By on February 23, 2011

The launch of the new Golf Cabriolet reminded me of a piece of Volkswagen lore: The convertible that never was. A few calls to the Volkswagen History Department (now called “Volkswagen Classic”) later, here is the story:

It was the height of the German Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle. End of the 50s. People had money. People had cars. Volkswagen had one car, the Bug. Or “Typ 1” as it was called in Wolfsburg.

Wait, Volkswagen had two more: The Volkswagen Transporter (Typ 2). And the Karmann Ghia. The internal model code “Typ14” was a dead giveaway that the Karmann Ghia was nothing else than a Bug with a sleeker body. Volkswagen had one car, one van, and a Bug posing as a sports-car.

Slowly, the folks in Wolfsburg became convinced that you can’t live on a Bug alone. So they set out to create a new car. Kind of new. At the time, everybody at Volkswagen lived and worked according to a set dogma, and any deviation was heresy. The engine had to be air-cooled. Air-cooled good, water-cooled bad. The engine had to be in the back. Back good, front bad. Cars had to have roundish shapes. Round good, corners bad.

And so, the VW 1500 was born, a car that celebrates its 50th birthday this year, in the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg. The VW 1500 (internally called “Typ 3”) was a classic 3box sedan, with a twist. The engine was a bigger bore, 1.5 liter engine from the Bug, but it was a bug engine that was squashed.

Known as “Flachmotor”, the engine was flattened, only 40 cm (16 inches) high. This way, the VW 1500 could have two trunks. One in the front, one in the back. The engine did its thing below the rear trunk. To get to it, you had to remove all your trunk junk in the rear, and open a lid.

The VW 1500 received something unheard of. A station wagon model. It was called “Variant”, a moniker that graces Volkswagen wagons to this day. The initial VW 1500 Variant was targeted at tradesmen, but soon it became the darling of families who used it to vacation at Lake Garda or in Rimini – steeled by the knowledge that their air-cooled VW 1500 won’t boil over when crossing the Brenner Pass.

A hopped-up Typ 3, the 1500 S, had dual carburetors and breathtaking 54 hp. It was succeeded by a 1.6 liter model that didn’t offer more horses. The 1.6 liter engine followed the VW 1600 into its grave in 1973.

In 1965, the VW 1600 received its first fastback, called a “Fliessheck” in VW-speak. It would set the scene for many fastbacks at Volkswagen. For a long time, a real Volkswagen was either a “Fliessheck” fastback, or a “Steilheck” Variant. A 3 box sedan was considered a new act of heresy for a long time.

Right from the start, there was a Typ 3 with a body by Karmann, called the “Typ 34”, analogous to the  Typ 1 / Typ 14. In public, it was called Karmann Ghia, just like the smaller, Bug-based one. The practical Germans simply called them “large Karmann” and “small Karmann”.

There nearly was another one, the large Karmann Ghia convertible. Several prototypes were built, one is still at the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, one at Karmann in Osnabrück. According to lore, the catalogues for the Typ 34 ragtop were already printed when then decision came from above that a convertible Bug and a Typ 14 ragtop were enough of fresh air: No Typ 34 convertible.

In 1973, the history of the Typ 3 ended. It was replaced by a flagrant act of heresy, the Passat: Water-cooled, engine in the front, boxy shape. It was the beginning of a successful series of heresies, the Golf, the Scirocco, the Polo. They saved Volkswagen from certain obliteration, and laid the groundwork to Volkswagen’s success.

As someone who wrote, or directed the writing of, all Volkswagen catalogs from the Passat on out, I naturally was highly interested in the unprinted catalog for the ragtop that never was. Alas, nobody can find it at Volkswagen.

Maybe it’s just a good story, I thought, a story that became part of Volkswagen history, just like the Typ 3.  Until …

Leave it to the Best and Brightest to unearth something that was lost in the sprawling Volkswagen archives.  Roger628 found what could not be found in Wolfsburg. Not quite the catalog, but close: The American version of a flier, or “Streuer” as it was called in Wolfsburg. Trademark clean early Doyle Dane Bernbach design.  All (not quite, 2 seem to be missing) pages are here.

But then, where is the German catalog of the ragtop that never saw the light?

50 Years Of Typ 3. And The Ragtop That Never Was

The launch of the new Golf Cabriolet reminded me of a piece of Volkswagen lore: The convertible that never was. A few calls to the Volkswagen History Department (now called “Volkswagen Classic”) later, here is the story:

It was the height of the German Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle. End of the 50s. People had money. People had cars. Volkswagen had one car, the Bug. Or “Typ 1” as it was called in Wolfsburg.

Wait, Volkswagen had two more: The Volkswagen Transporter (Typ 2). And the Karmann Ghia. The internal model code “Typ14” was a dead giveaway that the Karmann Ghia was nothing else than a Bug with a sleeker body.

Slowly, the folks in Wolfsburg became convinced that you can’t live on a Bug alone. So they set out to create a new one. Kind of new. At the time, everybody at Volkswagen lived and worked according to a set dogma, and any deviation was heresy. The engine had to be air-cooled. Air-cooled good, water-cooled bad. The engine had to be in the back. Back good, front bad. Cars had to have roundish shapes. Round good, corners bad.

And so, the VW 1500 was born, a car that celebrates its 50th birthday this year, in the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg. The VW 1500 (internally called “Typ 3”) was a classic 3box sedan, with a twist. The engine was a bigger bore, 1.5 liter engine from the Bug, but it was a bug engine that was squashed:

Known as “Flachmotor”, the engine was flattened, only 40 cm (16 inches) high. This way, the VW 1500 could have two trunks. One in the front, one in the back. The engine was below the rear trunk. To get to it, you had to remove all your trunk junk in the rear, and open a lid.

The VW 1500 received something unheard of. A station wagon model. It was called “Variant”, a moniker that graces Volkswagen wagons to this day. The initial VW 1500 Variant was targeted at tradesmen, but soon it became the darling of families who used it to vacation at Lake Garda or in Rimini – steeled by the knowledge that their air-cooled VW 1500 won’t boil over when crossing the Brenner Pass.

A hopped-up Typ 3, the 1500 S, had dual carburetors and breathtaking 54 hp. It was succeeded by a 1.6 liter model that didn’t offer more horses. The 1.6 liter engine followed the VW 1600 into its grave in 1973.

In 1965, the VW 1600 received its first hatchback, called a “Fliessheck” in VW-speak. It would set the scene for many hatchbacks at Volkswagen. For a long time, a real Volkswagen was either a “Fliessheck” hatchback or a “Steilheck” Variant. The 3 box sedan was considered a new act of heresy for a long time

Right from the start, there was a Typ 3 with a body by Karmann, called the “Typ 34”, analogous to the Typ 1 / Typ 14. In public, it was called Karmann Ghia, just like the smaller, Bug-based one. The practical Germans simply called them “large Karmann” and “small Karmann”.

There nearly was another one, the large Karmann Ghia convertible. Several prototypes were built, one is still at the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, one at Karmann in Osnabrück. According to lore, the catalogues for the Typ 34 ragtop were already printed when then decision came from above that a convertible Bug and a Typ 14 ragtop were enough of fresh air.

In 1973, the history of the Typ 3 ended. It was replaced by a heresy, the Passat: Water-cooled, engine in the front, boxy sha

The launch of the new Golf Cabriolet reminded me of a piece of Volkswagen lore: The convertible that never was. A few calls to the Volkswagen History Department (now called “Volkswagen Classic”) later, here is the story:

It was the height of the German Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle. End of the 50s. People had money. People had cars. Volkswagen had one car, the Bug. Or “Typ 1” as it was called in Wolfsburg.

Wait, Volkswagen had two more: The Volkswagen Transporter (Typ 2). And the Karmann Ghia. The internal model code “Typ14” was a dead giveaway that the Karmann Ghia was nothing else than a Bug with a sleeker body.

Slowly, the folks in Wolfsburg became convinced that you can’t live on a Bug alone. So they set out to create a new one. Kind of new. At the time, everybody at Volkswagen lived and worked according to a set dogma, and any deviation was heresy. The engine had to be air-cooled. Air-cooled good, water-cooled bad. The engine had to be in the back. Back good, front bad. Cars had to have roundish shapes. Round good, corners bad.

And so, the VW 1500 was born, a car that celebrates its 50th birthday this year, in the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg. The VW 1500 (internally called “Typ 3”) was a classic 3box sedan, with a twist. The engine was a bigger bore, 1.5 liter engine from the Bug, but it was a bug engine that was squashed:

Known as “Flachmotor”, the engine was flattened, only 40 cm (16 inches) high. This way, the VW 1500 could have two trunks. One in the front, one in the back. The engine was below the rear trunk. To get to it, you had to remove all your trunk junk in the rear, and open a lid.

The VW 1500 received something unheard of. A station wagon model. It was called “Variant”, a moniker that graces Volkswagen wagons to this day. The initial VW 1500 Variant was targeted at tradesmen, but soon it became the darling of families who used it to vacation at Lake Garda or in Rimini – steeled by the knowledge that their air-cooled VW 1500 won’t boil over when crossing the Brenner Pass.

A hopped-up Typ 3, the 1500 S, had dual carburetors and breathtaking 54 hp. It was succeeded by a 1.6 liter model that didn’t offer more horses. The 1.6 liter engine followed the VW 1600 into its grave in 1973.

In 1965, the VW 1600 received its first hatchback, called a “Fliessheck” in VW-speak. It would set the scene for many hatchbacks at Volkswagen. For a long time, a real Volkswagen was either a “Fliessheck” hatchback or a “Steilheck” Variant. The 3 box sedan was considered a new act of heresy for a long time

Right from the start, there was a Typ 3 with a body by Karmann, called the “Typ 34”, analogous to the  Typ 1 / Typ 14. In public, it was called Karmann Ghia, just like the smaller, Bug-based one. The practical Germans simply called them “large Karmann” and “small Karmann”.

There nearly was another one, the large Karmann Ghia convertible. Several prototypes were built, one is still at the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, one at Karmann in Osnabrück. According to lore, the catalogues for the Typ 34 ragtop were already printed when then decision came from above that a convertible Bug and a Typ 14 ragtop were enough of fresh air.

In 1973, the history of the Typ 3 ended. It was replaced by a heresy, the Passat: Water-cooled, engine in the front, boxy shape. It was the beginning of a successful series of heresies, the Golf, the Scirocco, the Polo. They saved Volkswagen from certain obliteration and laid the groundwork to Volkswagen’s success.

As someone who wrote, or directed the writing, of all Volkswagen catalogues from the Passat on out, I was naturally highly interested in the unprinted catalogue for the ragtop that never was. Alas, nobody can find it at Volkswagen.

Maybe it’s just a good story. That became part of Volkswagen history, just like the Typ 3.

pe. It was the beginning of a successful series of heresies, the Golf, the Scirocco, the Polo. They saved Volkswagen from certain obliteration and laid the groundwork to Volkswagen’s success.

As someone who wrote, or directed the writing, of all Volkswagen catalogues from the Passat on out, I was naturally highly interested in the unprinted catalogue for the ragtop that never was. Alas, nobody can find it at Volkswagen.

Maybe it’s just a good story. That became part of Volkswagen history, just like the Typ 3.

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29 Comments on “50 Years Of Typ 3. And The Ragtop That Never Was...”


  • avatar
    mdensch

    Correct me if I’m wrong (and I know you will), but I believe that the new model that was introduced in 1965 was a fastback not a hatchback.  The one pictured, anyway, had a traditional trunk with lid not a hatch.

    • 0 avatar

      The German language knows no difference between fastback and hatchback. It’s all “Fliessheck.”
       
      http://dict.leo.org/ende?lp=ende&lang=de&searchLoc=0&cmpType=relaxed&sectHdr=on&spellToler=&search=fliessheck

    • 0 avatar

      But the English language knows the difference. It’s not a hatchback, and was specifically advertised in English as the VW Fastback.
      http://www.aircooledvwlove.com/1967-vw-fastback-vintage-print-ad/

      Type 3 Curbside Classic here: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-fastback-week-1969-volkswagen-1600-type-3-fastback/

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Folks, the Type 3 fastback wasn’t really a hatch-back. The rear hatch/trunk lid operated on below the rear window to allow access of the rear luggage compartment and the engine cover on the floor of the trunk.  Also, the rear seats were fixed in the upright position in the Type 3 fastback.
       
      The Type 3 Variant, a.k.a. the Squareback here in the US, was true hatchback with folding rear seats.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      You are correct. I just sold my ’68 Fastback about a month ago. Fastbacks are the redheaded step children of the Type 3 world.

  • avatar
    Hank

    I’m such a sucker for the hatchback of this car.  It’s just a matter of time till the eBay bug hits.  My mother’s first brand new car was a 412, but I like the classic simplicity and design of the 3 much better.

  • avatar
    BostonDuce

    Herr Schmitt,

    You are a master of automotive story telling. Please write a book.
     
    BD

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, the vehicles which followed the air cooled Volkswagens were NOT “successful heresies”, but massively riddled with problems: early Golfs suffered from corrosion of the chassis, the diesels blew head gaskets, and VW’s fabled reliability suffered. The “new” Volkswagen AG lost its reputation for simple, affordable, reliable vehicles, with the advent of the poorly built, unreliable, water cooled models.

    • 0 avatar

      The “simple, affordable, reliable vehicles” of lore had one huge problem: Flagging sales. The Typ 3, and the 411 never could make up for the slowly sagging sales of the Bug, which was after all 1930s technology.
      Insisting on perpetuating the “simple, affordable, reliable vehicles,” and adherence to the dogma, nearly killed the company.
      The cars that were “massively riddled with problems” were runaway successes. The Golf is one of the (if not the, accords differ) most built cars of the world.

      One of the first things I learned when I started to work for Volkswagen in 1973 was that the Bug was riddled with problems. It broke down all the time. What gained it the reputation of a reliable car was the fact that it was easy and cheap to fix.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Amen to that.  A good friend of mine had a new 1974 Audi Fox (sold by VW as the “Dasher” in the US).  On paper, a terrific car.  In reality, a disaster in terms of reliability.  People accustomed to the simplicity and reliability of the under-stressed boxer 4 had a rude surprise.  (Admittedly, the fuel injection system in the “411″ and “412″ VWs last rear-engined, air cooled models, was problematic.)

    • 0 avatar

      Old VWs flipped with tight turns, rusted badly in certain areas, could catch fire by sitting on the battery (below the rear seat) and the engines would burst into flames. They weren’t so reliable either.
      Water-cooled VWs were decent (outside of the underpowered vans), in fact Most US postal trucks use early VW Golf engines. I don’t know about diesels though, I read about one that had a bit of mileage but had an engine re-build once.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      To the suggestion that Type 1s were unreliable:  They were; but most cars were far less reliable than they are today.
       
      Running up 100,000 miles in one used to be a big deal.  Today it’s maybe halfway through its lifespan.    We tend to forget what an adventure most American and European cars were; failures, small and large; things broken off; rusted areas.  When the Japanese entered the American market in large numbers, they introduced something new to us: quality.
       
      As to the upward mobility of the Volkswagen line…I remember a pronouncement by Volkswagenwerk CEO Toni Schmücker about the time of the introduction of the Golf/Rabbit:  That no longer was VW going to sell cars at break-even or loss.  There would be a profit; or there would be no model.
       
      That was the time of the strong German mark; and even before VW beat the exchange rate somewhat by building Rabbits in Westmoreland, they were positioning themselves up-market.
       
      For most of my adult life, Volkswagens have been the somewhat-out-of-reach small car for the discerning buyer.  And now that I can afford one, they have other issues – not the least of which is customer service.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Bertel hit the nail on the head.  One million plus Type 1 Beetles were produced per year during the peak years between 1965 and 1973. – Total annual Type 3 production reach a peak of 300,000 plus units in 1965 with a norm hovering near 250,000 between 1964 and 1970.
       
      The Type 3 was to be the successor to the original Type 1.  I’ll bet that even Heinz Nordhoff was disappointed that the sales of the Type 3 didn’t take off as planned.
       
      What I remember about the Type 3 is that it was the first mass production car to offer electronic fuel injection as standard equipment.  While old-school enthusiasts were dismayed, my ability to work with the early D-Jetronic and the later L-Jetronic Bosch systems kept me gainfully employed for nearly a decade.  Thank you VW.

    • 0 avatar

      At JPT: When Japan came over we either got Honda 600 microcars with iffy engines or Civics that rusted at the drop of a needle, but they caught on quickly. They had better ways of selling their cars too (no brother-sister or re-badging mumbo jumbo).
      And even today, at least for 1st year cars I read about broken interior trim but rarely re-mature rust. Sadly new VWs seem to have similar reliability as they did back then but without the brilliant build quality or ease of repair.

  • avatar

    In the USA, the Variant was marketed as the “Squareback Sedan”, as VW was already selling their Transporter here as the “Station Wagon”.
     
    No the term “minivan” hadn’t been invented yet.

  • avatar

    Rubbish cars really, the earlier years had rear vents that faced the wrong way, the front fenders rust as bad as a 1st generation Civic, the engines are almost impossible to work on (they’re as cramped as todays engines), and parts aren’t easy to get compared to other VWs.
    My advice, buy a beetle instead. They’re about the same car but the Beetle has more room in the back, only a few have areas that tend to rust badly (thanks to those window vents), and there are more parts available.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    In 1967 my father bought a Fastback (here in the US) just like the green one shown in the post. It had a four speed manual transmission. My poor mother who had just learned to drive three years earlier, learned on our automatic 1962 Fairlane. She was not too keen on learning how to drive the VW, and made her feelings well known to my father. Frequently. Once when driving in the parking lot of a local department store with my then 11-year old brother, she managed to get the car stuck in reverse, circling a light post. My brother had the presence of mind to reach over and turn the ignition off. The car rolled to a stop. My mother got out of the car and never got back in the driver’s side. It wasn’t too much longer before my father came home with a nice 1968 Mercury Montego. With an automatic.

    • 0 avatar

      You could get automatic 3-speed Type 3s a few years after that, I had an auto fastback that didn’t always go into 3rd so I could either exceed 60 and burn my engine or take the side roads. When it did shift it was fine.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      My father in law had one of those fiberglass MG reproductions on a VW chassis cars years ago. It had the ‘automatic stickshift’ in it, which would hold on to the gears too long IMO. He eventually found out that something was out of adjustment and managed to get it to shift better later.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    My mother had learned to drive on our old 1950 Packard with Ultramatic (a two-speed automatic that had a lock-up torque converter). I got the job of teaching her how to drive the new red Beetle in 1961, and she had caught on pretty well in a couple of hours. They went on to buy another Beetle, then a yellow squareback wagon that they picked up in Wolfsburg, drove to visit friends and relatives in Denmark, and had it shipped home. Pop gave us a tour of his old Nevada mining claims in it, fording drywashes and dodging rock outcroppings with aplomb. They kept it for ten years or so, and only lost it because of a collision.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Compared to the “3-on-a-tree” column shifters on most American cars of the time, the VW was a delight to operate.  The clutch was light, as was the effort on the gearshift.  With the standard linkage, determining the precise gear you were in (1st or 3rd; 2nd or 4th) was a little uncertain sometimes.  Amazingly, for a modest sum and about 15 minutes’ work, replacement of the stock shifter with a Hurst shifter (with a trigger lockout for reverse) made the whole exercise just about perfect.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Bertel-
    Speaking as a one-time owner of a ’70 Ghia, I don’t think anyone assumed that the car was anything more than a Beetle with a swoopy body and only two seats.  That said, the Ghia had certain advantages: a lower center of gravity meant that it was less prone to rollover; smaller frontal area gave a little higher top speed; and, unlike the Bug, later Ghias (including mine) were fitted with front disc brakes.  (No power assist, but that did not seem necessary.)  With some fairly simple bolt-on modifications (dual 2-bbl carburetors, new exhaust manifold and less restrictive muffler, mechanical advance distributor, horsepower could be increased to about 75 (not too inadequate in a 1500 lb. car) and you had a car that was competitive with the MGs and Triumphs of the era and even with the overprice Porsche 912.  The truly ambitious would re-work the tranny to eliminate the overdrive 4th gear.

    • 0 avatar

      Its the better aerodynamics that give it more speed, they would make great sports cars but instead we got Tucker-inspired bodies on Beetle chassis.
      The only problem with Ghias are their bodies, they have no removable fenders so fixing serious dents ain’t easy.

  • avatar
    findude

    I actually owned, at different times, two 1967 Fastbacks.  Those in the know prefer the ’67 Type 3 because it was the first year of 12V and the last year before fuel injection.  This was the 1600cc engine with dual carbs–a pretty good set up.
     
    These were reliable, economical cars that offered utility only surpassed by the Squareback.  Performance was adequate for around town use, though I’ll never forget the shame, when driving over the continental divide, of being passed by a Winnebago pulling a boat.  Of course, the Fastback had been tuned at sea level…..
     
    Everybody remembers Dustin Hoffman’s red Alfa Romeo in The Graduate, but do you remember his even earlier foray onto the screen with a VW Fastback: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3RD-hG4nbc?

  • avatar
    roger628

    http://www.thesamba.com/vw/archives/lit/literaturenotchcabrio.php
     
    Here you go

  • avatar
    nikita

    Dad downsized from a highly unreliable, but pretty, 64 Lincoln for a 70 Squareback with the fully automatic trans (not Autostick) and A/C. He loved it as a commuter.

  • avatar
    roger628

    http://www.thesamba.com/vw/archives/lit/61notchvert_german.php
     
    Here’s the German version-from the same site-This is what you wanted right?


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