Curbside Classic: 1969 VW Type 3 Fastback – In Good Company


1969 Volkswagen Type 3 Fastback _02

(first posted 7/6/2014)     There it was, smiling impishly at me, like an old friend.  Once upon a time, and for all too brief a time, I had one quite like it.  I just had to take a second look.

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It was definitely worth that second look.  I’ve always liked the overall proportions of rear-engine cars; to my eyes, they have a balanced look.

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By now, you’ve probably noticed that this Fastback is in very good, and very original shape.

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One of the very few faults that I could find was this wavy emblem.  I don’t think I’d bother replacing it, though.  It adds a bit of character.

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I managed to take this unintentional Selfie when I looked at the tires.  Pretty artsy, stuff, huh?  Maybe I’ll call it “Portrait of the Artist Reflected: Post-Modern Angst at Sun’s Zenith.”  Then again, maybe not.

I was feeling a bit restless the day I spotted this little blue cutie in Bellingham, Washington.  That morning, I strapped one of my bikes to the back of my car and headed up north from Seattle to Bellingham, which is about an hour and a half’s drive.  Once I was there, I parked down by the waterfront and hopped on the two-wheeler for a bit of exercise and sight-seeing.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Bellingham is a bona-fide car-spotting goldmine, but it bears repeating.  There are plenty of us who cover the greater Seattle area, but what the Curbside Cohort needs is a Whatcom County Correspondent to cover Bellingham and the surrounding area.  I just don’t get up there often enough myself.

1969 Volkswagen Type 3 Fastback _07

My particular VW Fastback was a white 1966 model, the first year for the type 3 in the USA. I owned it for less than a year in 1983 during that gray period between dropping out of college and going back to school.  By the time I bought it, it was a battered mess of a car that had been passed from one owner to another in rapid succession.  Along the way, it had accumulated many bumps and bruises, including a cracked block.  Still, it ran pretty well, it was priced to sell and it was my chance to finally get good at driving a stick.  For $50.00, an exotic rear-engined European car with dual carbs and a 4-speed was all mine.

In addition to the cracked block and the resulting chronic oil leak, the ’66 Fastback had the following issues:

Due to a front-end collision, the trunk lid was held down with rope.

Due to a side-impact collision, the driver’s side door could barely be opened, and only with a bit of a struggle.  I was (and remain) quite thin, but it wasn’t easy to squeeze through that narrow gap.  I usually got in through the passenger-side door, in spite of the danger posed by the shifter and the handbrake.

Due to the artistic aspirations of one of the previous owners, “A-12” was painted prominently on the roof, as a sort of tribute to that classic Jack Webb TV police drama, Adam-12.  A green stick-man figure was also painted on the semi-functional driver’s door.

The heater did not work at all; it was bad even by air-cooled VW standards.

Because it was a 1966 VW and not a 1967 or later model, it had a six-volt electrical system.  If I wanted to listen to the radio while idling at a stop sign, I had to rev the motor.

The lock on the passenger door was broken.  This caused a problem for me one day when I was waiting to make a left turn, and an intoxicated man with a ragged beard opened the door and got in.  He requested a ride home and was eager to discuss Volkswagen trivia.  It only took a couple of minutes for me to convince him to get out of my car and leave me alone, but before he left he got a bit angry and advised me in very colorful terms to do a couple of things that I’m pretty sure are anatomically impossible. I was just a stone’s throw away from the legendary Blue Moon Tavern at the time, and I was obviously dealing with a loyal patron of that particular establishment.

And lastly, the headlights didn’t work.  This was the most important issue to me, since most of my stick-driving practice was to be at night, when the streets weren’t crowded.  Seattle is a city built on seven hills, and therefore a bit of a challenge for a neophyte clutch jockey.  The matter of the headlights was solved easily enough with a new fuse.

It was ugly, battered and an embarrassment to be seen in, but it was also fun to drive, in spite of the very sloppy and vague-feeling linkage.  You never forget your first kiss, and I’ll never forget how it felt when I finally got comfortable with rowing my own gears.  Along the way, I encountered the usual small humiliations of stalling at stoplights, forgetting to downshift when slowing down and that sort of thing.  But a life lived without embarrassment is a life half-lived at best!

At the time, I knew two other people with Type 3 VWs:  One guy had a pristine grey-market Notchback painted hearing-aid beige, and the other had a blue 1969 Fastback with the fully automatic transmission that became available on the Type 3 in 1968. Both of these cars were genuine novelties to me.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Notchback Type 3 (it was never officially imported to the USA), and who ever heard of an air-cooled VW with an automatic?  Alongside those two well-cared-for cars, my Fastback was the ragged black sheep of the family.

I had another friend back them who had a very nice Karmann Ghia that he drove for a couple of months without a functioning starter.  He always had to park the car on a downhill incline so he could later do a compression start.  It worked rather well for him; there are advantages to Seattle’s hilly terrain.  There always seemed to be a sufficiently steep hill nearby when he needed it.

Old Volkswagens were everywhere back then; we took them for granted.

After a few months of blissfully ignorant three-pedaled ownership, it was time to say good-bye to my 1966 Fastback.  I already had a car that worked perfectly fine (my 1966 Catalina), winter was approaching and I didn’t have the money, the time, or the patience to work on a car with so many issues. Hell, I didn’t even have a driveway, let alone a garage! I quickly found a buyer, and sold the car for what I paid for it.

But I never forgot that air-cooled Fastback.   Whenever an old bug, bus or Type 3 pulls up next to me at a stoplight, I roll down my window to savor that odd, intoxicating chugging sound.  Like an ex-smoker, I’ve never completely lost the craving; it makes no sense, but the air-cooled craving remains.

1969 Volkswagen Type 3 Fastback _13

This shot of the front fender shows a common place for rust on a Type 3.  The damage isn’t too bad, though; the Tin Worm moves at a snail’s pace here in the Pacific Northwest.  Note the fuel filler door.  My 1966 Fastback didn’t have this particular feature; I had to open the trunk whenever it was time to fill the tank, a procedure complicated by the necessity of first undoing the rope.

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This shot of the interior reminds me of how I usually got into my car;  from the passenger side.

1969 Volkswagen Type 3 Fastback and friends _02

This blue Fastback felt like something heaven-sent; it was just like my ’66, but with the voltage turned up, both literally and figuratively.  This ’69 came into the world with a few more advantages than my 66, including an improved rear suspension.  On top of that, it has also obviously led a charmed life.

My poor ’66 Fastback, on the other hand, had fallen in with a bad crowd (admittedly, myself included).

I waited and waited by that car; more precisely, I loitered.  A talk with the owner, or at least a brief chat, would have been wonderful.  Stalling for even more time, I had a look around.

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Six vehicles, all of them in a row.  All of them German, five of them Volkswagens and four of them vans. Not bad.

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A EuroVan that runs on BioDiesel and a Vanagon plastered with bumper stickers.

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Coexisting with…

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…  a Mercedes wagon and another Westfalia.

1969 Volkswagen Type 3 Fastback and friends

The white Westfalia was the prettiest of the vans.  I wish now that I’d taken more pictures of it.  But I was under the spell of the Fastback.

1969 Volkswagen Type 3 Fastback and friends_02

Earlier in the day, I’d taken a similar shot of an air-cooled van.

aircooled VW van

While I’m at it, here’s another shot, a real College Town Street Scene.  Bicycles, a used bookstore and a VW van.

1969 Volkswagen Type 3 Fastback _03

I was tempted to leave a note under the windshield, in the vain hope that the VW might be for sale.  But who wants to be that desperate guy, who simply must have a particular car and no other? It’s not a strong bargaining position.  Wipe that silly grin off your face, Type 3!  Note the little A-cup Dagmar parking lamps.  Too cute!

type 3 Panorama x

I might as well throw in a comparison shot before I tie this up.  On the left is a 1970 to 1973 Squareback that I also found on a trip to Bellingham.  This should illustrate why I prefer the look of the earlier models over the 1970 restyling.  The newer one has a sort of blank look on its face, and I’m not sure that the extra luggage space is worth the trade-off in curb appeal.  Of course, the photo of the ’69 is a well-lit shot taken with my best camera and the photo of the newer car is a hurried, shadowy cell phone snapshot, which makes for something of an unfair comparison.  It’s rather like those before-and-after photos of a frowning fat guy and his smiling skinny future self.

As I’ve already admitted, my fastback had fallen in with a bad crowd, myself included.  By the time it was mine, it still had some life in it, but it was already a terminal case.  This blue ’69 is obviously in the capable hands of a Volkswagen fanatic, and surrounded by fellow German cars. It’s in good company.