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 .
One Reply to “The Variant”
My first car was a ’64 VW beetle, had a few microbuses and Westphalias still own a ’69 autostick beetle and a ’71 Karmann Ghia convertible, but the Squareback is a model I’d love to own. I always liked the design and extra space is handy, maybe someday I will find one.