It took some five years for the VW Type 3 (1500/1600) to make it to America, at least officially. Why? The 1500 was badly needed for VW to stay competitive in its home markets, but was selling every Beetle in could make in the US. They lacked the production capacity until 1965 to send over an adequate supply. That didn’t stop VW lovers from buying a fair number of gray market import 1500s, from Canada and Europe. Car and Driver tested a 1500 in 1964, and delved into this phenomena, the first time gray market imports amounted to any significant numbers.
But for 1966, VW finally had their new Emden factory up and running, and sent a healthy number of Type 3, but just the new Fastback and Squareback, as the notchback was considered a bit out of date by then. They had larger twin-carb 1600cc motors, rated at 65 gross hp, the most powerful VWs ever.
R&T rightfully points out that the Fastback’s styling is not organic, and has some of the same issues as other sedans that had fastbacks grafted on, like the Rambler Marlin and Dodge Charger. But then it was a VW, and folks generally didn’t buy them for the most elegant styling.
The front disc brakes made a very good showing, and once again point out how pathetic it was to send the giant front-heavy Toronado into the world without them. The new ball joint front suspension was very similar to the one also introduced on the 1966 Beetle 1300. Steering and handling were also familiar, meaning quick, light and accurate on the former, and the traditional tendency towards oversteer on the latter, mitigated somewhat by the 1600’s wider rear track, which would also appear on the Beetle in 1967.
Despite the substantial boost in power, the 1600 was still not exactly quick. In fact, the 1600 was only 0.3 seconds faster to the 1/4 mile than the 50 hp 1300 Beetle. R&T didn’t point it out, but that’s because the 1300 still had the 1200’s lower (higher numerical) gearing and higher revving engine, making it the sportiest stock Beetle. Of course the advantage ended right about at the end of the 1/4 mile, as the 1600’s additional 15 hp were put to use for a higher speed through the traps (64 instead of 57 mph). Top speed was measured as 82 mph, which surprised R&T, as its factory top speed was given as 84 mph, and VW’s had a rep of always exactly matching the factory top speed. This one certainly wasn’t a ringer.
Vintage C&D Review: 1964 VW 1500 Notchback PN
CC 1969 VW 1600 Fastback: Fast In Name Only PN
CC 1966 VW 1300: The Best and Sportiest Beetle Of Them All PN
I remember when Dustin Hoffman did a commercial for theses cars, when they were first introduced.
I liked his dry delivery in the ad: “It’s got a trunk up front, where most cars have their motors…and in the back, where most cars have their trunks, we have…um, it’s a trunk. A large trunk.”
I’m certain that since the car was being pitched to people who thought the VW was too small, it was no coincidence that the ad agency cast 5’6” (167cm) Hoffman in the role. But then, that’s been commonly done for decades.
The glass on the rear windows bended when you opened these on the fastback models.
Magical for 12 year old kids.
My friends dad had a dark green one. A silver sticker saying 12V and a lghtning flash near the switch of the interior door light, WHY we were wondering, no other car had such warning labels.
And two luggage compartments that was impressive but sort of were nothing compared to the luggage arrangements you had in the new R16, which was vividly demonstrated by another neighbour who’ d bought a brand new Renault.
When the R16 came we decided this was king of the street, except of course for the light blue 1960 Oldsmobile 98 4 -door coupe.
You could not top the Olds.
How life has changed.
Hey, lookit; that sticker can be bought for a few bucks! I’m tempted to get some and apply them at random just for fun.
25mpg driven hard – not bad for 1966.
I liked both these and the squarebacks a lot, but they seem to have not been loved and preserved the way beetles, K-Gs and busses have been. Mrs. JPC drove one of these until she traded it for her first new car – a 1983 Plymouth Colt.
This might have been called a “fastback”, but sporty it wasn’t. Dowdy styling and mediocre performance made it a non-starter in the U.S. marketplace, even with VW reliability and excellent fit and finish. You could buy a 289 equipped Mustang for less, and hundreds of thousands did.
I wanted one of these SO very badly ! Loved the styling, interior and exterior, admired the German quality control of this time period.
But after driving 3 of them I sadly had to pass.
The vinyl interior and the dreadful quixotic add-on air conditioning (SO very desired here in Hot & Humid New Orleans) turned me off the car.
The add on A/C made the already compact engine compartment a mechanic’s nightmare. How a new car’s A/C system could be THAT noisy and zap THAT much power away from the performance AND improperly cool off the car’s interior was incredible to me.
It seemed like the Germans were one generation behind the Japanese car manufactures and 2 generations behind the USA.
Aside from the system being undersized by dint of space constraints both in the passenger compartment and in the engine bay, as well as power constraints, the cars themselves were not built with aircon in mind. Minimal or no tint to the windows, no insulation to speak of—they were solar ovens on wheels, and even a system with much greater capacity would’ve struggled to keep people cool inside.
Sad but true.
Daniel & Mark,
I lived in central Europe back in the 1970s, specifically the Rhine Valley where the Neckar River ended. Germans considered that general location as being a “hot spot” for German summer temperatures, yet I can remember when we had weeks of 25c, everyone was complaining it was way too hot! [25c is about 77f]
So that helps explain why European cars up into the 1970s, were concerned about how to keep the occupants warm, and depend on open windows to keep someone cool. In general, except for coastal regions, Europe in the summer was not as humid as east coast & south east portions of America, and A/C was not needed to control humidity & temperature levels.
From the original Beetle through the 1500 to the Golf, VW‘s attention to detail inside & out has always been a high point. This car has all the VW design cues, that can make it a pleasure to contemplate even if it’s not particularly stylish.
I have mixed feelings about the fastback however – this is the model that provoked our next-door neighbour in the late ‘60’s to say she liked my ‘Volkswagen’, when it was actually a Volvo 544. That’s just unforgivable. 🙂
We had a Squareback, for school carpool duty, so it was in effect a seven passenger car no matter what the maker’s intentions were! Although it was gone by the time I got a license I did drive it a short distance and the very light, direct steering made it pleasant to drive. With the low first gear even a novice didn’t stall the engine off the line.
I liked it.
I also spent many hours in a carpool Mom’s Squareback. Usually just 4 or 5 of us, as I recall, but occasionally someone drew the short straw and got the “way back”.
It seems like Squarebacks were more popular than Fastbacks then, and seem to show up at old-car events more now.
I found these handsome cars, certainly better looking than their sedan/coupe brethren. However to call 65 gross hp powerful, is a stretch, even for a 2380 lb car. Perhaps a suggestion would be that it was sprightly, (spritely?) or had a bit of get up and go? Anyway, it’s too bad there weren’t more of these on the roads in their time. If VW itself only forecast a 10% share of their own capacity, you could say their focus was certainly on the Beetle.
Great post going back in time.
Matchbox offered a red 1600 Fastback for many years in its 1-75 range, and both myself and all of my friends had one. (When Matchbox switched to the Superfast models, the VW’s color was changed to metallic purple.)
My grandmother’s cousin from Lorain, Ohio, often visited her during the summer months. They drove their Dodge motorhome, with a dark blue 1600 Fastback in tow. When we visited them in Lorain during the summer of 1969, I rode in that VW to the first McDonald’s I ever visited. That was also the first time I had ridden in any VW.
I immediately thought of my red Matchbox version. It made me like the styling of these.
19 seconds to 60, and nearly the same time to get from 50 to 70. Life certainly did occur at a slower pace in those days.
I remember seeing one of these for the first time and thinking how much more modern and up-to-date they appeared when compared to a beetle. I found the beetle to be very claustrophobic at the time, but being a child I was usually relegated to the tiny back seat.
My cousin had a blue one of these in the early 70s. I liked seeing the actual pages from Road & Track. Years ago it was easy to identify a Volkswagen without seeing it due to the sound of the flat 4. The same could be said with Subarus up to a certain point – except a WRX is still pretty distinctive.
I think my cousin’s was a 4 speed manual. I wonder what rpm these would do on the highway – back then in my state the limit was 60.
According to the review, each 1,000 rpm was good for 19.8 mph in 4th gear…so 3,000 rpm at 59.4 mph – which interestingly is the speedometer error at 60 mph indicated. Getting a slightly larger tire than the stock 6″x15″ bias plies would fix that.
Top speed at the 4600 rpm redline would be 91 mph.
Thanks for the specs – so at 65 mph maybe around 3300 rpm. That’s about what my ’98 Subaru Outback manual was, and a 5 speed manual Honda CR-V.
Actually less than I thought. Probably a Volkswagen bus would be geared higher (numerically) for a higher rpm on the highway.
Owned a ’66 Fastback from ’79 to ’83, bought it for $300 with the engine in pieces in a box. Rebuilt the engine stock except for higher compression piston and cylinders, stock bore, I think they raised it to 8.5 to one, came stock with twin one barrel Soles carbs. It could hit 90 on flat ground, eventually.
’66 was the last year of 6 volt electrical system, on cold mornings the starter struggled to turn over fast enough to catch, it always did eventually. If you needed a car with AC this was not one to buy, add on AC was rare, expensive and troublesome. It did have a good fresh air ventilation system, especially with the rear swing (bend) out windows.
I lived in Los Angeles and made do without AC, eventually replaced it with a Rabbit that had AC. Parents bought it in ’83, then in ’85 I sold it for them to my next door neighbor who kept it until ’89. It had over 100k mikes on the rebuilt engine at this point and was still running well.
Served me well, never left any of us stranded over the 10 year timespan, a nice upgrade over the Beetle. Was my last it cooled VW. It did crack a cylinder head while my parents owned it, the air intake boot had failed causing overheating, I replaced the head and boot for them, it think parts were around $100.
I well remember these ! .
Like all fastbacks they sell O.K. for a few years then are a drug on the used car market plus they used quite a few $pendy Typ III only parts (go price the muffler, it also requires two exchange boxes $$!) .
I’ve never really liked fastbacks from any brand and so foolishly sold on the near pristine fully equipped 1971 beige fully automatic sunroof Fastback I bought dead cheaply…
Personally I always preferred the looks of the Notch back sedan , plenty were gray marketed from Canada to new England but they all rusted out in short order sadly .
12 volts came in the 1967 Model year, not 1966 .
Mom bought a cobalt blue 1967 Square back in Brookline, Ma., I wish I’d been able to get it .
In 1976 I got married and assembled a nice 1966 Square back out of a junkyard, co$t me about $500 all in and then my new wife and I drove it with her best girlfriend riding shotgun, to Guatemala Centro America, much fun and a few scary bits in there too .