1963-68 VW Type 3: The Other Aussie VW Turns 50
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1963-68 VW Type 3: The Other Aussie VW Turns 50

By JoeKenwright - 28 November 2013
The 1966 release of the local VW 1600 TS fastback reinforced the cut-above positioning of Volkswagen’s local Type 3 range which was always priced too close to Australia’s popular sixes for comfort. Yet its $2415 price tag was good value for those who understood its many hidden strengths.


1963-68 VW Type 3: The Other Aussie VW Turns 50

The Type 3 was Volkswagen’s first all new passenger car ever and Australians were amongst the first outside Germany to get it. Aimed at stopping Beetle owners from shopping elsewhere for extra refinement and style, a unique local version was rushed into local production in July 1963. Australian buyers then generated the highest per capita Type 3 sales in the world. 

In a bid to make its rapidly growing Australian operations more viable, Volkswagen sent evaluation examples to Australia as early as 1962. Following universal praise, it was released as an import in February 1963 at a price almost 10 per cent higher than a Holden EJ Special. By the end of that year, the EH Holden had become the new Australian benchmark and life became even more difficult for the new VW.

The blue Beetle, a 1962 ½ upgrade, suggests this photo was taken just after the Type 3 went into local production during 1963. It features the side strip and deleted over riders of the local cars but the earlier amber indicators of the imported model. Anyone recognize exactly where the shot was taken?

In a bid to contain its launch price of 1199 Aussie quid or $2398, tooling had been rushed from Germany for local production. Even though local production commenced in July 1963, local suppliers were still gearing-up to supply parts unique to the Type 3. Built on a separate production line, the Type 3 merged with the Beetle before it was completed for final tests and inspection. The arrival of the EH, the Valiant, Austin Freeway and more affordable four-door Europeans such as Fiat and Peugeot had suddenly made the segment very crowded. 

By 1964, as full local manufacture of the Beetle ramped-up, Volkswagen could shave another $200 off the Type 3 price making it an even more attractive proposition. The big winner was the wagon version which despite its extra weight and structure, attracted only half the price premium above the sedan compared to rivals. It rapidly became the Type 3 of choice and the third biggest selling wagon in Australia at the time. 

This early Karmann-Ghia based on the Type 1 Beetle, started to reach Australian roads in much higher numbers around the same time as the first VW 1500 Type 3 arrived.  This encouraged buyers to see the first VW 1500 two door sedans as the more practical, more powerful and much cheaper four seater coupe alternative to a Karmann-Ghia, not an overpriced Holden alternative. As for most British Commonwealth countries, Australians still wore hats in a car, something that a Type 3 would allow front and rear.


What is a VW Type 3?

Often billed as the big new Volkswagen, the Type 3 was actually built on the same wheelbase as the Beetle on a platform chassis that was very similar but not identical. For the record, the Type 1 was the Beetle and Type 2 was the Kombi/Transporter. 

The first Karmann-Ghia was based on a modified Type 1 Beetle platform. There was a striking second generation Karmann-Ghia based on the Type 3 but confusingly, it was outlived by the Type 1 Karmann-Ghia which picked up several Type 3 body details in later years. 

Several VW Australia executives believed that this four door Type 3 proposal was needed to boost Australian sales but it never went into production. The extra doors would have prompted direct comparisons with local sixes that it could never win as its price would have been at least 15 per cent higher. As a two door, the local Type 3 was instead perceived as a standalone model, always a little special and unusual.

There was also a Type 4, a larger four door passenger car that some believe was intended to be a Renault 16-style front drive liftback but ended up reaching the market with a Type 3 mechanical layout in a brand new unitary construction body with coil spring suspension all round. Although several evaluation examples reached here, they were not officially offered by Volkswagen Australia and not to be confused with the Type 3, especially the wagon version which looks similar but is a very different car under the skin.

All Australian-built Type 3 models retained similar transverse torsion bar suspension and rear swing axles to the early Beetles. Later Type 3 automatics switched to the same double-jointed rear suspension as the semi-automatic Beetle. This occurred only after local manufacture had ended in 1968 and VW Australia switched to CKD assembly of the current German specification.

The Type 3’s big advance was its new body styling which in turn was driven by a totally new way of packaging the air-cooled flat-four engine. 

The Type 3 platform chassis owed much to Beetle practice and therefore retained Beetle ruggedness and rough road capabilities on the same wheelbase along with its sometimes dodgy swing axle rear suspension. Yet the big increase in floor pan width between the front and rear wheels show how much extra space was on offer. The repackaged engine was another big advance. Note the low-profile cooling fan at the nose of the crankshaft.

Very different from the Beetle, the new body added extra overhang front and rear while covering the extremities of a wider platform chassis and its attachments. By bringing the running boards and separate front and rear guards inside the main body, the Type 3 generated a huge increase in cabin and luggage space. The rear seat could also be widened with extra headroom and legroom. The Type 3 was now a genuine adult four seater (or a squeezy five) without a big increase in external size. 

In Australia, it was always an intellectual choice to buy a Type 3 as it looked quite plain in the showroom at the price.  Its lack of rear doors demanded an extra commitment from family buyers who would normally get four doors and a bigger car for the same money. 

Although VW experimented with a four-door Type 3, it never reached German or Australian production but a variation was sold in Brazil. Would the Type 3 have been a big seller locally with an extra set of doors? 

It is on record that VW Australian executives at the time believed that to be so. However, pictures of the four door prototype suggest that the extra doors would have changed the entire character of the car from being a slightly exotic two door to just another undersized four-cylinder four-door sedan trying to do battle with a Holden. 

The notion of the Type 3 sedan providing a taste of the exotic had real currency in 1963 in Australia. To many local buyers, it was the more practical, more affordable and more powerful four seater coupe alternative to the Type 1 Karmann-Ghia coupe. The Type 3 notchback sedan, as it was later known, had a centre-pillar coupe look that was lost in the four door concept. This would also explain why the later fastback version was relatively successful.

This is how VW sold the notion of breaking and setting records that couldn’t officially exist and became illegal after this one any way. It successfully highlighted that the Type 3 could do everything that the Beetle could, only faster and easier. 

Australian conditions were still tough enough for local buyers to value the Type 3’s extra refinement and presence as it still came with the Beetle’s long distance durability, rough road ride and grip, traction, air-cooled engine and high ground clearance.  This aspect was critical to the Type 3’s local sales pitch as this combination was unrivalled this side of a Porsche.

The really clever part was Volkswagen’s “suitcase” motor which allowed a conventional three box sedan with two boots and two box wagon styling with a front boot as a bonus. Not only did this entice buyers ready to move up from a Beetle, it also attracted new VW buyers who valued the Beetle’s achievements but were wary of the ageing styling. 

One of the first VW 1500S imports competing in the 1964 Ampol Trial where the Type 3 1500S took out equal second and overall team prize against hot competition from the Cortina GT and Holden EH 179M. The 1500S introduced new premium body details including larger tail lights, horizontal front indicators, trim piece on the front boot lid and chrome rear reflector housings. The black wheels shown here would normally be covered by the premium wheel trims. The bumper over riders have been removed to mount the driving lights. (Photo supplied by autopics.com.au)

In 1963, not everyone was seduced by the Beetle’s cuteness especially when it looked more like one of the many 1930s and 40s designs still left on Aussie roads. Because of the enormous respect for the Beetle’s outback performance and durability combined with the well-publicised switch to local manufacture, the Type 3 arrived to a more receptive local market than most new European models.

Unlike the German Type 3 range which featured a basic 1500 and a top shelf 1500S, the local range presented the twin-carburettor engine as the Twin S engine option on the Australian 1500 at a huge saving. The bigger rear tail lights, the chrome rear number plate light garnish and better trim were a bonus. As a result, it did not undermine the local 1500 while adding extra performance for those willing to pay.


The Suitcase Engine

As cutaways of the day showed, the Type 3 engine was no higher than a suitcase, an approach that the Porsche Boxster validates to this day. By developing a special carburettor and replacing the Beetle’s tall belt-driven fan located above the clutch end of the engine with a more compact fan at the nose of the crankshaft, the engine could be located under a boot floor. 

Discreet cooling vents at the base of the sedan’s rear screen and in the rear quarters of the wagon took care of air-flow in the engine bay. Under more extreme conditions, the Type 3 engine could run hotter affecting engine life and hot weather starting but for most Australians there were few downsides to this new layout.

The clever part was the creation of two boots, a feature that continued into the Type 4. Although the Type 3’s front boot was bigger than the Beetle’s and the new rear boot over the engine bay was quite long, luggage space was shallow. The extra length in the front boot added extra crush space ahead of the fuel tank still mounted close to the front occupants.

This cutaway highlights why the Type 3 wagon was the most suited to Australian long distance requirements. It also shows why the Type 3 engine was more vulnerable to extra thermal loads in extreme conditions. The bumper over riders and more elaborate door trim identify this example as an early German model.

The wagon benefitted most from the new layout as it could offer the usual wagon flexibility plus a front boot. 

However, the wagon’s extra sheet metal, glass and big liftback added significant weight and that’s before owners took advantage of the big increase in carrying capacity. This provides an insight into why and how the local Type 3 wagon’s mechanicals were constantly changed over a short time.

Careful development kept engine heat and noise from penetrating the engine cover above it for one of the quietest and most relaxed touring cars of its type on the market. The other Type 3 advances included a proper fresh-air heating and ventilation system, a padded dash, better front seats with extra adjustment and class-leading vision. 

The more even spread of weight and lower centre of gravity seemed to tame the twitchy oversteer of the Beetle if not its side-wind sensitivity. It left the Type 3 with an amazing point to point ability over rough roads that few cars at any price could match. 

Last but not least, the engine had been stretched to 1.5-litres with a boost in power from the Beetle’s 40bhp/30kW to 53bhp/40kW. It still wouldn’t pull a skin off a sago as they would say in 1963 but its torque peak at just 2000rpm was more like a six hence its outstanding touring ability with its overdrive fourth gear ratio.

This factory blueprint highlights how the Type 3 was created by bringing all the lost space in the Beetle back inside the body. The side profile shows how the new Fastback retained the rear headroom of the notchback sedan while adding much needed extra depth in the rear boot.

The holders of a 1962 round Australia record swapped to a VW 1500 sedan a year later to blitz their 1962 time and covered the 12,951km in 5 days, 22 hours and 17 minutes at an average of 91 km/h.  It remains the unchallenged record today as it was declared illegal to engage in such activity afterwards.

The 1964 Ampol Trial further verified that the Type 3 was part of the unbreakable VW round-Australia tradition with a Team prize awarded to three 1500S models. Although a Cortina GT won, a VW 1500S was equal second with an EH Holden 179M followed by another VW1500S.The third car was 14th. No other model was as consistent in the event. It was all Australians needed to confirm that the Type 3 was a genuine VW and a better one at that.

Although it would have made a better liftback, the 1600 TS was described as a fastback sedan as it had a separate rear boot that could still carry higher loads than the notchback. Note the bigger tail lights, chrome rear reflector pods, bumper over riders and the chrome number plate light garnish that aligned it with the earlier premium-priced 1500S import.


Australian Type 3 Manufacturing History

1963: Australia became the first RHD market to be offered the Type 3. The initial imports from February, sedans and wagons, were distinguished by their side parking lights, amber front indicators, bumper overriders, lack of stainless steel side strip, opening rear side windows, centre rear armrest and tweed-style cloth trim. They were replaced by the local version from July 1963. 

The fastback was not the prettiest car around in 1966 but it was the first VW ever that was on the cutting edge of current fashion trends. The local TS version was also keenly priced just above the Type 3 sedan with a 1600 twin-carb engine and the premium detailing seen previously only on the expensive 1500S imports as a bonus. Note the subtle widening of the trim piece on the front boot lid and the clear local indicator lenses.  The TS badge replaced the German model's side parking/repeater light.

Early local cars, also amongst the first to be built outside Germany, had vinyl trim, simpler door trim with pull type armrest, full length stainless steel strip, deleted over riders and no side lights but the amber front indicators. It was an Australian variation of a base German spec that supplemented the new German 1500S. The sedans had fixed side rear windows but all local wagons retained the opening rear side glass (behind the doors but not the rear quarters).

This dash shot of the 1966 1600 TS Fastback is pretty much how all local Type 3 models looked from the driver's seat and was a huge move away from "the nose buried in flat windscreen" architecture of the Beetle. The premium ventilated seat trim exclusive to the TS was later offered on all local Volkswagen passenger cars in 1967.

1964: Australian content went up a notch. Lever heater controls replaced the early twist knobs and clear front indicators were fitted as local parts came on stream. Sedan price was cut from 1199 pounds/$2398 to $2198. The 1249 pounds/$2498 wagon price was cut to $2378. In June, the latest twin-carburettor 1500S arrived as an imported sedan establishing the design cues for later top level Type 3 models. These included the horizontal front indicators in amber, bright trim strip on the leading edge of the front bootlid, full wheel trims, bumper over riders, full length side strip with side repeater/parking lights, larger wraparound tail lights, larger chrome rear reflector housings and cloth trim. It also featured the upper level door trims. At 1329 pounds/$2658, it was regarded as an expensive but quality alternative to its 1.5-litre rivals. Power went up from 53bhp/40kW to 65bhp/48.5kW but torque stayed the same. In September, the Type 3 Karmann-Ghia was introduced as an import with 1500S mechanicals.

This interior shot of the local 1966 1600 TS Fastback shows the upper level door trim pattern that would remain exclusive to the 1600 TS until CKD assembly started in 1968. It had been seen earlier on the first 1963 VW 1500 imports before re-appearing for a short time on the early 1500S imports.

1965: The imported 1500S was re-packaged as the upmarket Twin S version of the local 1500. Over the local 1500, it featured the twin carburettor 1500S engine, better quality local soft-feel expanded vinyl trim, the larger tail lights, the chrome S trim on the rear number plate light and full wheel covers while retaining the standard side strip, more basic local door trim/pull armrest design, standard rear reflectors and standard front appearance. Two tone paint and white wall tyres were optional. Price was slashed to 1179 pounds/$2358, something of a bargain when the essentials stayed in place. 

The arrival and success of the 1600TS Fastback overshadowed the 1500 Notchback which was re-positioned as the value Type 3 entry level and a relatively short step-up from a Beetle for a more sophisticated VW fan. By 1967, it was further upgraded as the 1500 Deluxe with new perforated trim, new colours and large tail lights before it became a 1600 later that year.

Wagon popularity ensured that a 1500 Twin S wagon followed in September. A panel van version with no rear side glass and dark wooden floor was offered in limited numbers after September. It was made up of a combination of local and imported parts and reflected the base German spec with no side strips and basic cabin trim.

As the Australian market became increasingly competitive, the Type 3 wagon was presented as a single model in 1967 combining the body and cabin trim of the upgraded 1500 Deluxe sedan with the premium mechanicals of the 1600 TS Fastback. Outside, it looked no different (except for the tail lights) from the late-1963 local wagon. Four years on, this ensured buyer indifference in a market obsessed with annual facelifts hence it was the last local Type 3 wagon.

1966: After two privately imported Type 3 1600 TL Fastbacks (one was the blue NSW example as featured on the May 1966 Wheels cover) reached Australia, a local TS version was offered in April 1966 without the TL’s disc brakes, opening side windows, rear camber compensator and side repeater lights for just $2415. 

The finish and practicality of this Australian 1967 VW Type 3 wagon highlights why it was initially so popular. The basic local door trims with the Beetle-style pull armrests dating back to 1963 just visible here help explain why it was also the last.

Outstanding value, TS sales were initially strong as it still featured the TL’s new 1600 engine with twin carburetors for a useful boost in torque, the top shelf front indicators and front bootlid garnish, wheel trims, bumper over riders, upper level door trim/armrests, extra rear boot space and special expanded vinyl seat trim with textured ventilated inserts. A TS badge replaced the side repeater/parking lights of the TL. 

The wooden floor of the local 1965 Type 3 van. Note the more basic seats and variation of the local basic door trim and pull-type armrests.

This new model forced a revamp of the Type 3 range as there were now three different engines including two twin-carb versions that produced similar power but different torque. There were also now three very different levels of trim. 

The 1500 was repositioned as an entry level 1500 N as a sedan only with the earlier tail light style and single carburettor engine. The 1500 Twin S continued as a sedan and wagon while the new 1600 twin-carb engine was exclusive to the TS Fastback. This duplication could not continue.

A very desirable vehicle today, the Type 3 van was six years ahead of the local panel van trend which would have embraced this model had there been many still left on the road. Most Type 3 vans were thrashed and worn out and had disappeared by then. 

1967: In a last ditch effort to keep the local factory open after sales stalled in 1966, the Type 3 shared new colours and trim with the local Beetle upgrade. The range was again rationalized for the best value and most comprehensive Type 3 range thus far. Both Twin S models were withdrawn.

In February, the entry 1500 sedan was upgraded with similar textured upholstery to the Australian 1300 Deluxe Beetle and full carpeting. Renamed the 1500 Deluxe, it also featured the larger tail lights and was the only notchback sedan still offered and catered for those ready to step up from a Beetle with a minimal premium. 

A new 1600 Squareback wagon replaced all previous Type 3 1500 wagons by combining the new local trim level of the 1500 Deluxe sedan with the twin-carb 1600 engine of the TS Fastback. Externally, it featured the same detailing as the 1500 Deluxe including the plainer front and round clear indicators but offered extra performance to counter the wagon’s extra weight and carrying capacity. The Twin S wheel trims became optional. 

A local 1600 Deluxe notchback sedan joined the wagon at the close of 1967 and offered the extra TS performance without the detailing at a lower price.

This well-known original 1969 example highlights the extra details left off the Australian 1600 Type 3 wagon in 1967 as pictured earlier. This 1600 L was built in the transition period from local manufacture to local assembly of current CKD kits from Germany combining local paint and trim with the latest body details and mechanical upgrades of the German models.  It is also one of the last with the original Type 3 body styling before the facelift later that year.

1968: In April, the 1500 Deluxe sedan was quietly withdrawn as the 1500 Beetle was first offered as an import with front disc brakes and 12 volt electrics. As local production was progressively shut down from the end of 1967, several hybrid specification Types 3s reached the market as CKD kits replaced the locally manufactured models. These cars ultimately reverted to the latest German specification including external fuel fillers, 12 volt electrics, front disc brakes and four stud wheels although trim and paint remained similar. The upper level side repeater/parking lights, horizontal amber front indicators, extra chrome trim at the front and bumper over riders were also progressively restored. 

The Type 3 is facing a big revival globally, especially the US where it was rarely seen first time round. The Aussie-built cars have survived better than any with tougher local paint and trim. This car with its individual mix of local and imported body details revives the "make the best of what you have" continental appeal that made the Type 3 such a popular single car choice.


What Happened to the Type 3?

By 1969, the transition to CKD assembly of the current German Type 3 range was complete. VW was now ready for the November 1969 introduction of the first and only Type 3 body facelift with its extended nose, bigger tail lights and impact bumpers. The fastback switched from the local TS to the German TL series. 

After fuel injection was added to a special TLE fastback in June 1970, flow-through ventilation was introduced across the range in February 1971.

New ADR requirements then prompted further improvements including high back seats and a steering lock in March 1972 before the range was withdrawn at the close of 1973. 

The Type 3 was replaced in early 1974 by the comprehensive locally-assembled Wheels Car of the Year Passat range, a front-drive water-cooled model based on the Audi 80. The TS badge re-appeared on a high performance two-door Passat coupe. The fate of the Type 3 provided a preview of what was about to happen to the Beetle on the arrival of the first Golf. 

The assistance of Chris Scane, VWCV Club Historian in proofing the above is acknowledged. VW archive photos from http://www.thesamba.com/vw/archives

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