That headline is actually a pretty controversial statement, since a great many in Aircooldom think that this car, the Brazilian Karmann-Ghia TC, is not lovely at all. The most common description is that it looks like the offspring of a Porsche 911 and a Pinto. I think it's lovely, and I want everyone to know it.
As I've said before, Brazil is to air-cooled VWs what Australia is to mammals — a protected wonderland of convergent evolution. I've covered some interesting specimens from here before, but I think this one may be the most under-rated.
As the name suggests by coming right out and saying it, the Karmann-Ghia TC is related to the much more famous Type I Karmann-Ghia that we all know and love. The original Ghia, based on standard Beetle mechanicals, always looked more sporting than its humble little guts could really live up to. It was pretty enough that many didn't care, but there was always a bit of a demand for a bit more potent VW sportscar.
VW responded with a new, razor-edged Ghia based on the Type III, known as the Type 34 (or just Type III, or 1500/1600) Karmann-Ghia. These were never as popular as the original, but they were (slightly) more capable.
In Brazil, there were similar urges for a more potent Ghia, but they noticed the Type 34 Ghia wasn't selling so hot in Europe, so they decided — like always — to take a crack at it themselves. They went outside for some design help, and the designer who ended up working on the project was none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro, the man who would go on to found Italdesign and be responsible for the look of much of VW's water-cooled future.
Personally, I think the design that was settled on for the TC (Touring Coupe, if you're interested — also known as Type 145) is really masterful. It's not as dramatic as VW's other sports car, the SP-1/SP-2, but there's a certain undeniable harmony of proportion and detail about the car.
The TC started production in 1972 (and went to '75, making about 18,000 copies) and like many cars of the era, it has a relatively tall greenhouse, which lends to an airy, open interior. It pays homage to the flowing lines of the original Karmann-Ghia in its fender lines, but the fastback rear and long (if empty) hood and short deck give it a classic GT car look.
There's tasteful chrome detailing all over the car, too, from the simple twin cabin-fresh air grilles in front, to the graceful, almost delicate bumpers to the four engine air intakes at the rear — one of which cleverly flips open to reveal the oil filler/dipstick.
Being based on the VW Type III, the TC uses the more powerful, twin-carb 1600cc 'pancake' engine, making a ferocious 65 HP. That's pretty chuckle-worthy now, and wasn't exactly demonic then, but it was a step up from the 50 HP Type I Ghia and, all things considered, wasn't awful.
That Type III engine is called the pancake because of how flat it is, which allows for the Type III's big party trick of having two luggage compartments, front and rear. So, the TC has a decent sized trunk under that long hood up front, and the rear hatch opens to reveal another luggage area. The split-folding rear seats drop to make even more room, making this a surprisingly practical little baby-GT car.
I know most people would suggest I see an ophthalmologist or clergyperson (ideally, both) when I say this, but I actually prefer the look of the TC to the famous Type I Karmann-Ghia. The TC manages to have that combination of friendliness, appealing detail, and enough sporting flair that I really love in a car.
Rust was particularly brutal to Karmann-Ghia TCs, and there's really not many left — especially outside of South America, since they were never officially exported.
The Karmann-Ghia TC isn't one of those cars that haunts my brain every moment, but every time I see one I think to myself that if, somehow, a magic horse were to appear and offer me a mint-condition air-cooled VW of my choosing, I might very well pick this one.
In yellow. With some stripes on the hood.
(full owners manual can be found here.)