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Journey’s long trip with VW-powered cars Phil Journey has a varied collection of VW-powered cars.

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, August 18, 2012, at 12:30 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, August 18, 2012, at 6:55 a.m.

By day, Phil Journey keeps busy with arraignments, probation revocations and criminal trials. But get the Sedgwick County District Court judge away from the law bench and in front of a work bench and he can astound you with his knowledge of VW engines, Porsche transmissions and the history of Karmann Ghia coupes.

"I love these old cars," says Journey, who learned the intricacies of flat-four, air-cooled engines as a college student at Washburn University, working in an auto repair shop. "All I worked on was VWs … all the doctors’ cars from Menninger’s," he said.

Up until then, he had been a heavy American iron kind of car nut, driving a 1965 Pontiac GTO equipped with an L88 427 Corvette engine. But taking a Porsche 914 6-cylinder car out for a test drive persuaded him you don’t need all that V-8 horsepower if you drive a smaller, more nimble automobile.

"That car made me a believer," he said.

He now owns four 914s, part of a collection that he estimates at approximately 20 cars, plus numerous body shells and drivetrains waiting to be reassembled into running vehicles. And his cars are not 100-point show-winners that travel everywhere on trailers; they are drivers.

My goal is to have a different car for every day of the week," he said with a grin.

His current favorites are a bright blue 1974 Karmann Ghia coupe and a sinister black 1976 Porsche 912e, both found on the craigslist website about a year ago.

"When I found the Ghia (in Baldwin), it was a shell without a motor or interior," Journey said.

Karmann Ghias were built from 1956 through 1974 and basically amounted to a Volkswagen chassis equipped with a more stylish body shell, he said. The design reminds him of the ’50 Studebaker Champion his dad drove when Journey was a child.

"The steering is exactly the same as a Bug … it’s 5 1/2 inches wider in the floor pan, but the basics for everything is Beetle. Lots of the parts interchange," Journey noted.

The first job was replacing the badly rusted floor pans, a task handled by Mike Tabor, who also installed a fresh interior in the Karmann Ghia. A beautiful set of black leather Porsche 911 bucket seats are set off by a new matte black dash, color-coordinated door upholstery, new carpet and a new headliner. An EMPI shifter was installed, along with a Sony sound system.

The car came with a pair of engines, both of which turned out to be junk. Journey’s solution to the empty engine compartment was to take a Super Formula V engine case and bump it up to 2007cc by installing 90.5 mm cylinders and lengthening the stroke of the connecting rods by almost 10 millimeters.

Joe Weible of Joe’s VW did the bulk of the engine work, while Jerry Wilson at Chet Wilson Engine Service balanced the engine components and did the head work. The upgraded power plant now puts out an estimated 100 horsepower, thanks in part to a new pair of Dellorto 36 mm carburetors and an EMPI 4-into1 extractor exhaust system.

The 4-speed transaxle got overhauled at the Buggy Shop in Hutchinson, where taller third and fourth gears were installed to let the little coupe cruise a bit easier at highway speeds. "This thing pulls like a little mule," Journey observed as he ran it through the gears.

For running gear, he chose a set of reproduction Porsche 914 wheels by Riviera fitted with 195x60x15 Goodyear tires.

His other craigslist find, the Porsche 912e is a rare vehicle. "They only made them one year, in 1976. There were 2,099 made and probably 20 of them were used in crash testing," Journey said.

"I never thought I would see one of these, let alone own one. These are really sought after."

Journey found the Porsche in Tulsa, where it had sat outside in the weather for at least 10 years. He traded a running, driving Dodge Stealth for it and feels he got the best of the deal.

The 912e was intended to be Porsche’s transition car from the venerable 911 to the boxy-bodied 914, Journey explained. It was built specifically for the American market and featured a lighter weight VW type 4 engine, which gave the 912e excellent balance.

"These cars are so pleasant to drive. They are much more predictable and have much lower maintenance," he said, noting 1976 was the only year Porsche galvanized both sides of the metal in the body, meaning it’s rare to find a 912e with serious rust issues.

His car, repainted from red to black, did have an aftermarket body kit installed when he found it and he left it in place. It also came equipped with the trademark "whale tail" rear spoiler. "I hate the whale tail because it makes the car such a poser," Journey said, noting it promised more performance than was actually available.

But the oversized spoiler provides a great place to hide an equally oversized air conditioner condenser, he said.

The Porsche no longer has its original engine, but Journey plans to beef up the performance by boosting the 2.0 liter power plant to a 2.7 liter unit, complemented by a high-performance vertical cooling fan unit. He wasted no time replacing the pair of 1-barrel Weber carbs that had been substituted for the original fuel injection with a better flowing set of Weber 40 mm carbs.

The interior still employs the original black cloth 911-style bucket seats, which show amazingly little wear. The transaxle is the same 911-style 5-speed issued with the car. Genuine Fuchs magnesium wheels are retained, fitted with a set of Radar RPX-900 205x70Rx14 radial tires.

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