This is a 1969 Volkswagen Type III 1600 Squareback. In the late 60s, Volkswagen was pulling a Daniel Radcliffe and falling victim to its own success (Really Harry Potter? You’re trying to escape typecasting by doing another movie about magicians? Come on). The Beetle, with a little help from the Bus, had carried the company through the decisive postwar period, but by the sixties, both were becoming a little long in the tooth. Now, if you’re a VW nerd (such as yours truly), you know that the Beetle’s real name is the Type 1, and that the Bus is the Type 2. Which makes this- stay with me here- the Type 3.
Right, so VW wanted to build a better Beetle, which was no easy feat given the Bug’s incredible popularity. Plus, the company wasn’t in a position to develop an entirely new platform for the Beetle replacement, which means that they had to make do with a rear engine layout. So that’s the context, this is the resulting product. The Type 3 was introduced in 1961 and came in a couple different styles: a coupe-y fastback looking thing, a wagon, and a sedan, which never was officially imported to the United States. I say “officially” because every so often you’ll see a grey market Type 3 sedan that weaseled its way over here somehow. This is a wagon though, which means that I’m on board. Even if it’s a terrible car underneath that takes the urinal directly adjacent to yours and is really loud about hating Adele’s new single, I’d love it. Wagons are great, and this is a rear-wheel drive wagon with the engine over the back wheels (which is why those vents on the rear fenders exist). It’s the perfect amalgamation of practicality and quirk. I love it.
Interestingly enough, the whole reason the Type 3 was available in America at all had to do with our military. Servicemen stationed in Europe saw this “bigger” VW and decided to ship them home for their own families (they paid for them first, I’m assuming). As it turned out, this primed the American market nicely for an official introduction of the Type 3 by Volkswagen in 1966. And the American car-buying public looked upon the Type 3 Squareback and saw that it was good. They liked the mini-Chevy Nomad styling. They liked the fuel efficiency, and, thanks to a bit of a front suspension rework, they liked that it took less than 20 seconds for the car to reach 60 miles per hour.
Now, I mentioned that the Type 3 wagon (called the Squareback because, well, look at it) is rear engined, like a Beetle or a Porsche 911. This begs the question: how much space is actually available inside the Squareback? Well, if we’re getting scientific: oodles. And the reason is some very clever packaging. The Squareback not only ran on the same underpinnings as the Beetle; it used the same engine as well, albeit with a little more displacement. That meant an air-cooled 1500cc four cylinder, arranged in a boxer configuration. In 1965, that figure grew to 1600ccs producing 65 horsepower through a four speed manual or a three speed automatic. The boxer engine’s low center of gravity and flat layout meant that it was only 15 inches tall, making it possible for the rear cargo area in the Squareback to lay flat. This meant that all Type 3’s featured two trunks- one in the front (a “frunk“), like a Beetle, and one in the back, like pretty much any other car. Pretty nifty.
You know how, when you were young, you’d put on your parent’s shoes or glasses or something? It was probably very adorable. It was during the time when our parents were those omniscient forces of good in the world, back when our problems amounted to keeping crayons within the lines and the hard edges of the real world were but a far off notion, like retirement. This car is like that. Look at it. With its soft curves and wide-eyed headlights. This was never going to be real alternative to the big, chromed Chevys, Fords, and Dodges off the era, much less a real Beetle replacement. The Type 3: ultimately, a Beetle in big people clothes. Is that so bad though? Is there anything really wrong about an obviously small child living the life of an adult for awhile? Like you in your parent’s clothes, there’s an innocence here- a goodness. It made a group of people, however small, very happy.
- The Squareback, to VW, was actually called the Variant, which is a name that is still affixed to Volkswagen wagons today.
- Since you asked, Dustin Hoffman did star in an ad for the Type 3 in which he get confused about where the engine was.
- In 1967, the Type 3 became the first mass-produced car to feature electronic fuel injection.
- In earlier iterations of this car, you had to open the frunk (yes, I’m calling it that) to fill the gas tank.
- Volkswagen did allegedly have plans for a convertible version, even going so far as to make a catalog for the car, though the project never saw production.