Curbside Outtake: VW 1500 Notchback Sedan – An (Unfair?) Styling Critique

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.