Maybe someday we’ll be able to fill in the middle of her history, but don’t hold your breath.
About Type IIIs
Type IIIs came in three body styles (picture) which are mechanically identical: Squarebacks like Gertie are station wagons; Fastbacks are like Gertie except they have a sloped rear roof; and Notchbacks, which were available in Canada but never officially imported into this country, are like Gertie except they have a typical sedan profile (like with a rear trunk and all). Cosmetically, all of these are exactly the same from the rear of the doors forward. There was a noticeable but not severe styling change between the 1969 and 1970 model years, which is where the line between early and late cars is typically drawn: the nose went from being sloped to being more pointed and sharklike (as seen above and here), the blinkers got way bigger, and the bumpers became less elaborate.
The Type III was VW’s solution for those who’d outgrown the Beetle (Type I), but for whom the bus (Type II) was a little much, or a little weird. They were designed in the late 1950s in collaboration with Porsche. The first model year was 1961 and they made their American debut in the 1965 model year. However they never even came close to approaching the popularity of the Beetle, or even the bus, perhaps in part because they were somewhat more expensive. Later on, I suspect trepidation about the then-brand-new fuel injection technology scared away even more potential buyers. The line was retired after the 1973s came out (replaced in 1974 by the front-engined, watercooled Dasher). In all a little more than 2.5 million were built, out of which around 655,000 came to America.
The basic principles upon which the Type III rests are the same as other VWs–air-cooled, rear-engined, torsion bar suspension–and they share many of their mechanical components with Beetles, but with some very significant differences. I’ve been told they use the same floor pan as the Karmann Ghia (it’s wider than a Beetle), but haven’t been able to verify this. Also, the oil cooler doesn’t sit upright like in the, uh, upright Type I engine, but lays flat–hence the appellation “the suitcase engine” or, more commonly, “the pancake engine” (not to be confused with the Type IV engine–installed in 411s, 412s, Porsche 914-4s, and 1972-1983 buses–which is also “flat”, but is an entirely different beast). They did this so they could stuff the engine down into a really small space; indeed, to the casual, unfamiliar observer, the engine might be difficult to locate. I’m told that it’s the most powerful internal combustion engine ever built that stands less than 18 inches high. Type IIIs got front disk brakes (1966) and independent rear suspension (1969) before any other VWs, I believe. But, most important of all, in 1968 the VW Type III became the first production car in the world to come with electronic fuel injection, standard.
Mitch has owned four running Type IIIs in his life, including Gertie, and will unequivocally state that from the aspect of pure driveability, they are better than Beetles (one of which he drove for a while as well) in every way. In fact, I (Mitch) think Type IIIs, Squarebacks in particular, are the best Volkswagens ever made for civilian use.
Gertrude’s Technical Specifications
Engine (Gertie has a ’72 engine): Four-cylinder 1600cc air-cooled, horizontally opposed engine with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection (stock). Distributor is a 311-905-205AE (Bosch 0231 172 011). Exhaust is stock and fulla holes.
Transaxle: Four-speed manual
Maximum and cruising speed: 84 mph
Dimensions 14 ft 2 3/4 in long; 6 ft 8 in high; 5 ft 3 in wide. Wheelbase: 7 ft 10 1/2 in (same as Ludwig!). Weight: 2226 lbs unloaded, 3108 lbs at max load (vehicle plus 882 lbs). Ground clearance: 5 7/8 inches.