Classic CC Capsule: VW 1500 Type 3 Notchback – A Few Notches Short

Davo found one of these VW notchbacks before I did. I know there’s one or more in Eugene, but I just never caught up with it, which is hardly a reflection on their speediness. Unless they’ve had engine upgrades, which realistically 95% of them have. The 1500 was a really big deal when it came out in Germany in 1961; after decades of dithering and endless prototypes, VW finally came up with an answer to all of the Beetle critics. The result was a mixed bag, and since I just happen to have a C/D review of one handy, I’ll share the highlights.

VW 1500 1962notchback

Somewhat oddly, the 1500 was never imported by VW to the US, as they were production-constrained until their new plant opened in Emden. In 1966, the 1600 arrived (legitimately), but only in fastback and squareback (wagon) versions. But that didn’t keep gray-market dealers from importing the 1500 notchback. It was a hot item among VW-philes at the time; kind of like when Honda introduced the bigger Accord after the Civic built up a similarly enthusiastic following.

The 1500 was obviously very much a VW under the boxier skin: the engine was reconfigured into the “pancake” layout with the blower fan now mounted at the rear of the block. That means there’s actually a flat luggage compartment under that rear lid, which with the larger front compartment addressed one of the Beetle’s biggest shortcomings.

VW 1500 Midn64

A wider rear track (but still swing-axle), bigger brakes, a front sway bar, and a more powerful 65 hp twin-carb engingine in the 1500S version combined with the drastically better visibility and somewhat better interior room to make the 1500 driving experience feel more up-to-date, for the early sixties. And VW’s superb material and build quality was still on full display.

The driving experience was still a mixed bag: better than the Beetle 1200, by a pretty good margin, but the competition was closing in all a round, and the basic VW configuration was showing its limitations: handling quirks, performance, fuel economy, cramped quarters, etc. If it had appeared in 1958, it would have been hailed as a brilliant Porsche sedan. Here’s my CC on the 1600 fastback.