Rare Air – The World’s Fastest Karmann Ghia
Images courtesy of Dean Kristen and Rick Fischer
Mike Fischer is a racer who’s won driving pretty much anything you could imagine. From drag racing, jet boats, sprint and midget cars, to his latest endeavors in land speed racing – he is a winner. After an unpleasant experience driving home his sister’s bug from college, he swore off ever driving a VW again. Those plans obviously changed as he just recently broke the record for the world’s fastest air cooled Volkswagen. We went to visit him recently to find out just how he and his friends accomplished such a feat.
Fischer was born in Houston, Texas and moved to Arizona in 1971. He began working in a race shop that specialized in Volkswagens. Not exactly what he had intended for his life but eventually it would lead him to his most recent high-speed accomplishment. He was asked to go to the Baja 1000, and let’s be real – who is going to turn an opportunity like that down? Baja would be where his love for Volkswagens would be rekindled.
Through Mike’s various racing adventures he became good friends with Bryon Pryde, another early 70s Arizona transplant. As a youngster, Bryon would help his father in the garage, learning variable skills that would ultimately lend themselves to fabricate a variety of parts for vehicle builds. Bryon’s fabricating career began when he took a job at Arizona Speed and Marine. This is where he was given the opportunity to hone his skills and work on some innovative prototype and development projects within the automotive industry. After 15 years of service, and much pleading from friends, Bryon opened up his own shop, aptly named Pryde Metalcraft.
Mike, Bryon, good friend Dean Lowry (known as a God in the Volkswagen world) and Mike’s son, Rick, began discussing an idea to build a Volkswagen for land speed events. Mike’s desire was to build a Karmann Ghia simply because he believed its design was better suited for speed. Thus began the journey for Mike and the boys to build the world’s fastest, steel-bodied Karmann Ghia. The world record had stood for 30 years with a top speed of 167.480 mph. With that in mind, Mike wouldn’t be satisfied with just breaking the record, he wanted to obliterate it with his Karmann Ghia.
It wasn’t until the opportunity to test the Ghia at Darko Technologies in Ogden, Utah, that their Ghia dream would become reality. Darko is the only wind tunnel west of Detroit that can house full-size vehicles. It’s also available to the public. It was at Darko that Mike, Bryon, and Rick were able to massage the body of the Ghia and test its downforce, drag, lift and other data. The time in the tunnel allowed them to see how the car would respond at the high speeds of Mike’s dreams. Sure, they could have shaved the door handles or removed the molding from the front windshield, but Mike wanted to keep the car looking as “stock” as possible.
After the first test results were examined, an aero decision was made. “What if we remove the front air dam?” they wondered. Even though the masterful piece had been meticulously built and massaged at Pryde Metalcraft, off it came for the second test. The numbers improved and a few more parts and pieces were removed or taped off from the front end. They knew they were headed in the right direction. Wind tunnel testing is not cheap, but it’s money well spent. If you’re as serious as these guys were about obliterating records, it truly is the most efficient way to gain knowledge about the capacity of a car as opposed to years of trial and error.
With wind tunnel testing in the rearview mirror, it was time for Mike and the team to put what they had learned to the test. Rick had heard about a Top Speed Challenge event being held in April at the Mojave Mile Air & Space Port – the same place you see all those mothballed jet airplanes parked together in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
This was to be the venue for their record run attempts. Mike’s knee and back injuries prevented him from being behind the wheel but long-time competitor turned good friend, Dan Lawson stepped in for a shakedown run of 142.5 mph. Their second run netted a speed of 169.2 mph, breaking the old record of 167.480 mph. Success! But there was more left in this naturally aspirated, no nitrous, no turbo, no power additive-aided, Ghia.
After another once over, the car was ready for run number three. As Mike and the crew looked on. they could see the time of 180.1 mph displayed on the board. Cheers erupted, fists went skyward in victory and the pride of knowing they now had the baddest, fastest Karmann Ghia on the planet had settled in. Obliteration accomplished. But their story isn’t over yet. Next up? “We want to run 200 mph” Mike said with a smile.