Volkswagen Type 3

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Volkswagen Type 3

1961 - 1973
Flat 4.
1498 cc
4 spd man / 3 spd auto
Top Speed:
Number Built:
2 star
Volkswagen Type 3
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


In September of 1961, Volkswagen announced that they would be producing a new car, the VW 1500. The car would share very little in common with the Beetle. The engine was to be rear-engined, air-cooled 1498cc unit which would be configured to take up less space than that in the Beetle.

In fact much secrecy surrounded the new Volkswagen. It was following a fire at one of the buildings at Volkswagen's Wolfsburg facility in the late 1950's that management decided to board up the windows to stop prying eyes. In that building, and away from the motoring press, the Type III was born. The design was finished in 1959, and by 1960 several prototypes were ready for testing.

At the 1960 Geneva Auto Show, VW's official position was that there were no new designs in the works! Despite the secrecy, word of a "new" VW had been spreading. Information was sparse and unreliable. The August 1959 edition of "Sports Cars Illustrated" revealed "Volkswagen is, according to well founded sources, going to build a car somewhat along the lines of the new Austin A-40 in addition to the regular line of Beetles and Transporters."

In early 1961, VW officially announced that a new model line was on the way. VW released photos to the press, along with the name "VW1500", but little else. When it was finally released later that year, the eager public quickly learned just how radically different from the Beetle the new model was, it being far more conventional for the time.

The first model of this new line was a standard looking sedan. It would eventually earn the nickname "Notchback."Released around the same time as the Notchback, another Type 3 variety was called the "Squareback" (or Station Wagon).

The squareback was called the Varient, and it would prove to be the longest running model of the Type 3 line. In August of 1965, a third Type 3 joined the other two. Aptly named the "Fastback" because of its sportscar fastback style, these cars were tastefully designed and well proportioned. Production of the Type 3 ceased in 1973.

Volkswagen 1600TL Automatic Roadtest

On the 1st October 1968 Volkswagen included two new automatic options, and the ZF design was arguably the best application of an automatic transmission to a medium size car that any manufacturer had achieved to that time.

Unlike the over-eager down changes that occured with ZF automatic's then fitted to BMW models, the transmission fitted to the 1600TL was ideal in that it changed ratios correctly in response to the throttle, load and road speed. At the time it was an all too often occurence for automatics to behave as "one gear" devices, doing everything in top unless full-throttle kickdown or the selector is used to override the controlling "brain"; however the one fitted to the 1600TL was vastly superior.

With full throttle, the two lower gears are held to 39 and 63 mph respectively, corresponding to 5200 rpm (1200 rpm beyond the peak of the power curve) at which there was a great deal of engine and fan noise. The selector was a typical straight-line affair, 2nd locking out top but allowing 1st to be used as required. With 1st gear there was a slightly stiffer detent spring which locked the transmission in low. On the road, the only time you would really need to use the selector while on the move was for a quick down change to intermediate (2nd) in advance of a corner. The kick-down was so prompt that there was little advantage in pre-emptively selecting intermediate prior to overtaking.

The lever had to be lifted to clear a catch safeguarding reverse, but it could be pulled straight back from reverse to any forward gear. In Park the transmission was locked, suplementing an already excellent handbrake; the engine could be started only with the lever at O. Few cars made so little fuss over starting and moving off after standing out through a night of frost. The engine fired immediately, and power was available at once without any stalling on engaging the drive. The stage at which the automatic choke cut out could scarcely be detected. When hot, starting was still reliable but erratic, and it often took a lot of turns of the starter togther with wide throttle for extra air.

Performance Figures

Acceleration through the gears from rest to 60 mph took 22.3 seconds and to 70 in 35.0 seconds, which compared quite well with the equivalent times of 20.0 and 32.1 sec for the 1600TL with manual change. You could of course attempt to improve on the automatic by making later or earlier changes, but for optimum perrformance you could do no better than just to simply put your foot down and leave the transmission to select its own change points. In traffic and on the open road the car felt much more lively than the rather leisurely performance figures suggested, and in the usual way with Volksswagens, the 1600TL was content to cruise indefinitely at its 84 mph maximum.

Noise from the air-cooled rear-mounted engine was considerable when it is pulling hard, but less so on a "cruising" throttle. Even at idle you were never in doubt as to the fact that the engine was ticking over. The automatic's fuel consumption of 22.4 mpg was 17 per cent heavier than with the manual change model, however maintaining a steady 70 mph on the open road would return a very reasonable 27 mpg. The 8.8 gallon fuel tank gave a range of just under 200 miles.

An Unexpected Bonus For Automatic Type 2's

As a bonus for the extra cost of automatic transmission (and as a mechanical necessity for the installation), a much improved rear suspension was fitted on automatics only. Swing axles were replaced by half-shafts, jointed at each end with trailing arms controlling camber angle changes and reducing the oversteer which was characteristic of the standard layout. This new suspension set-up gave much safer and very manageable handling, although steady understeer (which most drivers prefer) remained. When cornered really hard, the Volkswagen could be made to swing its tail out in a progressive and easily controlled slide with little roll.

Wet road grip with the cross-ply Michelin SDS tyres was good, but some care was needed when braking on slippery surfaces because the wheels locked up too readily. Discs were used at the front, with no servo, and on dry roads very good efficiency was available up to a maximum of 1.0g just before the rear wheels lock at 90 lb. on the pedal. Fade was only slight, and was barely noticeable even after a long mountain descent. Left-foot braking was possible, but either foot had to be lifted clear of the floor to work the awkwardly angled pedal. The handbrake held easily on a 1 in 3 incline, and the car restarted on this gradient in the easy way of most automatics with torque convertors.

Suspension and Handling

The Type 2 suspension was always fairly hard, becoming increasingly so the greater the load that was carried. There was not much sensation of what individual wheels were doing, nor any jolt or harshness when a wheel dropped into a pothole, but a lot of firm vertical movement gave a decidedly lively ride over other than smooth surfaces. Although the suspension changes improved cornering, the driver was always reminded that weight distribution greatly affects the stability at speed, particularly in cross winds. The rear-engined Volkswagen tended to wander unless brought promptly back on course with the light and only adequately precise steering. At manoeuvring speeds, the steering remained light but the turning circle of some 37 ft can be a handicap.

Poor Heating and Ventilation Were The Achilles Heel

Forward visibility was quite good in spite of thick screen pillars and obtrusive quarter vents, but the "fastback" styling made it difficult to judge the tail length for reversing. Despite the refinements made since the cars inception in 1961, the heating and ventilation remained poor. The VW was slow to warm, mainly because of the air-cooled nature of the engine. Air flow was always in direct proportion to engine revs, and as there was no temperature control it remained difficult to control heat input. In city traffic it was a job to stir up enough warmth, and on the highway it was difficult not to get roasted (the driver's foot on the accelerator, near to the sill inlet would always get uncomfortably hot).

Pull-up levers were located between the seats to regulate the flow rate to front and rear separately, the rear outlets being beneath the back seat, and there were separate slides for closing off the floor heating at the front. Rotary controls on the facia provided cool air at the base of the windscreen or below the facia, but unfortunately not at face level. The net effect was that, to ensure adequate ventilation, you would need to open the long, tapering rear-side windows. The only drawback to this was that their catches were out of reach from the front seats. Even with both open, the windows tend to mist up in damp weather.

Things got worse, as unlike the fantastic Beetle the sealing of the Type 2 were pretty ordinary. Draughts were prone to enter around the driver's door, and some owners complained of an intermittent draught below the facia whenever the wipers were in use, in time with the strokes of the blades. We can only presumably there is an inaccessible rubber seal that is prone to being dislodged by the mechanism. The wipers had two speeds, and the centre of the button was pressed to work the screen-washers. Fairly large triangles at the corners of the screen were left unswept by the wipers, and after topping up the screen washers, an air line is needed to repressurize. This drill is familiar to German garages, but still a nuisance to motorists from other countries.

Comfortable Seating

The seats were well-shaped for correct support and gave good lateral location; the perforated PVC upholstery was comfortable and gripped well. Backrest angles could be adjusted through a small range to any of seven positions, but the seats were not fully reclining. A small catch on the outer edge of the squab was lifted to unlock the backrest for rear seat access. There were side armrests and a folding centre one for the back passengers, and commbined armrests and door pulls in front. Neat and easily adjustable safety belts clipped to a mutual anchorage on the floor tunnel which, ironically, was almost as large as that of a front engined car.

A small facia compartment and door pockets are provided for oddments, and of course the 1600 had the unusual feature of a luggage compartment at each end. These were long but very shallow, only 8 in. at the front, and 1 ft 2 in. deep at the rear. The sliding catch for the rear boot is built into the passenger door jamb, so that-like the front one-it is effectively thieffproofed when the car is locked. Two catches turned to allow the false boot floor to be lifted clear for access to the engine. The oil filler and dip-stick protruded to the rear of this, so that the level could still be checked or topped up with the boot full of luggage.

In judging the 1600TL we doubt many would describe it as a great car, particularly given the ventilation issues. There was no denying the car was well built, boasting typical German attention to detail. Much could have been forgiven if the price had of been tempting, which it wasn't. The mid-life upgrade helped, but did not a great car make.
1973 Volkswagen Type 3

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