Motor Trend has “Car of the Year.” Car and Driver has its annual new car “Top Ten” and so on. However, from our standpoint as classic automobile enthusiasts, the staff at Drivin’ News views such awards as akin to bragging about which fresh wine tastes best. At Drivin’ News we honor great car and owner teams with an award that can only be earned over time. Membership in the Drivin’ News Half Century Club recognizes fifty uninterrupted years of owning and operating the same vehicle.

Drivin’ News is proud to induct as a member of the Drivin’ News Half Century Club, New Jersey resident and 1965 Karmann Ghia owner, Mr. Vince Vespe.

Guatemala and back in a Karmann Ghia


To say that Vincent Vespe has wanderlust qualifies as serious understatement. This is a guy who drove a VW beetle from Paris to the Arctic Circle because; well, because he had never been to Lapland.

Vespe, now retired from a career in education that saw him recognized as New Jersey History Teacher of the Year in 1982, holds a firm belief that to excel as a Social Studies teacher requires experiencing the cultures about which one teaches.

Frequently the vehicle for Vespe’s explorations was the 1965 VW Karmann Ghia cabriolet he bought new in 1965 and in 2020 still has, drives and shows.

To Guatemala and back, from New Jersey, in a 1965 Karmann Ghia convertible? For Vespe, no big deal. Actually Vespe made the Guatemala trip twice with his ’65 Karmann Ghia. The first was in 1966 and the second in 1971. For the first trip, in June of 1966, Vespe began driving down the road three days after walking down the aisle.

Vespe’s new bride, Gail, knew Vespe loved to travel. On that sunny day in June the new Mrs. Vespe stood on the brink of learning just how much. On June 22nd 1966 the Vespes began a lifetime together of exploration and adventure punctuated with the rich rewards and disquieting challenges associated with Vespe’s wanderlust.

Looking back Vespe laughs at how he and Gail blissfully ignored conditions that others would find intolerable. Normally they drove with the top down as the Karmann Ghia had no air conditioning. Vespe can recall one especially torrid day traversing the desert in Mexico when the windshield wiper control knob melted. Vespe admits at that point thinking “It’s pretty hot.”

On Padre Island, Texas, the wind blew one of the Karmann Ghia’s doors off its hinges. While camping in Kansas, a flash storm washed their camp site away. Louisiana holds especially vivid memories as they set up camp on a fire ant nest.

Vespe shakes his head with admiration when he recalls that while his Karmann Ghia’s 1965 new car limited warranty only covered 3,000 miles, his first Guatemala trip logged roughly 11,000 miles over 2 months during which the VW performed flawlessly.

Fifty five years later Vespe remains in love with Gail, enthralled with travel and passionate about his 1965 Karmann Ghia.

1977 witnessed Vespe’s VW removed from daily service though it still enjoys being driven frequently. Today it has over 250,000 miles.

Vince takes a trophy, again

By the 1980s tin worm, a serious affliction of all Karmann Ghias, had achieved devastating success in consuming Vespe’s VW. With perforations busting through the headlight buckets Vespe resorted to the NASCAR quick fix. He skillfully molded duct tape around the headlight brows and found a rattle can color that closely matched the original Cherry Red finish. While not exactly a Hill and Vaughn restoration, it did present well enough to transport his daughter to her prom.

With the arrival of the new millennium, Vespe found himself at a crossroads. His Karmann Ghia possessed a special charm but if he did not act and act soon there would be little left of his beloved travelling companion but memories and some red duct tape.

2001 saw Vespe’s VW enter a New Jersey restoration shop for a two-year journey back to like-new condition.

Everything savable was retained and faithfully refurbished to the way it left the Pompton Plains, NJ dealership on June 10th 1965. Except for a Haartz cloth top, Vespe resisted upgrades and enhancements. His re-born cabriolet retained the original 1285 cc 4-cylinder air cooled boxer engine delivering 39 horsepower and 67 lb.ft. of torque. With drum brakes all around, a 4-speed manual gearbox and torsion bar suspension, Vespe’s Karmann Ghia places the driver in a 55-year old driving experience time machine.

Today Vespe, for the most part, limits his Karmann Ghia road adventures to regional car shows primarily in the northeast. With his Karmann Ghia a true crowd pleaser and trophy magnet, Vespe, ever the educator, takes very seriously the importance of instilling an appreciation for the history and human connections associated with his historic VW and with every classic vehicle.

Dealing with younger generations, Vespe believes that the value found in classic vehicles goes far beyond the machines themselves. They convey powerful life lessons as well.

For Vincent Vespe there is no doubt. In reflecting on his life and the 55 years with his Karmann Ghia, Vespe flashes a smile and says, “It’s been a great ride.”