The Volkswagen Type 3 (1961 – 1973)
THE ’50S AND ’60S were ambitious decades. It was a time of growth and experimentation, and pushing the boundaries to see what was possible. (Consider the progression from Buddy Holly to The Beatles to Led Zeppelin alone…)
By the ’60s, VW had already established itself as a leading innovator, with three solid and well-performing lines in its roster: the Beetle (Type 1), Transporter (Type 2) and Karmann Ghia sportscar. What it needed was a powerful and spacious family car, something that would especially appeal to North American drivers.
Enter the VW 1500—better known to some as the Type 3. The Type 3 was first introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show (the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung, if you want to be specific) in 1961.
Initially, it was designed as the twodoor Notchback, but the line would soon be expanded with the addition of the Variant station wagon (dubbed the Squareback in the US) in 1962, and the Fastback 1600 in 1965 (named for a roofline that sloped continuously downwards at the back).
Volkswagen’s newest offering may have looked different than its siblings, but it definitely carried the family genes. The same VW engineering was front and centre, including the torsion bar suspension and rear-mounted four-cylinder aircooled engine with rear-wheel drive. But the Type 3 was also a platform that would see plenty of innovation. By 1968, for example, the model offered an optional three-speed fully automatic transmission, not to mention electronic fuel injection (Bosch D-Jetronic) as standard equipment—one of the first mass-produced vehicles to offer such technology.
Volkswagen of America began importing the Type 3 in the Squareback and Fastback configurations in 1966, and the model would go on to achieve great success. Globally, more than 1.3 million Notchbacks and Fastbacks were sold, as well as more than 1.2 million Variant wagons. (There were even a dozen convertible prototypes made, though they never made it into full-scale production.)
The last Type 3 rolled off the assembly line in 1973, making way for more VW innovations: the first-generation Passat and Golf. But there is still a huge market for the Type 3 for collectors, and it remains a critical stage in the evolution of Volkswagen.
— Brendan Christie