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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: VW

No Dough 2019

Classic Velocity

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It has been mentioned before on these pages, that behind many of the events that we have witnessed and enjoyed, is a person with a vision of seeing others have a good time around vintage machines. Whether it is a Ride (see Classic RS Rally) or a museum (see The Moto Museum), or some other event, we are always surprised and appreciative of the mountain of work that it takes to help people enjoy themselves. And so it is with Bill Dwyer. The story goes that Bill was disenchanted with a prior show that was short on substance but long on ticket prices. He set out to prove that you could have a great quality event without charging attendees very much. 8 years later, the show continues to expand, and most of it is free !! You heard correctly, F R E E.

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There is a host campground, and although you are not compelled to stay there, the main events are all within walking distance. There is a Thursday open house with a local air-cooled parts warehouse. Free. There is a beach event where you have to pay $20 (charged by the city to anyone, not a fee from the event) for beach access, but we got a free t-shirt and sun screen from the VW crew as compensation. There is a Bulli-Brigade event simultaneously at a public beach. Free. There is a Bay Window Rally at the main campground. Free. There is a Saturday night pre-show party at Guiseppe’s Pizza complete with DJ. Free, but you buy your own food if you want. The event has grown too large for this venue, and probably needs to move. And then there is the big show on Sunday. Free.  

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The show on Sunday is the crown jewel. The location is picturesque, as VWs of all kinds ring the municipal lake. In Port Orange. There is a swap meet area, a new vendor area, and the DJ returns to entertain the crowd. But the stars are the continuous circle of vehicles lining both sides of the ring road. It is whiplash city for fans of air-cooled Vdubs. We had a recent post on the Platform as Canvas, and this event personifies the concept. No two vehicles are alike, there are no real rules for what can be done, and everyone is ok with everything. 

To say that Bill Dwyer has succeeded in the quest to provide great quality and substance for little or no money, is an understatement. My guess is that T-shirt sales, the only obvious attempt to recoup some costs, are all the more robust because of the format. It is almost your duty to purchase one. We did. 

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Platform As Canvas

Classic Velocity

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Somehow, the cars of mid-20th-century Germany lend themselves more than the products of any other nation, to become platforms for Art. Why? I do not know, but there are few production cars from France or Italy, or England, or Japan, or America, that have found themselves used so much as a conceptual or a literal canvas. Contrast this with the Janis Joplin Porsche 356, the Andy Warhol BMW M1, or the political-environmental-philosophical platform (wanted or not) that is the VW Bus. This is an ongoing tradition with Porsche RSR Pink Pig, with Audi commissioning an RS4 art car back in 2007, Opel Adam art cars, and even a Mercedes Benz Metris van!. While BMW deserves credit for the long-running official commissioning of art cars, all other German manufacturers seem to have embraced the concept. And long before the manufacturers, people were doing the same as an expression of their individuality, or as experimentation with a new mobile medium, the car. For a country so well known for its engineering prowess, it is an interesting contrast.

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Few would argue, though that as a platform for art, the VW Beetle is king. Perhaps because it is ubiquitous with over 21 million sold. The Toyota Corolla has sold twice as many, but it is not known as a platform for art.. Perhaps it is because the Beetle is universally understood and transcends languages and continents. Perhaps because it makes everyone smile. Perhaps because they are as cheap and available as actual canvas. Perhaps because from the beginning, they were the basis for many different manifestations.

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Almost all of the VW air-cooled vehicles came from the Beetle. The Bus is famously a lengthened and reinforced Beetle chassis. The Thing, the Fastback, the Notch, the Ghia, the Fridolin, etc were really all modified re-bodied Beetles. Then there are the variations made by VW and other manufacturers. The Amelia Island Concours recently had a class just for this category. It featured versions by Rometsch, Dannenhauer and Stauss, and Hebmuller. What was not featured, was a Porsche 356, which is perhaps the most obvious variant, owing to their common designer, Ferdinand Porsche. Then there are the later variations on the platform like the Puma and the Beach Buggy, and inumerable kit cars. The list goes on.

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But back to art. Commercial art has long taken notice of the Beetle as well. It is often turned into a mouse or a Bug or spider by exterminators, or into a taxi, or a unique delivery vehicle of some kind. It gets used positively and negatively to depict a slower pace, or hippies, or simplicity, or a bygone era. The headlights get eyelashes, the bumper becomes an accentuated smile, or the whole thing becomes a Transformer. I won’t even delve into the many applications of the Beetle that Hollywood has found, except for one word. Herbie.

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For the more commonly used canvas, you need go no further than your regional VW show. You will still see variations you have not seen before. In a field of dozens or hundreds of cars, few if any will have an identical twin. Structure, drivetrain, paint, interior, and wheels, seem to create an infinite number of permutations. You laugh and grimmace and admire and stare slack-jawed at the pieces in this outdoor gallery. It is truly an art show with the VW as the canvas. The people’s choice award is as much about artistry as it is about anything else.

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The Beetle is a universal canvas in the way that a BMW 3.0CS could never be. You can probably find a disintegrating one to use as sculpture somewhere near you. You can use just the shape, or a rear decklid, or a fender, or a hubcap, and everyone will know what you mean. It works as a stick cartoon, and as a fine art oil painting. It can evoke an era, or it can evoke a whole drag-racing class. Usually in art, you want to stay away from an icon, but in this case, a new VW Beetle based car could be driving around your town, or screaming down your local drag strip tomorrow. And a new VW Beetle art car could easily be in the world’s finest museums that same day.

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OCTO Pomona 2018

Classic Velocity

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As a blog dedicated to Classic German machines on two wheels and four, there are certain events that are legendary and represent the high point of the year. Regardless of where you are geographically, the Orange County Transporter Organization event twice a year is in that category if you own a 1967 and earlier VW Bus. California is a Mecca for Aircooled Vdubs in general, and buses in particular (with all due respect to the Pacific Northwest, New England, and Florida). The OCTO event was happening before Buses were cool again, and persists regardless of auction prices and celebrity collectors. It is rain or shine, and this year, in a freak of Southern California nature, it rained! Even with the weather as a factor,  this event dwarfs gatherings of Splitty buses elsewhere in the country. Almost all are driven to the event. Almost all are driven regularly. Many are daily drivers. 
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Every configuration was represented at the show. Kombis, Deluxe in 13 15 21 and 23 window versions, single and double cabs, panel vans, Campers with all configurations of tops, and even a fire truck.  No two buses alike, just like the owners. The swap meet was the area most impacted by the weather, as few wanted their oxidized parts further oxidized. Which brings us to patina. Patina is in. There were a lot of buses with engine, suspension, and brakes up to relatively modern standards, but with the body in various states of decay. That decay was often clear coated to preserve it, or in some cases, an aging process was used to create the decay or the appearance of decay. Logo panel vans were similarly treated to reveal an old logo, or create one that looks period correct. Some real artistry was on display along with a good deal of time, effort, and money. 

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The following day was the Pomona Swap Meet. Although there is a swap portion which is all VW, this event is huge, and the show field isy acres of vintage iron from low rider 50s Cadillacs to Audi Foxes, to Delorean Back-To-The-Future replicas, to a wild shorty Beetle. Everything at this show was cool even if not always your particular cup of tea. The wild and wacky share space with the concours queens. There are plenty of YouTube videos that can help you grasp this better than words. What they can’t help you to appreciate is the vibe in the air. It is a giant cars-n-coffee meets carnival meets swap meet. It is sensory overload. If your car is “special”, and by that we mean special as in concours level or special in modifications, or special in patina, or special in paint, or special as in custom, or special as in weird, this is the place to be. There were plenty of “regular” examples present, but this event is much more spectacle than it is subtle appreciation society. Make sure you have good lubrication for your human neck bearing, as it will be swiveling a lot. The best part is that this show happens 6 or 7 times a year! I am told by devoted attendees that every show is just as crazy and vibrant as this one. 

Between the two events, we laughed, we wept, we coveted, we scratched our heads, we were shocked and awed, we stood slack-jawed, we marveled at craftsmanship, and we expanded our understanding of what is possible, and we gained a greater appreciation for the sheer diversity of thoughts on the automobile as an art canvas. With two events like these (and there were many other events in South/Central California that weekend), and good weather year round (except Saturday ;-), you can understand how many consider this to be one of the global centers of car culture.

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Yes, your eyes do not deceive you....

East African Coronation Safari 1953-1954

Classic Velocity

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With the Dakar underway, long distance endurance rallies are on the mind. Going back in time, these rallies were really extended reliability trials. If you finished on Sunday (winning was even better), it went right onto a poster for the sales department to use on Monday. Even today, I wonder how many manufacturers would send a bone stock production sedan vehicle off to race across sub Saharan Africa, wth just a couple of tires and a gas can strapped on the back. But I digress.....

The East African Coronation Safari was first run in 1953 crossing Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. It was initially held to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, since She was in Kenya and became Queen, when King George died. It became widely regarded as the toughest Rally on the circuit, if not in the world. 3000 miles, punishing terrain, and unpredictable weather, all combined to cement the reputation of this Rally. However the first two instances of this Rally really set the stage. The initial rally had three starting points, although the majority started in Nairobi. It wound its way around Lake Victoria. Performance on the cars was required to be showroom, meaning no mods. Four classes were determined based on vehicle price. There were only 57 entrants for the first Rally, including DKW, Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot, Tatar, and Volkswagen. There were only 27 finishers, with the top spot (least penalties) going to the split-window Volkswagen Beetle of Alan Dix and Johnny Larsen. In 1954, Volkswagen triumphed again but this time at the famous hands of Vic Preston and D P Marwaha. Average speed decreased due to the increase in mandatory rest stops and control points. The following year, the Rally adopted FIA rules and an RAC permit was required, effectively ending the initial minimal regulations approach. 

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The Variant

Classic Velocity

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As covered here before, (see the rise of the type 3), Volkswagen was among the first automakers to really leverage a single chassis for multiple variations on a large scale. This was certainly true for the Type 3, where the Notchback, the Fastback, and the Squareback, were all manifestations of the same base. And that base, was the beetle chassis. The Variant (Squareback) was the Estate model, or the Station Wagon model in the USA. It answered the basic need for more room to carry people and/or goods. Just like the VW bus, variety was provided by two variations of the variant (ok, I promise to end this now). There was a two door passenger version, and a two door panel van version, which only had front seats with a large cargo area behind them. While the Type 3 was launched in 1961 with the 1500 Notchback, the Variant first saw production in early 1962, but did not make it to the US until 1966.

Of course, the key to the Type 3 cars was the flattened version of the 4 cylinder air-cooled engine. That engine weighed under 300 lbs, and was only 18 inches tall. The cooling fan was lowered and relocated, the gerator was relocated, and the oil cooler was repositioned. In total, it was a brilliant repackaging of the standard beetle engine. In fact, it came to be called the pancake. Power was not the forte of this engine, as it produced a mere 50hp, and was good for a top speed of 77mph. In later years, it gained the dual carburetor setup and then got the landmark Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. Back to packaging, the engine fit below the floor in the rear allowing for a usable trunk. Coupled with a front trunk compartment, storage capacity was very good. With the additional vertical room provided by the "Squareback" body, it was excellent. The interior was relatively luxurious by VW standards. Pleated vinyl, headrests, full carpeting, an attractive gauge pod, more than spartan door panels, the option of an automatic, etc. 

Although sales were small in comparison to the mighty beetle, more than 1.2 million Variants were sold between 1962 and 1973, and that number climbs to 1.45 million if you include Brazilian production as well. This is well over half of the entire Type 3 production. The Variant remains popular today among air-cooled VW enthusiasts and is well represented on sites like www.thesamba.com and www.type3.org

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An Unexpected Stop

Classic Velocity

I had passed the shop many times before, but never during regular business hours. It had been an automotive repair shop, and then unoccupied for a while, and then this new sign appeared. Intriguing, and worthy of a stop, but the opportunity just did not present itself for over a year. And then one day, I passed by pretty early, but there was a car outside. I actually passed the shop, and then decided to make a U-turn and head back. The side door was wide open, and I stuck my head in and yelled hello. No response. I ventured a few feet inside the dimly lit space, to gaze upon a super beetle and what looked like a barn find early beetle next to each other. I yelled hello again. "Be right there", yelled a voice from some other part of the building.

The voice was Andy, and it was accompanied eventually buy a graying mustached man in a hooded sweatshirt.  "How can I help you?" I told him of my longtime desire to stop by and my long love affair with air cooled German machines. His face transformed into that of a man who had just been reintroduced to a good friend from long ago.   "Come on in, let me show you the shop". 

The shop was really a series of one car garage bays that had obviously been added on one or two at a time over years. Different levels, different entrances, and different time periods judging by the construction. Andy has arranged the areas by project and by function. An assembly area with organized shelves filled with labeled bins, a paint booth, a repair area with lifts, and a storage area through which I had entered. He is semi-retired and only takes in enough projects to allow for reasonable progress. At the moment, he is about at his limit with three cars. "Oh, and I only do Beetles", he said with a smile. It does not take long to get the sense that he only likes to do things "right". That is not to say he is a purist, or that he scoffs at modifications. Clearly not, based on the work he has taken in and the Subaru conversion project he is contemplating. But this does not seem like the place to take your quick and dirty project.

We spoke of  rare machines, of Notches and Buses, and trafficators, and Porsche 356s, and longterm projects, and heater boxes, and other wondrous things. Time flew by. What was just a few minutes turned out to be a few hours in earth time, and I was now officially late. We emerged from the dim shop into a bright wintry outdoors, cold, with icy patches on the ground. I had the sense that I had visited a strange but wonderful place, that I now knew how to find again. We exchanged coordinates. I would be back. Soon. 

The Rise of the Type 3

Classic Velocity

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In the late 1950s, VW determined that they needed a somewhat larger sedan to compliment the Beetle and Karmann Ghia, and to compete with more upscale sedans that were emerging. A factory damaged by fire became the secret development home for the new model. VW left the exterior of the Wolfsburg factory alone and boarded up the windows to further the perception that it was no longer in use. Work began on development in 1959, and by 1960 test mules and prototypes were in use. During this time, VW steadfastly denied the existence of any new models, including a public denial at the 1960 Geneva Auto show.

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The basic premise for the new model was the venerable air-cooled flat four engine. It was mounted in the chassis in such a way as to allow for some storage room above it in a rear compartment.  It eventually came to be known as the pancake engine because of its' flat compact packaging. Since it was a body-on-frame design, VW saw the potential for a few different body styles. They finally announced the new line in 1961, and the initial VW 1500 as they were called, was the Notchback (see Notchback). This was a basic "3 box" design which was popular for sedans emerging from NSU and BMW among others. To my eye, the Notch is one of the best executed of the 3-box cars in terms of its proportions and layout. It has simple lines and little in the way of chrome trim. The interior was also simple, with a 3 guage binnacle, and typical spartan VW beyond that. It was well received, and a year later the Variant (aka Squareback) was launched as an even more spacious "Estate" version. In 1965 the final model in the 1500/1600 series was released. It was the Fastback version (see VW Fastback), and it featured a hatchback with more room than the sedan, but less than the vast Squareback. There was also a 1500 convertible based on the Notchback.

Ironically, the more "luxurious" Notchback was never officially imported to the US, and most of those here came via Canada. The Type 3 did come to the US in the form of the Quareback and the Fastback starting in 1965. This roughly coincided with the move to front disc brakes, 1600cc and twin carbs. The Type 3 went to 12V electrics in 1967. Full automatic versions became available in 1968, along with the introduction of fuel injection, which was a first for a mass-produced car in this segment of the market. 1970 saw facelifts for the Type 3 and production finally ended in 1973. By then, more than 2 million Type 3s had been sold making it another successful model for VW.

 

First Blood

Classic Velocity

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It was baby blue, but it was really mostly oxidized metal brown. It was vintage, hailing from 1969, but it was really mostly old and unloved. It was a sorry pile of parts and possibilities, but it was really mostly......mine. I had clearly bitten off more than I could chew. It needed metalwork, but I had access to a wire feed welder. It needed engine work, but I had already rebuilt an almost identical engine at the shop where I worked summers during college. It needed sorting out electrically, but how complex could a Volkswagen Beetle be? It needed shelter from the elements, but uhhhmm...well...I had a tarp and the landlord was..well...tolerant.

I got it running and drove it one night with an illegal plate, no brake lights, and one headlight back to my place. It would not run below 1500 rpm, and would not go into 1st gear, so it was an exercise in timing and gymnastics to get back while not drawing attention to oneself. The designated spot was in an alley between houses. It was about 12 inches wider than the bug. I had to climb out through the window because the door would not open wide enough. This was ok because the driver window would not stay up anyway. 

In the next days and weeks I dropped the engine and ordered parts from ads in the back of magazines (this was pre-internet). I remember cuts and scrapes and curses due to rusty nuts and bolts. I eventually brought it into my basement apartment. On another smaller tarp, I stripped it, replaced rings, converted it to dual carbs, bolted on headers, and painted the tin. I removed the tank and had it cleaned out at the local radiator shop. Many evenings were spent under that car getting the motor back in place and running. More blood was shed. 

When it fired, I took it for a short run, and learned a few important lessons in restoration. First, after many many hours and days, and tremendous effort, the car looked just as bad as day one. Second, the glorious victory of invisible progress produces broad smiles and powerful endorphins unrivaled in other endeavors. Even more than that, it gets in your blood...

The Unwanted Podium

Classic Velocity

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So there I was, standing in the engine bay and staring at the empty bell housing. The bad torque converter  was on the garage floor nearby, and the new-to-me replacement was next to it. Just sitting there, you could not tell the difference, but one was useless and the other was....well...hopefully not. I glanced over at the engine sitting on the furniture dolly. I had adjusted the valves, cleaned it up while waiting for the torque converter, and painted most of the engine Tin with high heat satin black. It looked good, and seemed to be saying "its not my fault, I would have been happy with a regular gearbox" . The engine was right. As good as the Karmann Ghia looked, it was the first vintage vehicle I owned with something other than a manual gearbox. And this was not even a "real" automatic. It was the hybrid Sportomatic, which was essentially a clutch-less manual. You still had to shift. A good idea, that has returned in modern cars, but relatively fragile back then. And associating the word sport with the Karmann Ghia was beyond oxymoronic, it was libelous. But I digress....

I set about the work of installing the torque converter and putting the engine back in the car over a weekend. There are not a lot of cars where this can be a one man job, but air-cooled VWs are one of them. I slid the engine back under the car and used high precision elevation elements (patio paving blocks) and 2X4s to lever it into mating position (...actively working to avoid a bad sophomoric joke here..). I reconnected everything, adjusted the throttle cable, and headed for the drivers seat. I don't know about you, but there is always a pause before I even attempt to start an engine that has been out of the car, or worked on significantly. It is in part a mental (or physical) checklist. Fluid filled, check, fuel lines, check, timing set, check, torque the transaxle bolts, check, did you retrieve that 13mm socket you dropped? check,  etc. It is also a moment to invoke the automotive Gods. No matter how good a job I believe I have done, I ask them to overlook the abuse I heeped upon countless vehicles in my youth, and to please allow this one to start. Then I take a deep breath (I don't know why). Then I turn the key.

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Sputter, sputter, vvvrrrrooooooommm ! I am elated. I keep it running for a few minutes and then release the throttle. It stumbles and dies. I start it again without all the ritual, and it fires to life immediately. The idle adjustment must be off. I shut it off and acted like I won the Dakar. Fist pumps, opened a bottle of Stella Artois (the organizers had failed to provide champagne), and grinned. I stood on the Podium (those pavers are multi-purpose), and accepted my virtual trophy. Then I remembered, it needs to drive and shift, that is why it was apart. I cleared up the jackstands and the pavers, turned up the idle a little, and put the air cleaner on. It started right up, and I backed out of the garage. So far, so good, but reverse worked before I took it apart. I put it in first and there was a satisfying clunk. I went down the block and it shifted to second perfectly. Great. I went around the block and it shifted into third perfectly. It even idled at the stop sign. I returned to base. More fist pumping, a virtual interview with the world press, kisses from the supermodels, and another Stella. Following the theory of concentric circles, confidence grows in the following days. 5 miles, 10  miles, 30 miles. And then, there was the event.

It was a big annual VW meet at the Englishtown Dragstrip in NJ. Some where around 50 miles each way. It was the weekend after I had been standing in the engine bay. The car was running fine, but it felt a bit too soon. I have no idea why time had anything to do with it,  but it just felt that way. I pondered. I looked at the car and asked it. It said, "I did not go through your ham-fisted invasive procedure to sit and have my seals dry-rot". Allrighty then. The path from the Garage to the event was a torturous one if you did not use at least a little bit of interstate. The minimum speed for the slow lane was 40mph, well within the capabilities of the Ghia.  No problem. And off I went on B roads and then onto the interstate, where 50 MPH felt dangerously slow and 60 was just about adequate. Did I mention that the motor was bone stock, and there were two of us in the car? It slowed a little going uphill, but made it the 15 miles of highway without incident. I was very happy to get off,  issue a fist pump, and pat the dashboard. The car was perfect all the way to the venue, and once there, I took the option to park in the VW parking, rather than the $5 regular parking. The option came with a raffle ticket too.

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The event was great, with a huge variety of air-cooled VWs, including a drag Bus that did wheelies and spat fire. It is always amazing to see the level of effort that people put into air-cooled VWs, from zero to insanity. I met a few folks I knew from other events, and we chatted about how entertaining the event was regardless of your particular interest. The conversation continued while we waited for the raffle drawing. Suddenly, Rick ran over and said "dude, they just called your name, and you need to go up to the stage" .  "What for?"  "You won something". We made our way over to the stage and while I was thinking we won a six pack of towels or a bottle of Rain-X, we actually won third place in the Ghia class! It turns out that I had parked on the showfield, and   In the wrong spot for my class. Never-the-less, the originality garnered enough votes to get third, even though I did not enter. I had some good natured ribbing to endure, as there were nicer Ghias in the parking lot, and there was obviously no attempt to "present"the car given the bottle of Castrol, the roll of duct tape, and the pliers on the backseat. This made the trophy seem even larger, and it traveled back to the garage in the back seat at an angle, because it could not stand upright back there. The car was flawless on the way home, and the interstate section included brief stints at...wait for it....70MPH.  The car was obviously doing its own fist pumps and basking in the glow of a well earned victory.

Hoarding for Gearheads

Classic Velocity

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I am in possession of about a dozen brand new oil filters of various types and sizes. I know that many of them do not fit anything I currently own. I know that if I did own one of the vehicles again that they fit, I would probably not remember that I had one already. They serve no practical purpose other than to adorn a shelf in the garage. I cannot throw them out, as they are new and perfectly functional. I console myself with thoughts like....one day, I am going to look them all up and put them on eBay. I am not trying to hoard them all, it is just the inertia.

I am in possession of about a dozen coils. Most of them are black Bosch coils with labels long gone. Some of them have a piece of masking tape on them with words like BAD, and SUSPECT. I don't really trust the conclusion I reached whenever it was that I pulled these coils, so I can't throw them out yet. Others have vehicle names on them that I no longer own. You never know, I might stumble across another 6V Ghia with a suspect coil anyday. Then I would look brilliant. And regular readers will know that it would not be unusual for a former vehicle to be owned again (Repeat Offenders, Recidivism

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I am in possession of many dozen door mirrors. Many of them are broken or blemished in some way. A grub screw stripped, or a pivot mechanism shot so that the glass just flops around, seriously pitted chrome, etc. some of them were horrible "upgrades" by previous owners of vehicles I no longer own. Some of them fit vehicles that I currently own. Spares that I would never use because of their condition. I can't throw them out because they may be useful on a track car or a project, or as spare glass.

I am in possession of more than a dozen motorcycle windshields. None of them fit anything I currently own. In fact two of them fit vehicles that I have never owned! They are mostly in good shape, so I can't throw them out. You never know when a hot rod Cafe project will need a cut down windshield from a BMW K12RS. They are bulky and difficult to store without scratching. Eventually, in about 30 years, there will be more than a dozen very scratched motorcycle windshields. Perhaps then the kids or grand kids will discard them.

I am in possession of several sets of used spark plug wires. They were all removed from vehicles to eliminate them as potential contributors to some malady. Since I also replaced points, condensers, and coils (see above), they could all be perfectly fine. Or not. Best not to throw them out then.

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I am in possession of 2  BMW /2 bench seats which are shedding fine horsehair,  a sheet metal replacement for the bottom front of a 356C, a multi-tool for a Norton, a pitted rear script from a Mercedes 230SL, a 1.7 914 motor, cracked turn signal lenses for a 69 Karmann Ghia, several not-so-good sets of /5 mufflers, rear door panels for a BMW 3.0CS, a dented CB750 tank, a tail section for an R100RS, a spare wheel for a Puma GTC, a broken speedometer for a 1966 VW Bus, multiple sets of airhead luggage, a deformed spoiler from a Mercedes 2.3 16V, a 914 rear decklid, etc, etc, etc.

This could go on for pages and pages. Items are in the garage, the basement, the attic, other undisclosed locations. I firmly believe that we gearheads are very different from the hoarders seen on reality TV shows. We are more like inventory builders. Then again, perhaps we just have different areas of specialization, or perhaps we are even sicker because we actually attempt to justify what we hoard....

2013 Deutsche Classic

Classic Velocity

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If there is an event that almost perfectly matches the theme and scope of Classic Velocity, it is Pennsylvania's Deutsche Classic. The event has been around for a number of years, but it is billed as an all German multiple marque event including cars and now motorcycles. The event has moved around over the years from Reading, to Fleetwood, and this year for the first time to its' new home in Oley Pennsylvania. Regular readers will know that Oley is also the site of the AACA vintage motorcycle swap meet in the spring. Familiar territory.

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It is always good to see friends and fellow chronic disease sufferers from many brands all in the same place. I could walk to any encampment and see a familiar face, and I have been to the event with almost every marque present (my one and only Opel and my only Audi pre-dated the event). Last year there was a Bitter present (see Sweet Bitter), and that was another exception. All of this makes this event into a next snapping frenzy as every compass direction has something of interest, every for sale sign is of potential interest, and there are virtually no vendor stalls that are not of interest.

That said, there are always cars of particular interest. A nice Type 4 Karmann Ghia caught my attention, as did a BMW 2000. Nice examples of any car always stop you in your tracks, and Roger Jone's beautiful 3.0CS is one such car. Todd was present with his superb modified R90S. Craig brought his immaculate single cab Bus. Several nice 356 cars were present. The most interesting car for me though was not on the show field. It was behind a vendor stall. It was an ultra rare Mercedes wagon. To the uninformed, it looked like someone's shade tree experiment. However, it is actually a 1966 Mercedes 230 wagon. This one was an even more rare Binz version with a higher roofline. It is not the prettiest car to begin with, and this one is in rough shape, but what a great surprise to see one in the flesh.

Type 14

Classic Velocity

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Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was the dream of designer and builder Wilhelm Karmann. He had built the Volkswagen beetle cabriolet, and wanted to design a unique and stylish body for the VW beetle chassis. Wilhelm and his son, also called Wilhelm, approached Heinz Nordhoff in 1950 about the idea of a cabriolet sports car on the beetle chassis, but reportedly did not get much interest. Volkswagen was producing all the beetles that they could make, and a new car with a questionable future didn't make much sense. Karmann persisted, and eventually Nordhoff agreed to allow designs to be submitted to Wolfsburg. They were rebuffed there as well. Refusing to accept defeat, Karmann eventually made an Italian connection which made all of the difference.

Luigi Segre was Director at Carozzeria Ghia. After listening to Karmann's idea at the Turin show, he arranged to get a VW beetle from a connection in France. And here is where the story starts to get a little bit mysterious and bizarre. The origin of the design of the Karmann Ghia is disputed in many circles even today, but it is clear that there were a number of connections which must have had some influence. Major design duties were handed to a relatively new designer at Ghia who is said to have introduced some novel rounded and swoopy lines. Then, the French connection, Charles LaDouche, was involved with the production of a car called the Coupe D'Elegance, which was being produced by Ghia, and which predates The Karmann discussions, but which has some resemblance to The final Karmann Ghia. Lastly, LaDouche was a Chrysler agent in France, and both he, and Luigi Segre had prior conversations and idea discussions with Virgil Exner in the US. Exner was head of exterior design for Chrysler, but was famous for the Studebaker Champion styling. Many believe that the car looks a lot like a mini Studebaker. The nose has a dose of Porsche with the nacelles and the nostrils. Lastly, there was a significant and perhaps unprecedented level of secrecy that was maintained around the project. Not just in keeping things from Volkswagen, as Ghia seem to have gone out of their way to keep Karmann away from Turin where the Coupe D'Elegance was being built. Parts of models and prototype cars were shipped around locations in Europe and hidden from notice while development was taking place.

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In 1952, Wilheim senior died, but his son continued to bring the dream to fruition. After a lot of back and forth, and detail design by Karmann, the Coupe project was shown to Nordhoff in November 1953. He agreed to produce it, and the beetle chassis was widened and strengthened at the longitudinals to adapt to the new body style. This provided a very different interior than the beetle, and combined with a lower overall profile to accentuate the sports car styling. A front anti-roll bar improved handling, and the more powerful 1192 cc motor combined with a four speed synchromesh gearbox to provide some enhanced performance. The Ghia had a top speed of 77mph (compared to the Beetle's 66mph). The end result was that Volkswagen Type 143 was deemed to be the most beautiful Volkswagen ever produced. It was to be built at the Karmann factory in Osnabruck beginning in 1955. Because the Karmann factory did not have the large-scale mass production capabilities of the Volkswagen plant, many of the Karmann Ghia panels were in fact constructed from smaller component pieces and then put together. A number of interesting ideas such as the over-centered hinge, were employed as a result of working through production challenges.

Another twist developed at launch. Volkswagen was producing DKWs at full capacity, and had no place to store the new Ghia around the original launch date. The solution was to move the launch date forward, and ship cars directly to dealers. Brilliant ! Despite its looks and pretentions, the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was no sports car. The early reviews pointed that out, and sales were initially slow. However, to a customer moving up from a Beetle, the car was indeed a lot more sporting. Sales grew rapidly, and eventually out-stripped production by 1956. This was true even in the US, where there was little to no initial advertising. A cabriolet followed in 1957, and the car went on to great success in the US and of course in Europe, selling over 400,000 units.

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Volkswagenwagons

Classic Velocity

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Throughout the history of the automobile, you would be hard-pressed to find a vehicle that has been more modified, "enhanced", experimented with, or generally altered, than the Volkswagen beetle. Part of it is simply the longevity of the vehicle. Part of it is the simple platform that lends itself to easy modification. Part of it is how inexpensive the vehicle is, which allows for failed experiments not to lead to bankruptcy. Add it all up, and you get one of the most modified vehicles on the planet. However, among the sand rails and the V8 transplants, and the resto mods, and the drag race cars, is a variation that seems truly strange.

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It is the station wagon or the work van or the pickup. This variation is strange because it is a modification which mimics products that Volkswagen already has. The type III and IV variant, and the fastback have been around for a long long time, and were specifically developed to answer the needs that some of these modified beetles are aiming for. There may have been some logic in immediate postwar Germany where you used what you had, but this phenomenon carries on even today. The beloved type II bus was the answer to those who wanted a people carrier or more cargo room. The camper satisfied those who wanted to live in their Volkswagen vehicle. Why then, when you go to the trouble of crafting such variations by using the beetle as a starting point? And, with the engine in the rear, and an air cooled one at that, why would you want to add anything to the back of that vehicle? Perplexing questions, I know.

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The answer is found in the gearhead lobe of the brain. One school of scientists is convinced that this small appendage developed once man no longer needed to devote 100% of his attention to finding food, shelter and someone with whom to reproduce. He began to devise different types of spears, and pteradactyl wing gliders, and began to bench-hunt with his buddies. In other words, he had time on his hands, always a dangerous situation throughout history. The other school of scientists maintain that these behaviors are merely extensions of the courtship ritual. A sort of peacock plumage dance for the modern age. I can tell you that based on seeing some of the less well-executed variations in question, they are welcome to whatever version of the opposite sex that they attract with such plumage. But I digress.

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To be honest, the beetle is not the only utilitarian car of the people to suffer such treatment. One could argue that the 2CV has activated that same lobe. There is even a slight resemblance. The versions of the wagen are many, including those aimed at work and play. The beetle limousine was inevitable, but the attempts at an estate/shooting brake/stationwagon, woody, and shop van were not. Neither were the pickup or the 10 window. And the motor home ? As long as we are being honest, a few of these activate my lobe too. Of course, some of them are just beetle appendages grafted onto other vehicles, which is a real testament to the appeal of the beetle. This is behavior usually reserved for Ferrari and Porsche Slant Nose exotica.  Interesting, but that discussion requires a whole new school of scientists...

Cool Flow Air Conditioning

Classic Velocity

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I have only had two types of air conditioning in vintage vehicles; not present, and not working. Well actually, that is not entirely accurate. The air-conditioning in the BMW TII was working for about two thirds of one summer. However, it was minimally effective and was described by a friend as being less effective than the fan alone. It seems to me that the Germans of the 50s through the 1970s were clearly not thrilled with having to add performance robbing comfort systems to their cars (with the possible exception of Mercedes-Benz). After all, engineers still ruled the German manufacturers during this era, and they were rightfully concerned with the joy of driving (Freude Am Fahren). Air-conditioning was right up there on their list of priorities with larger ashtrays and cupholders.

The irony today of course, is that they thought that you should be putting your full attention on driving the vehicle. Not such a bad idea, eh?

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They were so opposed to adding air conditioning, and so slow to react, that the initial response was to have the American dealers install any such silly conveniences. Eventually however, they were forced to pay attention to their largest and in many cases most important market. Systems by names like Behr and Frigiking (you can imagine the permutations on this name!) began to appear. These were usually add-on units that were not integrated into the car's vent system. Some were adequate, while most were well below the standards of American cars at the time. They also had a dramatic negative effect on the performance of the smaller displacement cars. If you turned on the air conditioning in one of these earlier cars, you knew it. There was significant additional drag on the engine once the compressor kicked in. It was as if someone had suddenly hooked up a boat trailer to the back of the car.

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Who would want such a thing ? It robbed horsepower, introduced new pulleys and belts, strange pressurized apparatus needed to be hidden in various nooks and crannies of the car, they often leaked refrigerant, and needed to be charged or refilled periodically. And all this for mediocre cooling performance. And there was yet another reason to do without it; Windows. These great devices were surprisingly effective in cooling the passenger cabin. They consumed no electrical power, required no refrigerant or other liquids, were intuitive to operate, and could be set independently by driver and passenger. Vent windows were particularly effective, because they redirected the air in an adjustable fashion. Brilliant. Of course you needed to be moving in order for them to work, but that was also true optimally of the air conditioning systems. They never made it cold enough for icicles to be dangling from your nose, but who wanted that in the summer ?. I am always surprised at how well vent windows work even in the heat of summer. It helps me to understand why in all the years growing up without air conditioning things never seemed very uncomfortable, much less unbearable, except in extreme circumstances.

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Which brings me back to why I only have two types of air conditioning in vintage vehicles. The 911 Coupe actually did have air conditioning in it, and the vestiges of that system in terms of the bracket in the engine compartment, and the console in the passenger compartment are still there. However, I removed every bit of plumbing and equipment associated with it a long time ago. The front fresh air vent, and the rear quarters together actually produce a decent flow of air. As an added bonus, the faster you go, the better it feels. I think the folks in Stuttgart were sending a message there ;-)

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The TII actually has a full system, and the troublesome compressor was replaced with a more reliable and efficient Sanyo unit many years ago. On a previous trip down to North Carolina a few years ago, I actually got it charged up and working. It made the passenger compartment bearable in the hottest parts of that trip, but I was scared to run it constantly in the high rpm range, and the drag on the engine changed the sound enough and the performance enough to make it feel...well...wrong. I convinced my spouse to suffer a little on the way back and used the vent windows and rear quarters. It was not really any worse. The system has not been recharged since.

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The 1978 Chevy G 10 also has vent windows. These are combined with two lower vents which actually just open holes in the floor near the wheel wells and let rushing air into the van. If combined with opening the rear door windows, they make even this big metal oven bearable when underway. I never really found out if the Mercedes 230 SL had good air-conditioning, because it was a cabriolet, and I never attempted to get it working. I did have a Swamp Cooler for my VW Bug years back. It worked well, but certainly did not help the aerodynamics. I always felt like the drag could have resulted in the car being pulled into a constant right hand turn at speed like some kind of anti-Nascar vehicle. And then there are the motorcycles, which are the ultimate proof that moving air is the real effective coolant.

Besides, ineffective air conditioning, and the need to keep cool, resulted in the invention of short shorts, halter tops, mini skirts, sandals, bikinis, and any number of useful clothing items. Without this need, women would be driving around in sports cars and convertibles wearing Elizabethan gowns. The defense rests.

Volkswagen Fastback

Classic Velocity

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In 1961, Volkswagen introduced the Type 3 line with the Notchback (See VW Notchback), and the Type 34 Karmann Ghia. The cars were also known as the VW 1500 series. They were intended to help VW get into the growing middle class who were buying BMW 1500/1800s and Opel Kadetts, In 1962, they followed with the Variant (Squareback in the USA) which was essentially a station wagon version. The type 3 did well, but was nothing like the Beetle in sales numbers. Seeking to bolster sales, in 1965 Volkswagen introduced the Fastback. It coincided with the new 1600 engine, giving the Type 3 cars a needed boost.

The Fastback was, as the name implies, a two door type 3 which was the same as the notchback up front, but had a continuous slope from the roofline to the rear bumper. It looked both roomy and sporty. The car used the same body on frame setup of the other Type3s, and torsion bar suspension front and rear. It had a trunk front and rear, but they were rather shallow. Of course the engine was the same low profile air-cooled horizontally opposed 4 cylinder that served all of the Type 3 cars.IT used a 4 speed manual, although it was joined in the late sixties by an automatic. It appeared that VW had found another way to leverage the platform.

Although you have to put the performance into perspective for the time, the Fastback was not fast. It was light at around 1900 lbs, but it only had 44 bhp, and meandered from 0 to 60 in around 25 seconds. It had a top speed of about 80 mph. For what it was intended, a family car with more room than the Beetle, it was not bad. That was the premise of the TV commercial above featuring a young Dustin Hoffman. The car managed about 27 mpg, which was not great, but not bad either. It also had the same poor heating system that plagued the Beetle, so overall it was not the great successor that Europe had been eagerly awaiting.

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In the US, the Beetle was still a very hot selling car, and Volkswagen, which was also facing capacity issues as it brought the new Emden plant online, delayed plans to import the Type 3. Many of the early cars that made there way to the US were gray market cars. In 1966, the Fastbacks arrived, and they did so into a market that seemed to be in love with the fastback concept. Mustangs, Corvettes, and Barracudas were all sporting fastback variations. It is fair to say that the VW was more Slowback than Fastback. In 1968 and 1969, three important upgrades were introduced, an automatic transmission, independent rear suspension, and Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. This is considered to be the first use of fuel injection in a volume production vehicle. These changes were popular in the US. In 1970 the fastback got some modest revisions to the nose, and then stayed in production until 1973 when the Dasher was introduced.

Air-Cooled Cool

Classic Velocity

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One of my earliest and most formative automotive memories, is standing on the seatbacks of my uncle's early 60s ragtop Beetle with my torso sticking out the top as he did continual loops around a roundabout (today he would be jailed and I would be in a foster home). I was laughing and yelling "faster, faster". The Volkswagen became instantly imprinted as fun and fast (!). Fast forward a few years and my brothers and I are routinely bouncing around in another uncle's double cab along with bags of cement, concrete blocks, and lumber as he built houses. Fast forward around a decade or so, and the first car I ever restored (and I use that term in the most generous way possible) was a 68 VW Beetle. Fast forward another decade, and I restored (proper use of the term this time) a 1970 Bug. That is yet another vehicle that I never should have sold. Later there was a 1969 Karmann Ghia, and I almost had a Bus (but that is another story). I still want a bus, against all reason and logic. What can I say, they are German, air-cooled, and they speak to me.

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Drip-Fest is an annual gathering of air-cooled VW s in PA. This year was the 4th such event. It is put on by the Old City Oil Drippers out of Philly. This year's event raised funds for the Wounded Warriors Project which benefits wounded veterans, so a great cause as well. The organizers secured the parking area of a ski lodge, and you could watch the lift ferrying mountain bikers up for their banzai descent. The organizers also invited Porsches to come along and several did. Bill drove his new pride-and-joy 914, a lovely black example showed up as well. Ed and Dick brought the 912s along, Tom drove the 911SC, and an interesting 924 was also on hand with hood emblazoned with a gigantic Porsche crest.

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But the stars of the show were obviously the VW s. The beetle is iconic in any of its air-cooled variations, and is the longest produced vehicle model, and the largest number of a single model ever produced (over 21 million). One would think that a vehicle produced in those numbers for that length of time could not possibly be so loved and so collectible. One would be wrong. In contrast, the Toyota Corolla has sold over 32 million units (though as different models), and I don't know of a single Corolla-Fest anywhere. I also don't know of any movies with the Corolla cast in the lead role. Not to pick on the Corolla (our household has owned 2 of them), but it is also not eternally cool to young people. But I digress.

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One of the great things about the Beetle is that it has been cool for 60 years. Young 20 somethings and octogenarians mingled on the show field. I suspect that in another 60 years this will be true as well. Another great thing about the Beetle is that it is a canvas for so many ideas from dragsters to museum-ready bone stock, to sand rails. As Tom noted, there is just something about the Beetle. This from a man who has eclectic tastes that even runs to French cars! On hand were some very cool examples that ran the gamut. There were a couple of beautiful cabriolets in stock form, and a number of hotrod super beetles, and back-dated cars with early fenders. A military green machine belonging to one of the organizers was very nicely done, down to the rocket-launcher !!  And the ratrods were present as well. Naturally or (increasingly) intentionally distressed exteriors disguise interiors, suspension systems, and drivetrains that are first class. You certainly can't tell these books by their covers...

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But there were plenty of other VWs in attendance. A couple of VW Things (descendants of the military Kubelwagens) showed up in signature orange livery. There were half a dozen Dune Buggies (Manx as well as home-brewed). Some of these were real monsters given their engines. There were a few nice Variants present to uphold the honor of the Type3 crowd. Strangely though, there was not a Fastback or a Notch in sight, unless they arrived toward the tail end of the day and I missed them. There were also a few interesting custom creations including a Beetle-based pickup with a plymouth nose!! Not to be missed was a Brazilian Puma, which I am told by the owner marries a Ghia-based chassis to a good looking sportscar body by PininFarina. Very Cool.

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Saving the biggest for last, I was delighted to see Buses. There were not many, but a good variety turned out. Among them was a superbly restored Camper that I'm sure is a nicer home-away-from-home, than many homes-not-away. Complementing that was Henry's 72 Doublecab in orange and white. Being equipped with a 914 motor in the rear, it probably goes as well as it looks. A 65 Panel van, and an early Single Cab showed the versatility of the bus platform. Perhaps my favorite was a distressed 13 Window belonging to one of the vendors. Even without Pixar animation, Buses tend to be treated as people if not family members, if not spouses. As Henry reminded me when we were discussing the desire for a bus, "It's a commitment, you need to be sure you are ready"....Gotta go, I have to resume browsing the Samba.

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VW Notchback

Classic Velocity

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In the late 1950s, Volkswagen thought that they needed another model to complement the wildly successful Beetle designed by Ferdinand Porsche, and to appeal to the middle class. They had already launched the Italian-designed Type 1 Karmann Ghia, and it was proving successful as well. They wanted something which was visually different from the people's car (read conventional), but they wanted to leverage whatever tooling and parts they could. What emerged was the VW Type 3. In September 1961, at the Frankfurt Show, VW introduced several new models in the Type 3 range. A sedan (the Notchback), an estate wagon (the Squareback), and a sporting coupe (the Karmann Ghia). Cabriolets of the Notchback and Karmann Ghia were also introduced, but never actually entered production.

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thesamba.comThe Notchback was intended as a family sedan. It had a tall greenhouse, and followed the prevalent 3-box design that carried on into the seventies for many different marques. To my eye, the Notch is one of the best executed of the 3-box cars in terms of its proportions and layout. It has simple lines and little in the way of chrome trim. The interior was also simple, with a 3 guage binnacle, and typical spartan VW beyond that. Seats were basically the same as the Beetle. Over the production years, the interior remained basic, but did have many improvements. They included better heating and ventilation, multi-speed wipers, more trim, headrests, etc.

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Type 3 engines were initially 1500cc. That does not sound like much, but it was a 25% increase over the engines in VWs at the time, and made for faster and more powerful (53 HP) vehicles. The Notchback in particular only weighed 2200lbs. Engines were rear mounted, and because creating space was a goal, they were “compressed”. In essence, the Type 1 engine block and cylinders were the same, but all of the cooling was “pancaked” to minimize height and live under a trunk. It was a brilliant execution of packaging, and surprisingly accessible for most routine work. In 1963, VW introduced dual carburettor versions of the motor (1500S). I can tell you from working on one that although the dual carbs were a performance improvement, they made the plugs nearly impossible to get to ! In 1965 VW moved displacement up to 1584cc (65 HP), and in 1968, fuel injection was introduced.

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vwtype3and4club.org.ukAlthough there are a few Drag racing cars around, the Notch was never really a strong motorsports platform. Perhaps because the Ghia was the sporting version of the Type 3, and the sedan always had cooling issues. That has not stopped the nutters of the world from making them into crazy modified street machines with Subaru engines, and all manner of customizations. A stock Notchback is a rare animal. Type 3 production in Germany ended in 1973. However, like other Vws, they continued to be produced in Australia for another year, and in Brazil for another 10 years.  

Single Cab Sighting

Classic Velocity

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Postwar Germany was not a particularly happy and vibrant place by all accounts. It is best shown in black and white with working class people trying to put the war behind them. There were restrictions on what types of vehicles could be produced, and they leaned toward small, inexpensive, and utilitarian. The Beetle was perfect. However, there was much work to be done, and work vehicles were needed as well. Within the VW factory, a modified version of a Beetle was being used as a shop truck. In 1947, a VW dealer in Holland, Ben Pon, sketched a van based on this shop truck and in 1948 VW decided to build it. In 1949, the first ones rolled off the production line. The van was named the Transporter, but was basically a panel van on Beetle running gear.

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Ben Pon's SketchThe van was a hit, and VW introduced passenger variations with rear seating, and side windows. In 1952, VW introduce the Single Cab truck. It was a brilliant combination of several vehicles in one, and it responded to a variety of demands. It was a truck with interior storage behind the seat and under the bench seat. It was a pickup truck with a large bed. It was a flatbed truck with the sides of the pickup bed folded down. It had storage beneath the pickup bed as well. It was like some primitive 1940s version of a Transformer. Not long after, in response to a requested customized version with a larger cabin by coach builder Binz, VW contracted with them to produce the Double Cab. They later took production in-house in 1958.

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The applications of the single cab and double cab could fill a book (in fact there are many books on the transporter and variants just check Amazon). Just about everything was attached to the bed from cranes to firefighting equipment. The engines were known for torque, but not power, and with the aerodynamics of a small building, they were all about work. Today, there is a thriving enthusiast community for all of the transporter variants and they are no longer cheap. Single cabs and the much sought after double cabs are certainly included. I apssed ona double cab several years ago because it was in rough shape, and too large to fit in my garage. I'd like a do-over, please. I have been looking for a panel van for several years (in fact the motor in the 914 was originally destined for a Bus project), but they are hard to find in the east, and when you do, they are more rust than metal. The west is the place to go, but those I like are out of budget range.

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So why would someone want a loaf of bread with a 40hp engine ? Well first because one of my earliest automotive memories is viewing the world from the third seat of our family's VW Bus. Second, because they have an air/oil-cooled horizontally opposed engine. Third, because today one pulled into the parking lot a few spaces down. The owner was just on a run to the hardware store to get some plywood in his 1958 single cab. He has no idea how many times the odometer has turned over, but he thinks 2 or 3. He says it leaks some oil. Everyone within eyesight wandered over and smiled. It is not a show vehicle, or a rat bus, or a modified hot rod bus, or a Sunday driver. I have seen this vehicle before. It is an almost stock single cab with current plates, inspected and insured, and still doing what it was built to do 52 years ago. I wonder how many work vehicles are still operating 50 years later ? I'm not sure many of the current ones will be. No, it was not for sale, but he told me that if he ever did decide to sell it, I would be the 43rd person in line.....