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and sent a healthy number of Type 3, but just the new Fastback and Squareback, as the notchback was considered a bit out of date by then.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.