The Swamprat – Marco’s 1959 Lowlight Karmann Ghia

We like to dig deep to find new and previously unseen or unpublished vehicles that not only look incredible, but also have a great story to tell. And boy does this 1959 Lowlight Karmann Ghia have a story. It’s a blockbuster. We almost had to call in Time Team’s Tony Robinson (and his long haired West Country mate) to go over this one with a fine tooth comb and research the unbelievable story behind it. If we dug deeper, we’d have drowned.

Now we all know someone who know’s someone who has a tall tale about an old super rare one- off VW discovered tucked away in long forgotten garage or scrap yard left to the ravages of time. But to find one in the middle of a muddy lake somewhere off the backroads of San Jose, California dumped like an old getaway car, with a body in the boot!? No way! That’s a first.

It sounds completely unreal, but it’s absolutely true.

And you know what? If it was gonna be any car left half submerged, it had to be a classic VW, and only some bloody crazy VW enthusiast would ever consider such an insane move and be mad enough to wade in and drag this car out of its watery grave and get it back on the road in the very same condition it was found.

Whoever that mystery salvager is, we owe them a cold one and an honorary Rothfink hat.

This unique car belongs to 27 year old Marc Kyle from Plymouth, a guy who sports an impressive beard worthy of any ‘gator hunter from the deep murky depths of the Florida swamps and wouldn’t look out of place in Duck Dynasty. His beard is way better though, well groomed. I’m dying to get the lowdown on the story behind it.

How did Marc get his hands on it? “All I know is that when I first saw it I thought it looked cool as f**k and I just had to have it” And where was this first encounter? In situ half-buried in the mud in California?
“No, sadly not, it was in Barcelona and it belonged to the Spanish dub crew Panscrapers.”

Marc, what do you know about the origins of how they acquired it, any idea who initially dragged it out of the mud? “All I know is that after it was discovered and pulled out of the lake in San Jose in the USA and it was bought by a German collector called Axel Stauber who imported it to Germany in 1996. Axel then later sold it to Carlos from the Panscrapers who in turn took it to Barcelona, I bought it off Carlos after Hannah and I drove all the way there with a trailer to collect it, it still had its American registration when we bought it. We sorted out the registration here and even though it didn’t need its MOT, we had all the work done to it with a view to getting one.”

The whole thing is pretty nuts when rationalised, and to be fair, I’ve come to the conclusion it was just probably driven in by a bunch of burly Cali hicks half-cut in a drunken stupor.

That said, I’m blown away walking around Marc’s car, studying it in depth, looking at the minute details in the finish that could only ever be achieved by the incredible life this car had prior to him getting it to Plymouth.

Marc, what evidence of the lake still shows?

“There’s still clearly a visible ring on the roof where someone used a massive magnet to pull the thing out of the lake. An image search on the Panscrapers’ Facebook page will show you some earlier photographs in an album where you can see that Carlos was driving it around with the headlamps still half filled with Californian mud!” 😮

So what work has she needed since you’ve owned it; both necessary and impulsive?

“I had to put new floor pans in, new wiring loom, rebuilt the engine, all new brakes, all new suspension, and then bolted the body back on. The seals were completely rotten. Got the wheels off a guy Hannah tattoos, resprayed them and sourced the hubcaps. Rear lights sorted out, but the more I look at it, the less work I want to do on it so I don’t lose the look. I’m working on it every weekend just getting through small bits here and there that need doing to make it’s drivable. I want to paint underneath, do all the inner arches, and maybe do the inside to look immaculate, but still toying the idea. Hannah spent ages ripping up loads of her old comics to create the cards for the door interiors.”

As long as one of them weren’t an original Detective Comics #27, we’ll forgive you.

What’s your ultimate machine?


Being completely overwhelmed and influenced by the Karmann taking up all my attention, I decide to find out more about the man rather than the machine, I quiz Marc on his history with VW, what was his first vehicle and such?

“The very first VW I wanted was a Mark One Golf, and the first VW I got was a Mark One Golf, and I still have it. I got it when I was 16.”

That’s a great day to day vehicle for you then?

“No, that is!”

He points to the Karmann.

What a madman! I can just imagine him popping down the Spar on a late night mission for a pint of blue top and a Fray Bentos in this beauty with his top hat and cane, he must turn some heads.

An expensive hobby keeping this as your runaround, you must have a few bob to spend, how do you keep the bread on the table?

“Well, I’m a sprayer by trade…..”

Partly in disbelief, this marks the point where I have to stop the interview dead in its tracks through fear that he may end up talking himself into finally covering the unique patina with a boring full bodied sparkling respray. One of them ‘back to how it was originally’ projects.

Most sprayers wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to grab the tape, don the overalls, mask and let rip, so Marc is either very lazy, or very focussed.

Let’s recap, I can’t fathom this;

A classic Air-cooled Volkswagen found submerged in a lake somewhere in San Jose, California, USA? Half full of mud, it’s pulled out, exported to Europe, restored, bought by you, dragged back to Blighty on a trailer and driven around daily? With a finish looks like a bomb has hit it, and you’re a professional re-sprayer by trade?

As the old proverb said, the truth is always stranger than fiction.


Art direction / Alex Mills (RFI) / Jason Cooper (RFI)
Photos by Alex Mills (RFI)
Originally published in UltraVW, February 2015
Ride courtesy of Marc Kyle
Thanks to Hannah!