Lesser known but no less compelling, the Volkswagen Type 3 offered that classic air-cooled, flat-four design in an intriguing new guise.
When we think of 1960s Volkswagens, two instantly come to mind, the Beetle and the Bus. Those two vehicles were massive hits, selling millions of units, turning on a generation to the charms of air-cooled, rear-mounted engines. But there was a third Volkswagen that, at least in Europe, was nearly as ubiquitous: the Type 3. Our Cool Car Find is a sterling, low-milage example of a 1969 Fastback Type 3 1600 that the hipster’s choice among vintage Volkswagens.
It was clear to Volkswagen by the late 1950s that there was space upmarket for a new car based on their time-tested Beetle platform. Porsche’s success with the 356 had proven as much. Engineers designed the Type 3 to offer more interior space for passengers and cargo with the hopes of attracting buyers for whom the Beetle was too small and the bus too large. The Type 3, debuting at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1961, was the perfect compromise.
Indeed, the Type 3 was the first Volkswagen to feature the classic 3-box design, that is, to look like a modern car. Three body styles were offered for the Type 3: a “Squareback” wagon aka the “Variant” as it was known in Germany, a Notchback version that never made it to the US, and a Fastback design introduced in 1965. The Volkswagen Karmann Ghia would also share the Type 3’s basic platform.
And it was in 1965 that Volkswagen first began importing Type 3s to the US for the 1966 model year. This was also the first year of the larger 1600cc engine. Initially, the Type 3 ran on a smaller 1500cc flat-four. This engine, as you might guess of a ’60s Volkswagen, wasn’t especially powerful. And yet it was their most powerful to date, with the single carburetor version putting out just 53 horsepower. Equipped with two carbs, power jumped all the way to 65 horsepower. Even so, the Type 3 still took a good 18 seconds to make its run from zero to sixty mph.
But then, speed had never been the goal with the Type 3. The goal had been to give the new Type 3 a roomier interior. the Type 3 benefited from having both a front and rear trunk, and it wasn’t just the additional 6-inches in body length that accomplished this either. Returning for a moment to the Type 3’s engine, engineers moved the cooling fan from atop the engine to the end of the crankshaft. This gave the Type 3’s engine a low, compact profile and lent a good deal of additional cargo room. The wagon version, the Squareback, offered a copious 24.7 cu ft of cargo space in the rear.
The Type 3 might have been an uncomplicated design, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t without its refinements. Four-wheel independent suspension along with torsion bars and an anti-sway bar up front gave the Type 3 a wonderfully comfortable ride and decent agility.
The new 1600cc engine was just one of the new innovations for the Type 3 in 1966. That year a new Bosch fuel-injection was offered for the first time. This makes the Type 3 the first mass-produced fuel-injected car. Yes, the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “gullwing” was the first production car to feature fuel-injection, but the Type 3 was the first volume production car to do so. (For more on the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL gullwing, click here.)
For 1967, the Type 3 received a new 12-volt electrical system, and in 1968 a revised fuel-injection system. 1969 saw the introduction of a three-speed automatic transaxle to complement the four-speed manual already available. The Type 3 also gained 4.5-inches in body length that year. This allowed for an additional 1.6 cu ft of cargo space to the front trunk and added room for a vertically stored spare tire and a jack.
The Type 3 lasted through 1973 before being succeeded by the Volkswagen Passat. It had sold approximately 3 million units, with around 600,000 of those going to the US.
Our featured listing is a gorgeous low-mileage 1969 Type 3 Fastback 1600. This car offers a rebuilt 1600 cc engine, aftermarket wheels with new tires, a Pioneer stereo, and a 3-speed automatic transmission. Total miles on the odometer are just 12,930, and the interior is in terrific condition. If you’ve always wanted to get into classic air-cool VWs, this Type 3 is a perfect introduction.