Love it or hate it, the Volkswagen 1600 is one of the quirkiest and most recognisable cars to come out of the VW stable. Launched as the Type 3, it was initially sold as the Volkswagen 1500 and later as the 1600. It was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in 1961 and entered production in Australia in 1963 at the Clayton plant in Victoria, where it was manufactured until 1968 when Volkswagen ceased all manufacturing here. CKD kits continued to be assembled at the Clayton plant, however, until 1973 when Volkswagen reverted to its import-only status.
The 1600 held much in common with its Beetle sibling like air-cooled rear engine with rear-wheel drive combination, and it was available in sedan, station wagon, and panel van formats. The overall look of the car is longer and much more boxy than its Beetle predecessor, both to the front and in particular to the rear, especially in the station wagon and panel van formats. The 1600 sedan offers front and rear luggage areas with significantly more space to the rear with a separate boot lid.
The 1600 had a luxurious feel that was missing from some of its Beetle siblings and featured wall-to-wall carpeting to increase the feeling of comfort inside the cabin.
These days, unsurprisingly, the 1600 is something of a collectors item. Some have been well maintained over the years, beautifully honed into ready-made collectors items, while others have been rescued after being long forgotten and are in need of some serious TLC. Given the relatively basic (in todays terms at least) engineering, however, it is perfectly feasible with a manual and a little know-how to restore a neglected 1600 to its former glory with the help of some time, a little money, and plenty of patience.
The Type 3 was initially fitted with a 1.5L (1493cc) engine based on the 1192cc flat 4 type found in the Beetle with a 69mm stroke, which was increased to a 1.6L (1584cc) engine in 1966, earning it its eventual 1600 mantle. In 1968, the 1600 TE and LE models became the first mass production cars in the world to feature electronic fuel injection, using the Bosch D-Jetronic system. Some models from 1968 onwards also feature fully automatic transmission.
The 1600 featured some important enhancements over its T1 (Beetle) predecessor, especially with regard to the front suspension, which was notably superior and created a more refined ride for both driver and passengers. Brakes on original type 3s with 5-stud wheels come with twin leading shoe drum brakes to the front and drum brakes to the rear, while 1967 models feature disc brakes at the front instead, which coincided with the arrival of the 1600 engine in Australia. These models also feature 4-stud wheels with 8 cooling slots as opposed to the former 5-stud versions.
The 1600 enjoyed significant popularity for a time but never reached the levels achieved by the Beetle. It was ultimately left behind by Volkswagens newer front-wheel drive, water-cooled designs, which went on to spawn the Passat and the Golf, both of which have dominated sales for many years worldwide.
The 1600 features various trim levels according to style and age. A very small number of panel vans remain on the market, now very much collectors items. These typically feature little kit aside from a ply loading area with steel protector strips coated in zinc and a driver sun visor. They are distinctive by their lack of side windows.
The distinctive sedan and station wagon fare slightly better, although the basic model was also a rather stripped-back affair, with limited colour and upholstery options, no clock or electric rear window defogger, and simple painted frames around the windows rather than the more upmarket chrome option. Higher spec versions boasted full carpeting, although the base model featured rubber mats only.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that these cars have been around for some 50 years, and many have been enhanced and adapted well beyond their original spec. If you are considering buying a Volkswagen 1600, you are likely to find each and every example unique, so if spec is important to you, check this as carefully as you are likely to check whats happening beneath the bonnet.
Most buyers considering investing in a VW 1600 will be doing so because they are specifically interested in this car for its looks and history, so there is little straightforward competition to it on the market. Competition from the same period comes from its own early VW rival, the Beetle, along with contemporaries, including the Lightburn Zeta, XP Falcon, HD Holden and the original Ford Cortina.