Curbside Classic: 1971 VW 1600 TL – Turns Out The Brazilian Type 3 Isn’t Really A Type 3; It’s the EA97 Reincarnated

blue fastback 1600 TL posted at Cohort by Alberto Simon

This post started out as a quick little Outtake about how odd it was that this Brazilian “Type 3” (“T3”) 1600TL fastback had such a different roof than the German T3 Fastback, to go along with its different front end. But as I looked at it some more I realized that this car is essentially different in every respect to the German T3.  What gives?

Turns out that what is called the Brazilian T3 isn’t a T3 at all; it’s a T1 (Beetle) poorly disguised as a T3. And there’s a reason.

What became the Brazilian 1600 was originally developed as the prototype EA97 in Germany to be a new VW model to either slot in between the Beetle and the new T3 (1500/1600), or possibly replace the Beetle altogether. VW had developed a long line of Beetle replacements in the 50s and 60s, and the EA 97 was one more, although in this case it’s claimed that it was to slot in between the Beetle and T3.

Just why anyone thought that was going to work is a good question, given the fact that the real T3 (above) also sat on the same length wheelbase as the T1 (on a widened platform), although it did have a number of differences, like a unique front torsion bar suspension, steering, and a wider rear track. And of course it had the “pancake” engine, with its blower mounted low to allow for a luggage compartment above it, even in the notchback sedan.

The differences between these superficially similar cars become more obvious upon closer examination: no vent windows on the front door, the narrow rear track, but most importantly, that seam in the rear quarter panel, right above the rear wheel. The EA97 used the Beetle’s 1200cc engine intact, including its tall, upright blower, so the there is no rear luggage compartment. And it used the Beetle’s front suspension, brakes and steering. The dashboard was simpler and used a Beetle speedometer. These differences were all for the sake of a simpler and cheaper to build car, in keeping with its intended mission.

According to the information that’s readily available on the web, the EA97 was built in a small series of 200 (or 100 in some accounts) before the plug was pulled. The gap between the Beetle and T3 was acknowledged to be just too small. If 200 or 100 were built, they would have been pilot/prototype cars, built largely by hand and with some limited tooling. And at least two do survive, including the one in the VW Museum, and this red one.

After a few years, VW apparently decided to send whatever tooling there was, along with the blueprints, to their rapidly growing operations in Brazil, which was wanting a more upscale model. Supposedly, the ship that carried the machines/tooling sunk near the shore of Brazil. But the ship was raised and the tooling rescued, although it needed a bit of oil and such to get it back to working condition.

But what was actually built in Brazil wasn’t exactly quite the same as the EA97, the biggest difference of course being that it was now a four-door sedan, which was deemed to be what the market for more upscale cars demanded.  At this point I’ll interject that VW made two big mistakes with their German T3: it should have had a couple of inches longer wheelbase than the Beetle, and a four door should have been available. The T3 was never competitive in terms of interior space, as its rear seat was only marginally better than the Beetle’s, which was perpetually criticized as lacking in leg room. As such, the T3 could never properly compete against the Opel Rekord and Ford Taunus, and hampered its long-term success.

The Brazilian 1600 arrived in 1968 (model year 1969) with four doors, but of course it still sat on a widened Beetle platform, so leg room wasn’t really improved. And it arrived with a revised front end and rectangular head lights, which were a brief hot fad at the time in Europe.  So given the change to four doors, and the revised front end, it’s somewhat questionable just how much actual tooling was on that ship.

But what did stay intact is the use of the upright-blower Type 1 (and T2) engine in the Brazilian 1600 notch sedan. Here’s a cutaway, clearly showing the T1-type engine and front suspension.

Two versions were offered: a single carb with 50 PS DIN (shown here), and a dual carb version with 60 PS DIN.  That does not coincide with the German 1600, which had 45 and 54 PS DIN for the two 1600 versions. Note also the rear fuel tank.

The rear tank did give the 1600 four door notch a relatively large front trunk, compensating somewhat for the lack of a rear trunk.

The dashboard wasn’t at all like a Type 3.

Sales for the VW 1600 turned out to be quite modest, and the front headlights were quickly changed to quads, not that it helped much. The lineup was soon expanded with a two door Variant (wagon) and fastback.

Here’s the two fastbacks together, for comparison.  The doors might look identical, but according to an owner in Brazil, they’re not quite, which confirms my own conclusion after staring at them both for too long.  The fuel tank was moved to the front on the fastback and Variant, to make room for the trunk, as well as for better weight distribution. But the filler door is on the opposite side than of the German T3, whose picture here has been flipped to make the comparison.

No here’s where things get a bit more interesting. Although actual written info is not to be found on the web, the picture further up of the sedan’s engine clearly shows that it used the T1 style engine, as in the EA97 prototype. But obviously that wasn’t going to work with the Variant, which arrived in 1970 (or 1969), which had a fairly low rear cargo floor.  Note also that it had only a single rear side window, unlike the T3 Variant. Apparently this Variant was also conceived in Germany as an EA97…variant. And one source says that the long single window was designed to have enough flexibility to be cracked open at the rear without actual hinges at the front.

Presumably that was not the case for the Brazilian version, as there was an optional vent window. It’s a bit hard to imagine not having an opening rear window in a hot country like Brazil.

Here’s the T3 pancake motor under the rear cargo floor of the Brazilian Variant. Apparently it took VW of Brazil a year or so to get the pancake engine in production, and for that matter, the notch sedan body just wasn’t designed to take advantage of it. That may also be in part why the sedan didn’t sell well.

I strongly suspect that the Variant quickly became the top seller, and it went on to have a long life (more on that later).

The fastback “TL” body came along one year later, best as I can tell. And although there’s no visual proof available on the web, there’s no question that it too used the pancake engine, given the low liftover height of the rear lid, which undoubtedly housed a fairly generous trunk. And the rear seat back folded down, making for a large cargo area.

In 1972, the 1600 was given a new front end, quite similar to the one that the German 411 got the same year, turning it into the 412. And the four door notch sedan was replaced by this four door fastback. It was commonly called ‘Coupé Quattro Portas’ (Four Door Coupe), and the ad states that it conveys “status with more than two doors”. With the notchback sedan gone, the upright blower engine went bye-bye too. All of the 1600s now used the pancake engine, which is undoubtedly why they’re almost universally referred to as Type 3s.

Here’s a shot from the rear. Oddly, it looks better than the two door fastback, which looks a wee bit primitive.

Although that’s improved some with the new nose.

And here’s the face-extended Variant.

By 1970 or so, VW of Brazil was feeling the same problem that VW in Germany had been having, and what led to the creation of the EA97 in the first place: the Brazilian Beetle was getting old, and they identified the need to supplement it. The result was the 1973 Brasilia, which although using the same basic T1 underpinnings, was shorter, and did use the T1 type engine, despite the tall blower, although it was squared off some at the top.

That resulted in a high rear cargo floor, and a higher lift-over for the rear hatch. But  no matter; the Brasilia became a hit, and was the volume leader for some time. And it’s become a cult classic in Brazil. It was made until 1982 (CC here).

There was even a four-door Brasilia.

The Brasilia was made until 1982, by which time it had been replaced by the Gol, which was FWD but still used the aircooled engine up front, at least for the first some years. Later versions used the modern inline watercooled fours, and the Gol was eventually sold in the US as the VW Fox. CC’s Gol history is here.

Variant II posted at Cohort by Alberto Simon

In 1977, the 1600 underwent a major transformation, but only for the Variant, as the other body styles were now discontinued, replaced by the more modern FWD Passat. It got a major restyle, and under that sharp nose was a strut suspension, similar to what was used in the German 411/412. That increased its front trunk space, among other things. And it finally got the double-jointed semi-trailing arm rear suspension. It was now called Variant II.

The styling of the Variant II clearly echos that of the Passat. It’s a bit questionable as to why the Variant II was even made, but presumably it was a matter of cost and utilizing the huge tooling for air cooled cars. As it is, it only lasted for some four years, ending in 1981. Not surprisingly, the Variant II is sometimes confused with the Brasilia, but its longer rear overhang is one key tip off.

This is the end of the line for this family of cars. What started out in Germany as a cheap Beetle alternative ended up being closer to a 412. Which is rather appropriate, sort of making the jump from Type 1 to Type 4, as it was never a genuine Type 3. But who’s counting?

Related reading:

1969 VW 1600 T3 Fastback: Fast in Name Only    PN

VW Brasilia – Another Alternative Universe Brazilian VW   Robert Kim

VW Gol: The Difficult Mission To Replace a Legend   Rubens

1974 VW 412: VW’s Deadly Sin #1    PN