(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.
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.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that this Fastback is in very good, and very original shape.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This shot of the interior reminds me of how I usually got into my car; from the passenger side.
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.
Six vehicles, all of them in a row. All of them German, five of them Volkswagens and four of them vans. Not bad.
A EuroVan that runs on BioDiesel and a Vanagon plastered with bumper stickers.
… a Mercedes wagon and another Westfalia.
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.
Earlier in the day, I’d taken a similar shot of an air-cooled van.
While I’m at it, here’s another shot, a real College Town Street Scene. Bicycles, a used bookstore and a VW van.
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!
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.
I wondered for years why the nose on these always seemed to be so high (now I know). This one seems to be lower than most. I wonder how much weight the owner has in the trunk to make it that way.
What a nice looking VW and is there a rear trunk at all or just an engine bay? Why is the VW emblem wavy, what caused them to rust at the trailing edge of the front fender, and wonder why it has two different license plates? Never knew those EuroVans came with a Diesel, makes them even more quirky; almost as much as a Winnebago Rialta.
Hey, I didn’t notice that about the plates! They make us get a new plate every few years here in Washington, regardless of the condition of the plate being replaced. It looks like this guy forgot to put the new plate on the front.
My ’66 had a shelf over the engine, so the car had two trunks. that was a pretty important feature for me, since it wasn’t practical to use my front trunk.
Here’s a photo of what it looked like. The image is taken from a CC that Niedermeyer The Elder while he was still with That Other Website.
I suppose that qualifies as related reading:
I got a laugh at “Niedermeyer The Elder”. Makes Paul sound like some revered medieval scholar. 🙂
Thanks for the info Mike and some of the first A-series plates are wearing out already. Not many people are keeping their 6 digit plate number so come 2018-2019 they will be quite rare indeed.
Yeah, the new Washington plates are kind of cheap, especially the vanity plates. I do not understand the logic behind getting a new plate every seven years. Perhaps it’s because we’re all bad about washing our cars, and after seven years of dirt accumulate on the plate, it becomes hard to read.
It’s the fine quality 3M reflector material that decomposes, rendering the plate unreadable. Also, their top notch lobbyists that keep pressure on legislatures to replace the plates often.
Here in Michigan, everyone had to get a new plate a couple of years ago to combat folks driving around with expired plates/stolen tabs.
I’ve got 10 year old plates on my Fairmont that still reflect quite nicely, and I’m sure our Cleveland climate is far harder on plates (as well as everything else 😀 ), I’m guessing there are good, better, and best levels and Washington state took the cheap way out.
The reason behind the plates being required every 7 years is revenue. A few years ago a voter approved bill limited the amount of registration that could be charged. You can order a replacement with the same number, for that there is an extra charge. I don’t like paying to replace perfectly good plates, but since we don’t have state income tax I can live with it. I don’t bother keeping the same number, however.
VW touted the “two trunks” in their advertising, along with a few other advantages (hey, an electric clock!):
Funny and enthusiastic ad to say the least and I bet there is no window glass in that VW. the hollow sounds got a chuckle out of me as did the slight struggle to open the front trunk.
I like the way they chose a very short actor to demonstrate the roomy interior.
I thought 5′ 6″ was average Male height in the 1960s.
Washington (actually 3M) makes the sheeting so cheaply that after 7 years the plates are usually too worn out. You can keep your number for a fee.
This ad reminds me of something that I’d forgotten. The clock in that poor, battered ’66 Fastback worked perfectly.
Eurovan panel trucks were briefly sold in Canada with the non-turbo 2.5 l diesel and 5 speed stick, but probably not in USA, due to the “chicken tax”. Don’t think any Eurovans with windows and seats were ever sold with diesel engines in North America. Have seen a few converted to newer diesel engines on the VW forums.
I’ve always liked the looks and proportions of these as well, but I’ll admit to being partial to the squareback. Here’s a 1970-73 model that resides in my neighbourhood.
I’ve always liked the Squareback VW as well. It’s just too bad that this didn’t sell as well as the Beetle.
My Uncle who was quite thrifty , but not mechanically inclined would buy a new Rambler every 3-4 years.
Low and behold he drove into our driveway in 1969 with a brand new Squareback in the same light blue color as this featured fastback.
That Volkswagen was a strange vehicle to a household that was used to owning 10 year old domestic cars. For some reason my siblings and I thought it hilarious that the Volkswagen’s engine was in the rear.
My father had a 1970 Squareback as a commuter. It was “loaded” with A/C and automaitc (real, not autostick as in the Type I). It was the most space efficient configuration for a mainstream car sold in the US at the time.
I’ve almost always had at least one air-cooled VW since I was 16. ’69 Ghia and ’74 Thing are in the current family fleet. The low revving engines and slightly sloppy shifter made them a great stick shift “trainer”. Today, an aging mini pickup (still plentiful with manual transmissions) might serve the same purpose. A friend tried to teach his kid to drive a modern FWD Korean sedan with frustrating and smoky burning clutch results.
I have a box of copies of Foreign Car Guide (and Volkswagen Owner’s Guide) from my teen years. In the June 1968 issue they road tested an automatic fastback. The reviewer is fairly withering about the automatic’s power robbing qualities: “In short, the willing (and quieter these days) 1.6 liter VW powerplant is just not able to haul both car and automatic gearbox at modern traffic speeds. I know you can’t do 80 many places in America anymore, but anything over 65 is likely to take half the afternoon.” [note: 0-60 took 29 seconds] Coupling that gearbox with A/C in you father’s car must have been a challenge?
My friend’s Slushbox-Fastback was painfully slow. To make matters worse, he was a very timid driver. I couldn’t stand being a passenger in that car. “You’ve got the right of way, damn you!”
His commute was a slow-speed crawl in Los Angeles traffic. I doubt if it ever saw 65 while he owned it.
I loved these cars when I was a kid. A friend had a new 67 fastback in dark red that I got to drive. It seemed smooth, powerful, and roomy at the time – at least compared to my 63 beetle. And I still like the clean, balanced design of both the fastback and wagon; much better than the ungainly look of the Type 4 to come.
Were these fastbacks super expensive compared to the Beetle or unreliable? It seems that this and the Squareback VW were much better looking and better overall then the Beetle, so why was it not as popular?
Here in the US, I think the type 3 ran about 30% more than a Beetle.
I love Bellingham. It is my favorite Washington college town by far even though I’m a Husky.
Once on a brief stopover on our way home from Vancouver BC, we stopped in BH to stretch our legs. For some reason I left my wallet on the roof of the car (VW Fox GL Sport 4 door) and forgot about it until later when I realized my mistake after driving through town.
Some angel Bellinghammer went out of their way and took it to the police station, where I later retrieved it.
We stayed in the WWU dorms once when my son played in a soccer tourney there. Fun times every time.
Nice article Mike!
VW isn’t really big fave of mine…BUT…the Type 3 is one VW that I should put into my collection.
My best friend had a White 66 Fastback back around 1972-3. It had come from Germany and had kilometers on the speedometer. Fun telling those not in the know that we were going 100 on the way to the beach. It too had its issues, I think a cracked block. A piece of bubble gum, a half dollars worth of gas and a quart of oil would get us there and back. About a 50 mile round trip from midtown Mobile to Dauphin Island. Fun times, thanks for the memories.
Another car from growing up in 60s/70s Britain.We took in lodgers in the 60s & 70s for some reason the only cars I remember them having were a Hillman Imp and 3 of these VWs.
Old Volkswagens were everywhere back then; we took them for granted.
Looks like they still are! This is a great collection. The Fastback is perfect and awesome, but I’m intrigued by these vans too. What’s up with that Biodiesel EuroVan? It looks like an early model and those were only sold in the U.S. for one year, so they’re crazy rare. Peter N mentioned above that they were available with a diesel engine in Canada, where they never stopped selling them, so maybe it’s one of those. The wheels and black trim are decidedly un-American, too. Or maybe it’s just a regular gas-powered van whose owner really loves BIODIESEL and wants the world to know it!
The red Westy looks like it might be a (46HP OMFG) diesel as well, based on the badge:
I always liked these and the square backs… A neighbor had a square back for many years (not sure what year) and seemed to have a lot of fuel injection problems.
I’m one who loves Fast backs , especially VW’s .
They didn’t run the fan off the fan belt so you could drive until the battery died if it broke , unlike a Beetle .
I had several Fast Backs , my favorite one was a 1970 , first year with the big FUGLY taillights ~ it had the Borg Warner three speed fully automatic slushbox , careful tuning was necessary to make it decently fast , few ever were properly tuned .
Sun roof , Blaupunkt AM/SW radio , the works .
Desert Beige (a color I hate) , low miles and nearly perfect in every way ~ I stupidly sold it to a Customer who jumped at my over priced offer .
The heaters in these were terrific , even in New England ! they’d melt cheapo shoes in the middle of _January_ .
IIRC , that Dustin Hoffman advert was in 1964 .
Melted shoes in the middle of January, you say? That’s pretty impressive. I’ll admit I never looked into what was wrong with the heater in my Fastback. Everyone I knew who had an air-cooled VW bitched about the heater, so I guess I just assumed it was hopeless.
Oh yeah ~ the engine cooling fan was HUGE and mounted directly to the crankshaft , GOBS of air volume and better ducting , improved heater boxes , blah blah blah….
The Typ II was *supposed* to replace the Beetle just like the K70 and the Rabbit and the Typ IV etc. were supposed to…….
Mom bought a midnight blue Squareback in 1967 , twin ported 1600 C.C. engine , 12 volts, AM/FM/SW Blaupunkt radio….. sweet .
I was _supposed_ to get it in 1970 but , anything *I* wanted or was supposed to get , always got tossed out , junked or whatever .
IIRC a Typ II was close to $3K .
They all had this great fresh air ventilation system that always plugged up it’s two 19 MM drain hoses with dead leaves , causing the vent box to fill up with dirty water , water that _only_ ever came out when it was bitterly cold and/or you had a Lady in the car etc….
Easy to fix but NO – ONE seems to know why the hell they did this .
I bought a partially dismantled 1966 Squareback from a VW Junkyard in 1976 for $125 , picked an engine off the pile , some seats off another pile , had to go into L.A. to find tires and other bits & pieces , assembled it in about two weeks then folded down the rear seat , filled it to the roof with crap and stuffed my then young bride and her best friend into it , drove it to Guatemala City , C.A. , had a lot of fun , out ran the Mexican Cops South of Mexico D.F. in it , drove it all day long with a seized generator after taking the fan belt off (TIP : run two parallel 6 volt batteries when driving vintage 6 volt vehicles South of The Border !) .
Good times lots of stories , loved living in Centro – America etc.
That’s quite a story. Running from the Mexican police in your pieced-together VW? I don’t think I can top that. Too cool!
It wasn’t all that hard ~ I’d just finished passing a l o n g line of cars and trucks going up hill and he was sitting in a Lay By in a ’72 Ford , he sat up right quick as I zoomed past , I nailed the throttle and didn’t let up until the next valley an hour or so later , slid off the road and behind a gas station , locked up the car and took a walk , had some ice cream with SWMBO & her friend , about 45 minutes later the Cop came screaming by going full tilt boogie .
I waited a couple hours before heading out again .
Typ III*’s had ball joint suspension from the get go , making them out handle Beetles handily .
Since I could choose the best stuff from the VW Scrapyard , I chose some original Koni shocks , decent tires and so on .
It was a real screamer .
Ditto on that vent system. I owned a ’69 squareback and later a ’74, for about 20 years altogether. The vent was wonderful when it was clean and dry. Almost like air conditioning. But it was a stupid design. Most cars with cowl vents have a screen glued directly under the slots, but the Type III had the screen several inches down, and it was a fairly wide-mesh screen. So leaves and pine needles got through the slots and you couldn’t sweep them out or hose them out.
The fuel injection was another “looked good on paper” design. When everything was JUST RIGHT … new points and plugs, clean injectors, exact timing, all sensors clean and adjusted … it gave great mileage, low emissions and decent performance. But if any of those factors were slightly off, it was balky and nasty. You’d hit the gas pedal …. …. …. and sooner or later the engine would decide that your request for acceleration was temporarily permitted. It would then increase its speed in several discrete steps.
Did you open the vent window a bit? That’s a critical component of getting good heat in a VW. Their bodies are almost airtight, so if one doesn’t open a vent or crack the window, the heat wont flow nearly as well as it should.
VW heaters were not the greatest in really deep cold, but not nearly as bad as most folks and legends make them out to be.
Crack the vent window? I didn’t know about that trick. I bought the car in March or April and sold it in October, and the heater was never a priority. I just accepted the “VWs have bad heaters” dogma and concentrated on other things.
One thing this story brings back for me is what an idiot I was back then. I had almost zero mechanical curiosity regarding the VW. It was my stick-driving trainer and Ironic Fashion Statement, and not much else. I’d much rather be Old Gray-Haired Mike than Young Stupid Mike.
“… Their bodies are almost airtight, ”
So that is why they were often seen floating in SF Bay during the 70s…..
Great find. Sounds like your VW served a perfect purpose.
had a red ’68. shifter was rubbery and the heater was real weak, but to a 20 year old I thought it was a Porsche…
I think every Type 3 sold in Cleveland was that shade of baby blue…
One of my favorites; I bought a new ’68 dark red fastback in Murnau, Germany in the summer of ’68. Drive around Bavaria and Switzerland while doing some USAF studies, then shipped it home to the USAF Academy near Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, icy roads got me, and that rear -heavy VW…. totaled it, but fortunately not myself. By the way, mine was manual “mit einspritz,” first year of fuel injection on VW, I believe.
Loved my twin carb 66. $300.00 and a rope tow home with the previous owner. The same light blue. Rebuilt the longblock at the dealership I worked at around 1980. Earl Schieb paint job and drove for 4 years, then parents owned for a couple of years, finally a family friend bought it from them. It traveled 100k miles + on the rebuilt engine, did have to replace one head that cracked due to overheating because of a intake air bellows while the parents had it that was not replaced in time. The stereo worked fine with a twelve volt converter wired direct to battery, do wish it was 12 volt but was a good car. Neighbor finally sold it because even though I was there to help, he didn’t like the fact you “had to pull the engine to fix anything’.
Regarding that campervan: Those “Coexist” stickers really bug me. They seem to imply a vast moral equivalency where none exists.
Lovely fastback; easily the best-looking T3 variant. The Type 3 in general is hard to find on the East Coast these days, whereas I remember seeing them not infrequently in the 80’s and into the 90’s.
also really liking that white Westy. And the two-tone Vanagon? Very cool, I’ve not seen one like that in a long while, if ever.
Not sure how you’d fix non-working headlamps with one fuse.. They had separate fuses for left & tight, main and dip, so would take four fuses from non-working to working.
Okay, I’m replying to a comment that is now over five years old, but this one deserves an answer. The single fuse that I replaced was enough to get the driver’s side low-beam working, which was sufficient for my purposes, since I was mostly driving at low speeds in well-lit areas. At that stage in my life, I lacked the necessary patience to get the other headlight working, since it required more than just a fuse.