually purchase one yourself. Even more so knowing that, back then, Greg was a student whose money only knew one destination: livelihood.
His dream had to be put on hold for the moment.
Especially after he managed to land a job opportunity as an Industrial Designer in San Francisco. Not long after he moved there, though, he found out first hand what the benefits of the climate were. Fair weather, few rain showers, little to no salt on the roads: it was, in a way, the polar opposite of France. The state is basically an automotive Valhalla, compared to the complexities back in Europe. As he was still very much infected with the VW-virus, Greg figured it was time to start opening his eyes. It was time to embrace the benefits that fell into his lap. Now, let's forget about the Karmann Ghia for a moment.
That's because, at that time, his financial situation still didn't allow for games like that to be played. His first purchase was, quite astonishingly, not a car, but a motorcycle. Cheaper, usually easier to fix, but above all, still classic and timeless. The one vehicle that allowed him to embark on an endless vehicle, deep into the pits of all that is motorized, turned out to be a '72 Honda CB350. He polished it up and nursed it back to life, right up to the point where it could be used as a daily-driver once again. Two more Honda's followed; both of them were taken through a similar process. Three more bikes found their way into his hands. At this point, he lost track of it all, so he set out to find himself a place to store the lot, preferably with an adjoining garage. He scraped together all of his hard-earned designer money and bought a house that fit his needs. Unfortunately, this created more trouble, since the storage space allowed for more than just a few motorcycles. It seemed that the remaining space could house a car. A classic one to be precise.
With the Karmann Ghia still fresh in his mind, he went about his days, spending most of them working. However, at night, the game was back on. His inner-demons found their way out, and they were in need of vintage Volkswagens. It is said that true love cannot be found if you're actively searching for it. If anything, it catches you by surprise. This just so happens to be how they found each other.
One day, passing a random house, he did what every other sane person would do: peek inside. To be more specific, he stole a glimpse inside their garage. At first glance, it was filled with moldy newspapers and soggy boxes. Then he looked beyond all the old crap and discovered something out of the ordinary. Upon closer inspection, a set of headlights popped out, belonging to an aging 356. To his misfortune, the car was not for sale, but he did leave with something far more important: a fiery passion for a terrific vintage vehicle.
Greg was extremely lucky since he stood at the forefront of the ever-growing demand for classic cars. The gold rush for classics had indeed started, but it was still far from the price tags cars seem to wear today. Even though that time-related aspect was in his favor, a different one proved a lot more difficult: the internet. Despite him being rather driven in his search for a 356, the various pitfalls of the internet were out to make his life a living hell for the coming years. He told me that, at a certain point, he started to purposefully implement spelling errors in his search entries, in the hopes of finding his future dream car. However, with his limited budget, finding the right 356 proved to be at least as difficult as plugging in a USB-cord on the first try. After months and months of nit-picking the internet, he came across an example set in Scotland. Unfortunately, he mistimed his bid. This slight error resulted in someone else getting away with, presumably, the deal of a lifetime. Four years had passed without success and negativity had gotten the better of him, so he quit, for the moment.
After he focused his efforts on his motorcycles for a year, the voice in the back of his head started whispering again. This time, he skipped the forums and went straight to Craigslist. At once, he found what he had been looking for all this time. Even though the 356 at hand seemed like a much larger project than he maybe would have liked, financially it was his best, and probably final, shot. He decided to contact the owner. After a brief conversation, they set a date to meet up. Without any hesitation, he jumped on his bike, found the nearest highway, and drove straight to him to assess the damage. Hopefully, a deal could be made right then and there.
If the photos and information hadn't been clear enough already, reality would soon sink in with Greg. Not only were there tons of things to fix, the car itself came loaded with quirks. For one, the entire interior was carpeted in a purple velvet. To make things worse, the remainder was coated in fluorescent green. To top it off, the brakes were basically non-existent, while some of the bodywork was hanging on for dear life. Unquestionably, this would be a massive project. However, it was one that Greg was willing to take on. Knowing that prices were skyrocketing at the time, he saw no other option than to make a deal. Unfortunately, negotiation was off the table. The only glimpse of consolation came in the shape of transportation costs, which the seller agreed to take upon himself. Looking at the situation, it became clear that, if there was a competition that focused on obtaining the largest amount of red flags, this car would definitely take the cake. But don't worry, things will only get worse from here.
To pay for something in advance always calls for some amount of balls to be had, not to mention when you're buying something off Craigslist. Small purchases can be overlooked, but a significant downpayment on an incredibly sketchy 356? That's a different ballgame. Greg transferred the money the day after he visited the seller, on a Friday, probably the 13th. The following day, the car would be delivered to his doorstep. Like a kid eagerly awaiting his Christmas presents, he sat in his house until the truck would show up. In vain, as it turned out. He received a phone call, telling him there was a slight delay. Sunday came around, and still, no sign of his new love. Promises kept on coming his way, but concrete evidence stayed out. A month later, the car was yet to turn up. Greg decided this was the time to take action.
At a loss, he approached his lawyer. A quick decision was made, to threaten to put the police on the case. Although they failed to talk things out, he was given a phone number. Logically, Greg was skeptical and decided to double-check what was supplied. Google confirmed his suspicions: the phone number belonged to a Russian prostitution company. Now things really seemed to head South. He decided to give them one last shot, but this time, if the car was a no-show, he would definitely phone the police. One Russian phone call later, everything was cleared up and he was assured the car would be delivered to his doorstep. This time, they weren't lying.
When the truck arrived, with Greg's Porsche sitting atop of it, there was a "slight" sense of relief. HIs alleviation grew even larger when it turned out that the driver was, in fact, a Russian. Greg neglected the man's questionable background since it was none of his business. The bottom line was that his long-awaited 356 had finally turned up. All was well, right?
Wrong. As it turned out, his car needed a lot more work than initially expected. However, as you can understand by now, Greg came prepared. He had been solidly working on motorized vehicles for most of his life, which left him with a set of skills that would prove to be rather helpful. First, he started on fixing the brakes. Fortunately, for once in this story, he caught a break, after finding out that one of the previous owners had already done the more difficult labor. Secondly, somewhere during its lifespan, someone messed up the 12V electronics, which rendered that car unable to move. In contrast to swapping a few brake discs, this actually took some work. However, none of it came close to the fine-tuning of its small engine block, which in the end, still kept running poorly. Interestingly enough, though, testing wasn't done on a regular 'ol dyno, but on the twisty roads of the Twin Peak mountains in San Francisco. When most of the necessary hardware was back in action — or at least manageable — he could shift his focus to working out the rest of its issues. Today, Greg mostly does preemptive maintenance, even though he's well-aware that something could break at any time. To prove his point, he told me about the time where he drove back on three cylinders after a valve had given in. This happened just 400 miles into a 3,000-mile road trip.
Aside from the fact that this car is nothing short of a troublemaker, it is without a doubt a phenomenal machine. Greg regularly takes "Brown Bunny" out in the open to rallies, fishing trips and any other excuses he can find to drive it. In addition, he posts all of his adventures to his Instagram, where he's been racking up some loyal fans over the past few years.
Now, this is no advertisement that he's paying an unknown writer for. I simply feel like, amidst the gigantic classic car bubble we find ourselves in, Greg is a breath of fresh air. He drives arguably my favorite car in existence while also slapping it along in a way that is unforgiving and without compromise. Wherever the tarmac ends, he marches on to push his 356 beyond its intended living space.
I get an enormous euphoric rush knowing that the world still houses what I would call sensible people, that don't stuff their car in a garage, hoping for an ever-growing price so they can get a massive return on their investment. Greg is a living, breathing example of how a terrific car is capable of feeling like actual family. To me, that is far more important than any sort of currency.
Harry Verolme is a freelance motoring journalist based in Europe.