Ironically, the lockdown situation of recent months has somehow brought us closer together with enthusiasts from all over the world. One such VW owner is Lee Hedges, who we met virtually through his entry into our first ever Online Show n’ Shine. After picking his Type 34 Cabriolet as one of our winners, we casually enquired to any other vehicles he may own. Here is what he had to say…
It began on a bus
Born in 1963 in Northridge, Southern California, Lee grew up in Manhattan Beach. His parents owned a brand new ’63 VW Panel Bus and his Dad crafted a wooden platform at the back to create a raised shelf that his crib would fit into. Lee tells us his Mom would hold him in the front when awake and come nap time they would put him in his crib at the back. The Bus journey continued throughout his childhood he tells us. “In 1972 my Dad bought a new VW Westfalia. I learned to drive in it and later took my license test in that VW. I also had my first crash driving that bus, but I swear it wasn’t my fault!”
College in a Super Beetle
Lee’s Dad made sure to cement the passion for the brand, as he left for college in an unrestored ’71 Semi-Automatic Super Beetle. “After college, I sold the Super Beetle and wanted something older, so I bought a Ruby Red Beetle Sedan for $800. A year later I moved to San Diego in 1985 and bought my second VW, a Ruby Red 1963 Beetle Cabriolet for $400. I found it useful to have two VWs of the same vintage to diagnose technical issues that came up.”
Tuesday mornings and AutoTrader
Back in 1986 Lee was driving the Cabriolet daily, but decided he needed to find something different. If you can remember life before broadband, then you’ll be familiar with the importance of Auto Trader magazine in the weekly routine of the car enthusiast. “I found Notchbacks which were interesting and rare (for the USA) but one week I found a Type 34 Karmann Ghia Coupe listed. Instantly I knew that was “different” and incredibly rare, having never been sold new in America. I sold my Cabriolet and invested the money in my first T34, a Sea Blue 1964 Coupe. The difference was amazing! So much more space, more comfortable, more modern features, better driving experience, better handling, and so much cooler than the VW Beetle! I was hooked and from there began learning about T34s.”
As a recent Razor Edge convert, it was in 1987 that Lee reached out to a small T34 owner’s group. Within a year his enthusiasm had led him to manage the organization and publish their newsletter. “I started collecting T34 ID numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, and for the past 32 years I’ve collected details of 1655 T34s worldwide.” The organization went online in 2002 which put even more enthusiasts in touch with each other and although it has been through a few different names (and focus from stock to custom) it was in 2011 that T34 World was launched and now has over 1500 registered members on their Facebook group. “It’s been my life’s work” Lee laughs.
Why buy a Type 34 Karmann Ghia?
As the current custodian of 3 different Type 3 based Karmann Ghias, he sums up the ownership experience best. “You can’t fully appreciate the T34 until you’ve driven one. The body is Italian-styled with great curves & timeless styling. The interior is spacious with lots of legroom and headroom. The seats sit back and are low in the body sitting directly on the Type 3 floor pans, so the driving experience is unlike any other VW. The instrument panel has three gauges, there’s a Blaupunkt radio a padded dash, and a huge glass area with outstanding visibility. On the rarity side, there are about 3000 T34s total worldwide and when you drive one it gets noticed every time. People come up and ask about it, ask to sit inside, and wonder if they can buy one.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? You can read our Karmann Ghia buyers guide here.
How many and how much?
Chatting with Lee it is clear that we have touched on his most favourite subject, and he’s a perfect ambassador for this classy and fairly exclusive coupe.” America has more than 550 T34s today, twice as many as Germany, so it’s not uncommon to see 2 or 3 others at a local VW show. Over the past 10 years, the values of T34s has risen far above the other Type 3 models and Type 14 models. A complete, driving T34 typically sells for $20-$30k (£15k-£25k) around double what a Type 3 or Type 14 would go for.”
Lee’s T34 Karmann Ghia Collection
The car that first caught our eye, was his 1962 T34. Originally a coupe, this one has been custom built as a faithful tribute to the 1961 Frankfurt Auto Show Cabriolet prototype.
On top of the Cabriolet, Lee has a pair of T34 projects on the go. One is a 1965 electric sunroof model, the 2nd oldest with this option, and one of only 19 RHD versions made. The other is a 1962 coupe, chassis number #0001200, the 11th ever made and believed to be the oldest left in the world.
So what else is in the workshop?
Having moved 5 years ago to a home on a 2-acre plot Lee’s found himself in a wonderful place to pursue his passion. He’s custom-built a space in the style of a 1960s workshop that can house 9 cars, and he’s got further parking space outside for 5 more. Behind the doors of this quite considerable mancave you’ll find a trio of cars from the year of his birth, 1963; a Smyrna Green Porsche 356, a Light Gray VW Double cab and a Gulf Blue 1500cc Variant. In amongst the four-wheeled eye candy, you’ll also find automobilia including vintage models and ex dealership signage.
Back in 2011, Lee’s devotion to the T34 came to real fruition when he flew to Germany, meeting up with enthusiasts that he had been communicating with by letter and email for the previous 20 years. He was loaned a ’63 sunroof car for the duration of his stay by his friend Jorg Fischer, and they gathered 154 Razor Edge cars to celebrate 50 years of the model. “We set a new world record that day and it will never be beaten” he says proudly.
I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Lee for taking the time to chat with me, via email and messenger and sending over such fantastic photographs to illustrate his love for vintage Volkswagens, and in particular the Type 34. Hopefully one day we will get to meet in person, whether that’s here in Europe, or over in LA should the opportunity arise in the future.