There’s something that’s bugged me about the styling of the VW Type III notchback sedan since…1962, when I first saw pictures of one. Obviously, this one is hardly the best example of one to put under the design microscope, as it’s seen better days; decades, actually. This patched together example belongs to the father of the young woman who lives here, and he’s a long-time aircooled VW fanatic that finds forlorn and neglected ones and brings them back to life and then sells them. A VW flipper, in other words. He’s obviously got his hands full with this one.
The main issue I’ve had with these for almost 60 years is that the greenhouse looks almost perfectly symmetrical, front to rear. Staring at this picture, I actually wondered if it was. No, the windshield is a bit different from the rear one. But are the side window openings identical, front and rear?
I actually removed the vent window to make it easier to judge that. The fact that I felt that was necessary says that even if they’re not the same, they’re too close for comfort. Front-rear symmetry in cars is almost never a good thing.
The I cropped it to get an even better look. Hmm. Out comes my architect’s rules; no, the front window opening is a wee bit longer than the rear one. And the curve at their upper upper front/rear corner is quite obviously different.
How about we disguise it a bit further, eliminating any obvious tell-tales as to which end is front and which is rear. Are you seeing my double-ended point?
It’s a bit too much like this.
Having (hopefully) made my point, let’s move and and take in this automotive Lazarus. Just for the record, the Type III notchback was never officially imported to the US by VW, but a fair number made their way here back int the day, via gray market imports from Canada or direct imports from Germany. Why didn’t VW sell it here? because they didn’t have the production capacity, which was a constant problem for VW during their explosive growth period in the fifties and sixties.
The Type III (1500/1500S) was initially made in Wolfsburg, and in quantities just enough to meet the domestic demand. Beetle fatigue was a growing issue, and lots of VW owners were desperate to trade up to something a bit bigger, faster and more contemporary looking.
Meanwhile, in the US the Beetle was still on fire, would continue to be for almost another decade. Americans looking for something bigger and faster just looked elsewhere. So it wasn’t until VW’s new factory in Emden was completed in 1965 and the Type III production was moved there that there was plenty to go around, for the US too. And rather wisely, they left the notchback behind, selling only the Squareback (Variant) and Fastback.
A contemporary accounting of this and a review of a ’64 1500S can be found in a Vintage Review we posted here a few years back.
By now you’re all familiar with the Type III’s pancake engine, which had an axial fan at the rear end of the block instead of on top like the Beetle, which made it very low and flat, allowing space for a shallow trunk above it. A couple of suitcase laid flat fit in there. It was bigger in the fastback, and really logical in the squareback.
Just how many notches found their way into the US is hard to say. Not really large numbers, but not totally insignificant either. When we moved to Towson in 1965, the daughter of the folks across the street had a white notchback. One would see them occasionally.
I don’t know the history of this one, but it’s got a few gashes down there.
And is that a genuine rust hole in the front fender? It must have come from somewhere else, but it sure matches up nicely with the gash in the door and sill. What an unfortunate coincidence.
The interior needs a bit of work yet, but the aftermarket steering wheel and shifter suggest that this is just a temporary state of affairs. I suspect the owner has a stash of parts like this, and they went on first thing.
The back seat is half there. I suspect this car sat for some years/decades in a rainy Oregon forest.
Looks like there was some body work done there already once upon a time.
It’s a testament to the rapidly rising price of air cooled VWs that this is still on the road to salvation.
I remember seeing a few of these Notchbacks here in Canada as a kid in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, but the Squarebacks and Fastbacks were much more common. I’m glad to see that people are working to keep these old air-cooled VW’s alive. They’re a part of history, and plenty of people have stories about them. I always liked the Squarebacks – a neighbour of ours had an old green one in the late ‘70’s as a daily driver. It was in nice shape, and it was kind of sad to see it replaced by an Aries K wagon.
I think that the main issue with the side view is that the trunk is too low as compared to the side view of the hood. Just a little larger C pillar along with a higher trunk (hood) lid gives the car at least a palatable side appearance – without a more aggressive makeover.
Of course the top is a little bit too tall for the body and body length as well, but that change would be on the major side.
I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these. I do remember, a few years back, driving to the “Das Awkscht Fescht” classic car show in Macungie, PA, and seeing a nicely maintained red one out on the interstate. It caught my eye because at first, I didn’t realize what it was.
I remember as a kid, it seemed like the wagons and the fastback versions were everywhere, but the notchback 2-door is rare enough that even if I see one from any angle other than the front, it doesn’t immediately register with my mind, as to what it is.
That actually jogged a childhood memory of mine. When I was a kid, there was this area near my grandparents’ house, behind a middle school, where people would dump old cars and other junk. Granddad used to take us grandkids on walks up through the woods around there. For some reason, VWs seemed like a popular car to dump back there. I remember two Bugs, a Karman Ghia, one of the little wagons, and a fastback. There was also a Ford Falcon, actually in the creek, which fed into DC’s Anacostia River. And a first-gen Corvair 2-door, with its roof pillars cut on the driver’s side and the roof peeled over, like the fire department practiced on it, or something. Oh, and a GM X-frame car that had been stripped down to just the frame and cowl, although there was enough dash left I think I was able to ID it, years later as a ’60 or ’61 Chevy.
I thought it was interesting, how VW-heavy that little auto graveyard was. Anyway, they ended up cleaning that area up in the mid-80’s and got the cars and other junk out. However, they missed the X-frame Chevy. The Karman Ghia was half-buried in an embankment at the edge of the school property, like it had been dumped there, and then partially covered over when the school extended their field. They extended it a bit more, and simply covered it completely.
I went back in that area again in early 2018, on a bit of a nostalgia trip. And, the Chevy was still there! It’s covered over pretty heavily in wisteria vines, and after all this time, I figure it’s there to stay!
As for that 1500 notchback style, I think it’s actually kind of cute, but I do agree that when viewed dead-on from the side, it does look a bit awkward. But, any other angle, I think it’s fine. With smaller cars, I think hatchbacks and wagons tend to look better (plus they’re simply more functional) than notchbacks, but all things considered, I think VW did pretty good here.
One thing I just thought of…are the windshield and rear window the same piece of glass on the 1500 notchback. My guess is, they’re not, but they do look pretty similar. If they actually are the same piece, they probably did that to save on production costs.
The slight differences between front and rear windows could be all in the way the seal fits, and the idea isn’t new. AMC built a concept car in the ’60s that took it even farther. It used not only the same front and rear door glass, but the doors were the same also (just on the other side). The front fender (driver side) also was the rear quarter (pass. side). I believe the hood and trunk were the same stamping. The grill and tail light panel were different and the only way you could tell whether it was coming or going. It cut the number of parts almost in half, saved tons on costs, and was based on their economy car, the Rambler American.
Besides the Brazilian production models VW built a couple of Type 3 four-door sedan prototypes. The 1960 version looks to have an awkwardly long rear window but the only pictures seem to be a front 3/4 view…
…while the later one on a stretched wheelbase seems to get a lot of right notes; even with a standard wheelbase and slimmer C-pillar its’ more notched roof and bigger rear would’ve solved the appearance issues Paul brings up while allowing a sufficently squared-off rear door to have looked “right” on a Squareback as well, allowing that model to be a proper 4-door wagon rather than a 2-door with a C pillar right where a 4-door would have one.
That almost looks a bit Rover 2000-ish.
I’ve driven these Typ III Notchbacks and found them to be very good cars, I think they would have sold in larger number than the did the fastbacks and fastbacks are always a craze that peaks and dies quickly .
Good to see this battered old survivor is still out on the road, Typ III’s are very expensive to restore or even rebuild to look decent .
I remember enough of these around in California when I was a kid, that they couldn’t have all been imported by individuals. Does anyone know if some dealers brought them in in (small) numbers? It should have been easy in those pre-DOT and EPA days, especially to just truck them down from BC.
In 1972 when I moved to SoCal from the Midwest to go to grad school I was astonished to see these little sedans all over the place – not sure I’d ever seen one in the metal before then.
Here’s some info in regard to your question:
Since the US market typically favored notchback sedans over fastbacks and hatches this makes an interesting counterpoint to the Jetta which substantially outsold the Golf in the US. Personally I prefer the looks of the Type 3 fastback and squareback over the slightly dumpy looking notchback so VW appears to have made the right decision. The A1 Jetta was a much more neatly executed design with a strong flavor of 3 Series BMW which helped sales.
Front-to-back symmetry feels wrong because cars are horses. Animals are symmetrical left to right (which Exner tried to violate) and animals have a head and tail.
Many designers have tried the front-back symmetry approach, often for the dubious cost-saving purpose of interchangeable doors. It never works.
Living in Canada these were fairly common, in fact in the early 70s my roommate had a black one. As I remember the heating ducts ran through the door sills, which unfortunately had large holes rusted in them. This meant that not only did the defroster not work, there was a cold breeze around your feet. Stuffing some rags in the holes stopped the cold air but did not help the defrosting. At least in a Beetle the flat windshield means you can use an ice scraper on the inside, but not in a Type 3.
I don’t mind the proportions of the sedan, but I always much preferred the squareback. The fastback just looks wrong to me. Sort of a VW version of the AMC Marlin.
Always had a thing for the Type 3 sedans. I was told VW of America never imported them, but some of the larger dealers brought them over in the early 60’s. Not common in Los Angeles, but a few were around. Saw a few Type 3 Karmann Ghia’s too back in the day.
I had an early Lego set that came with a 1/87th. scale VW notchback and a little garage. Made out of some incredibly hard shiny plastic, it looked new for years.
Its nice to see a battered old dunga still getting around it would be pink stickered here and put off the road and a repair cert required to certify that sill and front fender before it could be legal again I miss old heaps like that.
My dear sir, if you are unable to tell which end of the VW to get into, it may just be time to hand in your licence.
I see your point, and I don’t, partly because I’m partial – I’ve always fancied the looks of these – which doubtless makes me not WANT to see. The rear window slopes a deal more than the front, which to my eyes fixes the potential ’49 Studebaker problem, but I will say this: I’d have sworn the gutter line is at a much steeper slope where it meets the fender/doortop line at the front than it is at the back, but damned if they’re not in fact identical. From that, I can begin to see what you’re seeing. However, I choose not to dwell, lest your view ends up colonizing mine.
Fair or unfair as critique this all may be, it remains that this collection of rust and bog would be worth $20,000 in Oz today, which, considering there’d another 20k in getting it properly critiquable again, is absurd money for a heavier Beetle that was always a not-very-good car.
Whether coming, or going.
We had one on our block – our Norwegian next door neighbor was a devoted VW fanatic. I used to ride in it to school events with his son and daughter. Like his other VW vehicles of this era, it was excruciatingly slow. Arnold drove all his cars excruciatingly slow – and lived to be 104. He outlived my father, who was 40 years younger and became a good friend of mine. He was a little treasure.
But anyway, among his VW vehicles, the notchback was also just a larger version of a Beetle. It looked like a Beetle had its roof attached to a 1500 wagon. Arnold also had those wagons. Very unimpressive.
It was better than the DAF that our Dutch neighbor had, but not better looking. The DAF was a rough running little rear engine car that was better looking than Arnold’s VW notchback, but not much else.
You can see VW Beetle in most of the interior of this car as well. While the dash was a bit better, it had the same seats, the same carpeting and the same switch gears as a Bug. The biggest problem was rust, as it was for all our Chicagoland cars. Rust ate up the front fenders and my little Norwegian neighbor patched it up with Bondo until there was little else.
Odd little cars – the wagon was more useful and it lasted a few years longer.
Around 1980 I bought a ’64 1500S sunroof equipped Square back that probably originally was sold in Canada, it had a rusted out roof on the rear corners, due to a leaky sunroof that hadn’t been attended to for years, bottom rear of the front fenders had rust as well, floor pan except under battery and heater channels were still intact. Bought it in SoCal for $300, trans was popping out of gear, engine had oil leaks but still ran OK. Kept it for a couple of years, sold it when I bought a used ’75 Rabbit that had AC and was a deluxe 2 door, red with rare white interior.
’66 was the first year the 1600 Fastback was introduced worldwide, it and the Squareback were finally introduced officially through US dealers. Never did care for the awkward appearing Notchback, it does have a strange look to it. I owned 2 ’66 Fastbacks at different times, quite an upgrade from a Beetle of the same year. No rust on either of them in SoCal, they were about 10 to 15 years old when I owned them.
Before VW sold them, they were very pricey compaired to a Beetle, but there were a lot of them around SoCal, dealers serviced them and could get parts from VW, warranty repairs were honored ( 6 months 6000 miles was all you got back then).