A Vokaro Kit Car for the Mechanically Inclined Part II
Toward the end of August we posted an article on a very special favor a friend offered to your writer. Friend, Jim Mann, offered to take an old custom Volkswagen vehicle I built a quarter century ago and rebuild it. The entire story is shown down this page.
He rebuilt and added more modifications to make it into a vehicle perfectly suited for Pagosa Country’s highways and byways and, specifically, the many miles of forest access roads in the area. It is these roads I have covered over the last few decades visiting with tourists and, in season, big game hunters. The original article below notes I have to face giving up a motorcycle for most of this travel. I’m not as well balanced as I once was and do not relish my body rolling down a rock road. Jim built a dune buggy like car, but being used around Pagosa it is more aptly called a mountain buggy.
I promised an update on the car when Jim brought it back and this is it. They happened to arrive a couple days before my 74th birthday. Some may say I’m a crazy old coot but I’m grinning from ear to ear!
The original article.
I guess I have been a historic figure in Pagosa Springs. Sometime back the late David Mitchell, owner and publisher of The SUN newspaper, told me I had become one of Pagosa’s “characters”. I’m not 100% sure what he intended by that, but David was a nice guy so I’m sure it was good. I did a continuous series of very public promotions and events centered around my paper magazine, The San Juan Adventure Guide. As much of my activity was based in the National Forest I used a street legal off-road motorcycle for access on forest access roads, jeep trails and trails. During the winter the biggest snowmobile in the valley was used. The work was visiting tourists, hunters, and winter sports folks. I have been told I am “legend” in big game hunting circles around the country for my visiting camps and the Big Game Hunter’s Radio Show.
In the 1990’s I began to realize the motorcycle would not be the answer in the not so distant future, off-road riding does beat one up after enough time. During the hunting seasons, I ride daily for twenty some days at about 75% of endurance racing speed and have done so for over a quarter century! That is enough time! I began looking at alternatives. Many people would think of a Jeep type vehicle, but, the truth is, they are slow, churning around in first gear most of the time. Other might think of ATVs of various size, but they cannot be licensed in Colorado. I need to slip around from one access road to another and I don’t need to be messing with trailers and towing all day. I needed something that would be street legal and skip along at a fun and fast-ish pace. The work entails a lot of stops when tourists/hunters are found, so, when I’m moving I need to move.
I was aware of dune buggies and sand rails, vehicles made from old Volkswagens. With the basic frame and VIN number intact a remarkably different and street legal vehicle can be built.Without the weight of a full steel body, extra horsepower and shortening of the wheelbase something magical happens to Volkswagen running gear and it was first called “Porsche”. That is exactly what Ferdinand Porsche did to create his first sports car. The first Porsches are legendary for handling, speed, durability and economy. I began saving pennies and gathering parts.
I purchased a Volkswagen Karman Ghia giving me Porsche disk brakes and fully independent suspension while satisfying the other needs to build a dune buggy. For the body I bought a little buggy like fiberglass body. After a summer of welding and work I had a working and licensed car. It was a long way from perfect and so was I.
Because of various symptoms, I went to the medical center for tests and found I had cancer. Cancer has a way of making one put things off. After the surgery and without the gory details, I had a permanent surgically installed hernia in my belly. Now, the buggy body did not have doors as the accepted way of getting in and out of dune buggies is to step over the body where a door should be. Think of sitting in a bath tub and trying to get out with a steering wheel in your lap. I found that exercise put intense pressure on my belly of the type that could blow a hernia wide open. More reason to put the project off.
The car sat tarpped under a spruce tree for 19 years. The last three of those years I have come down with severe pain caused by spinal problems. Riding the motorcycle full time is difficult.
This year an old friend, Jim Mann, came for a visit in an RV with a trailer full of motorized toys. From Texas, Jim loves to ride or drive the high country and comes most ever year. During our visit he overheard me bemoaning having to give up motorcycling and the need to keep working. He ruminated on this for a while and then announced he wanted to do a vehicle for me. Shocked, I kept saying, “You can’t do that!” He explained(rationalized) that his Suzuki Samurai project was finished. The little 4×4 has most every specialty part available on it from mountain climbing gears, to wheels and tires to even a custom Harley Davidson carburetor installation. It is and looks better than new! It was like I would be doing him a favor because he “needed” something new to work on. Not one to turn down a friend in need, I mentioned the old buggy setting under a spruce tree and the challenge was on.