Air-cooled Volkswagens tend to have distinctive looks full of character, but they’re generally not called beautiful, at least by most mainstream standards of automotive beauty. The biggest exception to this are Karmann-Ghias, which are curvy, lovely designs. There’s actually more than one Karmann-Ghia, though: there’s the Ghia based on the normal Type I Beetle, which is the curvy one based on the 1953 Chrysler D’Elegance concept car, then there’s the more upscale Type 3-based razor-edged Type 34 Ghia, which I’ve discussed before. The one that’s currently up for sale on Facebook Marketplace is the Brazil-only Karmann-Ghia TC, which is also based on the Type 3 platform, but is far more rare, and, I think, not just the loveliest Karmann-Ghia made, but, to me, the loveliest air-cooled VW ever made by VW itself. Let’s have a quick look so you can see why.
Here’s a little visual of the Karmann-Ghia family, so we all can picture them nice and vividly:
I think all the Ghias have bags of aesthetic charm, but there’s something about the TC, built between 1971 and 1975, that somehow makes it my favorite. It’s strangely like a mix between a Pinto and a Porsche 911, and even more strange is that the mix somehow seems to work.
Exactly how this lovely Brazilian ended up in Uniontown, Ohio is a mystery, but here she is, in all her citrusy glory:
I’m not sure what happened to the bumpers, but other than that everything looks intact and present, down to the twin-carb 1600cc suitcase-type (as in flat like a suitcase, because the pistons are horizontally-opposed and the cooling fan is mounted low on the crankshaft) engine that makes a ravenous – for an air-cooled VW – 65 horsepower.
Like nearly all Type 3 VWs, the TC Ghia is a miracle of packaging, with the flat engine nestled under the rear floor, meaning there’s a trunk up front and a generously-sized cargo area under the rear hatch. The engine is accessed via a trapdoor under the rear cargo floor, as you can see on the left there.
I get that $23,000 seems a bit steep for a slightly tatty VW from 1973, but these are incredibly rare in America, and seeing one at all is on par with meeting a Sasquatch that was your sister’s ex-girlfriend’s roommate at Brown. They made about 18,000 of these, but just about all of those stayed in or around Brazil, and I think these must be the least-common of all the Karmann-Ghias.
The TC, which stands for Touring Coupé, was actually designed by the famous Giorgetto Giugiaro, while he was working with Ghia, and, significantly but I think rarely noted, this was his first design for Volkswagen, before he and his firm Italdesign would go on to design the Passat, released in 1973 and then the Scirocco and Golf in 1974, all of which came to define VW’s design vocabulary until well into 1990s.
The very straight-edged and rectilinear look of Giugiaro’s liquid-cooled VW designs is a pretty marked contrast from the graceful flowing arcs of the Karmann-Ghia TC.
I have always wanted one of these. Sporty and practical and friendly-seeming and a bit exotic and with VW durability, it’s really got everything, at least to a hopeless old-school VW fetishist like myself. Here’s a bunch in action in Brazil, so you can see how fantastic these look gliding down the street.
I don’t have twenty grand to throw around on a car, even one as potentially dazzling as this, but I bet someone out there is looking for something unusual and yet usable and where mechanical parts aren’t more rare than leopard wings, and to that person, I say check out this Ghia TC.
Just let me know if you buy it, because I’m gonna ask you if we can drive it to shoot a video.
Seems fair to me, right? I’m just happy to see one of these out on our roads.
“… not just the loveliest Karmann-Ghia made, but, to me, the loveliest air-cooled VW ever made by VW itself.”
I’d love to know which VWs you consider loveliest outside that criteria
Best looking? For real? Better than the other two options you show above?
Sorry… that’s just incorrect. Type 34 all day. The TC looks like if AMC had to do platform sharing with VW in the 1970s and “make it their own”. Those front grilles? No thanks…
Someone saw a Škoda 110 R, it seems
I’d replace all identifying marks with Porsche items and say it’s a one-off early 911 design. I wonder how many porsche enthusiasts i could fool?
The Porsche 914 is my favorite VW. Yes, I know what I said.
I almost messed myself when you said Uniontown, OH. That’s very near my neighborhood.
Looks similar to Glas 1300 GT Coupe. I wonder if they just copied the design… the Glas was front engined, but had to keep a very short wheelbase/big overhangs for production reasons.
Sorry, I don’t agree on this. To me it looks more like it was designed by a committee in a Soviet Bloc country rather than Giugiaro.
While I love anything Type 3 for the brilliant packaging, I have to disagree on the prettiness piece. The pre-60 Karmann Ghias are what takes the pretty title for me. The modern dude in me wants them lowered a bit for a more modern proportion, but once there… Very few cars ever made can touch them.
I owned a type 14 in the late 90’s. It needed everything and I didn’t have the skill, time, money, or space to make that happen. It was a 1972 and I always wanted one of the earlier models with the bullet turn signals and prettier bumpers.
I suppose if I had kept it, it would be one of those “some day projects” that sits in the garage covered in dust with stuff stacked on top of it. And then one day your children are selling it off after you pass away.
I like the looks of the TC, but those front grills are doing it no favors. Perhaps I’m biased, but I’m going to have to go with the OG type 14 as the prettiest Ghia.
I know, a little off topic, but … I would be perfectly happy if 65hp and ~ 2000lb were prevalant on the roads today. With modern engine tech the mileage and co2 benefits would be interesting.
My ’73 saab v4 was very practical and could cruise at 75mph. But even in the mid 1970’s (yes, i’m an old guy) dangerous if mixed in with herds of high horsepower zippers and behemoths. Long since discarded, and would have rusted out by now anyway.
you would have some trouble with lugging around all of the NHTSA safety requirements. and although I commend you for taking a Sonnet to 75, that had to be some serious teeth buzzing fun, the fact is they were just really slow to get there. Still it might be an interesting alternate universe where Kei Cars were the only ype of car on the road.
Hey, some of us still regularly drive vintage SAABs in modern traffic. Well, at least one of us, anyway.
We still have a 2002 9-3, so maybe that’s almost vintage.
It was the 96, not sonnet, but same engine as far as I know. Yes, some more hp and weight needed for nhtsa.
Here to jump on the band wagon. While styling is subjective and the Karman Ghia is a beautiful car (especially the TC) I agree with most other posters, the best looking VW air cooled car is the SP2. If your counting one-offs or kit cars, the best looking is the Puma GTE. But I don’t think that counts.
You all can have the Karmann, I would be glad to get the LR 88 series II or III in the background… Always wanted one.
The fake front grilles on the TC could have been done prettier or not there at all. And keeping some of the fender bulges of the type 14 also doesn’t do much for the design. And the rear is a Porsche 912 only fatter, also not the best. But compared to most other old VWs, it’s VERY beautiful.
So my vote also goes to the SP2s overall astonishing looks, even though some of it’s details are a bit kit car’y
Well, this isn’t even the prettiest Karmann-Ghia. I think this is the third prettiest.
I agree those are indeed pretty, but as someone that grew up around them, my air cooled list is a bit different:
2) OG Ghia
3) TL/Variant redesign
I don’t put the Beetle or the Bus on this list because they are like evaluating the looms of mom and dad – doesn’t even apply.
Also, regarding the TC, they were indeed rare as hell. So much so that as a kid I had only heard about them (remember the ore Internet?). I went nuts when I saw a real one parked near my home, and if not for the badge, I wouldn’t know what was that. I had to drawn it in a notebook so I can remember it later (‘member the time before smartphones?)
*Evaluating the LOOKS
Came here to offer the SP2 as an alternate. I actually like this TC better, but for those wanting the more angular 70’s supercar look the SP2 was pretty special.
My dad turned a type 14 into a dune buggy in the late 60’s. His reasoning? He wasn’t old enough to legally drive it (no license) but he could drive an off-road vehicle in the SoCal desert. So he turned it into something that could do that.
I’m in love with a vw from Brazil, Dr Torchy, help me please!
Losing the front bumper was a very unfortunate development. Now it looks like Phteven.
Despite living almost in the middle of that blue circle on the Marketplace map, I have not seen that car around, or the army green Defender (?) next to it. I gotta find this guy. He looks fun.
Did a double-take when I read Uniontown -also in the map circle and never seen either of those vehicles. Will definitely keep an eye out for either!
I like the aerodynamics that the Karmann Ghia Type 14 offered. I wish I knew how the TC compared. The Type 14 had a drag coefficient of 0.39, which coupled with its low frontal area, makes it have a slightly lower overall CdA than the average new car of today. They make excellent EV conversions as a result of this when coupled with their low mass, but are getting hard to find.
And I’m certain some would take disagreement with this being the best air-cooled VW ever built. Consider the VW SP2.
the Type 14’s have a small problem with Rust and it is a paint o swap panels from parts cars as they seem to have been all fit for each chassis individually. but I do agree the 14 is my favorite VW in general, and the EV west kit is a pretty straight forward swap. Just surprisingly expensive compared to a 914 or 912 kit.
It’s crazy that this is a Giugiaro design; I would have guessed it was from Frua.
Another air-cooled VW to lust after. What is about these cars with their Fisher Price popcorn popper motors and big-eyed faces? Love them all (and I’m including the Porsche VW 914). In a related vein, is there a best source you’d recommend for learning how to rebuild VW engines (heck, the whole damn car)? I’m thinking of taking up a new hobby.
The classic must read for those interested in old air (mostly air & oil) cooled VWs.
+ YouTube videos galore.
Like any old car, plan on it being your 2nd or better yet 3rd or 4th ‘for weekends’ car
I like the shape, not as much as the SP2, but still pleasing to the eye. The TC in the video at the :36 mark with the Fuchs has a 911esque profile.
+1 for the SP2. Perhaps my favorite VW. The fact that it’s just an everyday car makes that wild design that much cooler.
It’s all so very subjective, which is as it should be. I still think the Type 14 is the prettiest and the Type 34 the most distinctive (not to say weirdest), but this one is awfully cool as well. And I think the bumper remover made the right decision, aesthetically: it’s much more attractive sans bumpers!