Launched in 1961 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the VW Type 3 is the car which was supposed to be the replacement for the Beetle – until Volkswagen had second thoughts…
The Beetle had been in production for almost 15 years, and it was beginning to show its age. Critics endlessly harped on about its lack of refinement and performance, so much so that VW management felt bullied into proving that Volkswagen was not a ‘one-trick pony’.
That the new model was rear-engined and air-cooled – and even shared the same wheelbase as the Beetle – came as no great surprise. But its styling did. Critics either loved its modern lines, or hated it for being so bland. Either way, few disputed the Type 3 offered more than the Beetle – on paper, that is.
Powered by a 1500cc engine derived from that of the Type 2, the new model was available as a saloon (‘Notchback’), Variant (‘Squareback’) and a Cabriolet (er, sadly only as a prototype…). Later, these would be joined by a fourth version, the Fastback – often referred to by enthusiasts as the poor man’s Porsche.
The Type 3s were undoubtedly more sophisticated in every way than their Beetle siblings, but ultimately lacked the latter’s staying power in the battle of the sales figures. Even an increase in capacity to 1600cc in 1966, and the introduction of fuel-injection (a world first for a production car!) in 1968 could not help. The Type 3 was popular, especially in the USA (although the Notchback was never sold there), but never matched the Beetle’s success.
Just over 1.3 million Notchback and Fastbacks were sold, along with 1.2 million Squarebacks. A far cry from the sales figures of the Beetle, which were more than 10 times higher.
Why did the Type 3 ultimately fail? Packaging. The aim had always been to offer the Type 3 as a slightly more upmarket vehicle than the Beetle, but at a price which wasn’t too far out of reach. It was hoped that Beetle owners would see the new car as a step up and trade their old cars in at the dealership without having to break the bank. The problem was that the new car, designed as it was to appeal to the lower middle-class market, pretended to be something it was not: it looked like a bigger car and was marketed as a bigger car.
But the decision to stay with the same wheelbase as the Beetle meant that rear-seat passengers suffered from a lack of legroom in a Type 3 almost as much as they did in a Beetle. And for that reason, it failed to impress enough people, despite its obvious build quality.
Despite a redesign in 1970, the Type 3 never quite delivered the goods. That’s a shame, for it is definitely a great car – much more pleasant to drive over a long distance than a Beetle, it has to be said. If you’ve never owned one, you’ve missed out. Go on, why not try a Type 3?