The new 1600TE might have benefitted from Jetronic, but why the switch back to crossplies? This was just one of the questions asked by former Safer Motoring editor Robin Wager back in 1971…

Back in 1967, Robert Bosch eliminated the need to pump the accelerator or pull the choke knob for a cold start, when it introduced the first successful mass-produced electronic fuel injection (EFI) system for petrol engines. Volkswagen, in on the ground floor, was quick to adopt it – for US models at least – on the 1967 Type 3 1600. 

Previously, the fuel injection systems available were mechanically driven, pumping a continuous stream of fuel into the engine, to mix with air before being fired by the plugs. Whereas mechanical systems wasted fuel and energy, Bosch’s electronic injection, called Jetronic, used a computer and sensors to measure air flow and  temperature. Based on those measurements, it adjusted the amount of fuel delivered, permitting more power, improved fuel economy and lower emissions.

For UK Volkswagen enthusiasts, up to 1970 the only model imported with fuel injection had been the Type 4. But that was to change with the announcement of the 1971 model range, with EFI being offered on TE versions of the 1600 Type 3. And at Safer Motoring magazine, we finally got to test a 1600 TE in the February 1971 issue, when regular contributor Peter Noad reported on the TE Fastback.

One of the questions niggling at us was: When EFI was introduced on the 411, there was an increase in power. Why then did the new Type 3 TE have only the same power output (according to official figures) as the twin-carb TA and the previous TL?

The answer turned out to be that in the case of the Type 4, other engine mods were made at the same time, benefitting the power, whereas the Type 3 had not been changed in this way. The main reason for installing EFI, led by the American market, was to reduce pollution.

Peter did, however, show that benefits claimed by VW for the injection – easier cold starting, improved flexibility, smoother running and better economy – were borne out in practice. Acceleration was better, knocking 1.5 secs off the 0-60 time, and 4.3 secs off the 50-70 mph time compared with a TE model, while economy showed a small improvement in stop-start and town driving.

Over the years, Safer Motoring queried some of the marketing decisions made by the UK importers over model specifications for the British market, and this test raised new mysteries. At £1159 for the Fastback (almost the price of the outgoing TL), the TE was the luxury model in the Type 3 range. But in fact the equipment levels were compatible only with the previous lower-level T model – gone were the opening rear side windows, rear armrests, parking lights, door pockets and boot light. So with the introduction of the lower-priced (£1034) TA, the TE spec was effectively promoted from bottom to top of the range!

This juggling had, it seemed, allowed VW some margin to introduce improvements. Ventilation had been greatly improved, with through-flow from two fresh-air nozzles on the dashboard, and a heated rear window had been added – a great benefit, the power consumption of which, noted Peter Noad, could not have been sustained by a 6-volt system!

After that bouquet, though, came the big brickbat. VW had reverted to crossply tyres on this 1600, and in fact on all models except the 411. Peter reported that the wet grip in this 1600TE was appalling, and advised anyone contemplating buying one of the latest models to allow an extra £20 (!) for a swap to radials.

He also wondered whether it was the right decision not to import the previous equipment from the L model. The Fastback, he thought, had the looks to justify this spec, and it certainly ought to include radials as well.

One more nugget for the air-cooled enthusiast: the new price list issued for January 1971 showed the 1200 Beetle up £41 at £740. If that sounds like a bargain, I won’t tantalise you with some of the advertised prices of cars for sale. Not this time, anyway…

Words: Robin Wager