Saturday, January 24, 2009
VW 1500s I have known, part 2
In about 1990 Cathy's '71 Beetle was getting tired, and we started looking for a replacement. Since I'd learned quite a bit about Type 3s in the preceding three years I thought a Squareback would be a practical choice, so we set about looking for one. We thought we'd found one good candidate, a clean red '66, but we were scared off by the fact that the seller was a Gypsy fortune teller on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood — I kid you not. It's just as well, because a few weeks later we found a faded but very original '65 1500S. It was being sold by the buyer of the house of the car's original owner. The car came with the house. It had been parked outdoors for many years and showed the effects of prolonged weather exposure, but it was virtually rust-free and had only 55,000 miles on the odometer. The seller had a local VW shop give it the once over and it seemed to run and drive well. All original, no modifications, original spare, original tool roll, original accessory Bambus parcel tray, original owner's manual folder, black-and-yellow 1965 California plates (which means it had been in California since new) — ours for $1,200. Sold!
The owner's manual folder included tourist delivery paperwork, and this helped explain some unusual details on the car: no side-marker lights, dual-pole front signals, lap seat belt mounts, and a strange plate on the engine that read "M-249 90-Oktan" and letter 'N" stamped in the case — what I came to find out were the markers for the low-octane version of the 1500S engine (option M249). This was a U.S.-spec tourist delivery Squareback sold before the Type 3 was officially introduced to the U.S. market by VW of America the following year.
The first thing we did was replace the rotting bias-ply tires with new Michelin XZXs and suddenly it was like driving a new 1965 car. Which is essentially what it was. It became Cathy's daily driver, and we took it on a number of road trips. It drove too nicely not to drive it, so drive it we did. Here it is parked at a friend's house east of Palm Springs in about 1992:
And here's Cathy at the wheel in about 1996 as the odometer reached 100,000 miles.
In 1999 I took the Squareback off the road for a partial restoration to fulfill a promise I made to the car when we first bought it. I stripped the car down to the bare body shell but left it on the pan (the condition being good enough that there was no reason to separate it), and took the rolling shell to Alex at ISP West for body and paint. The pearl white paint turned out beautifully. Since Alex happened to have a roll of NOS VW red mesh upholstery vinyl — an exact match to what the car had originally — I had ISP handle the seat reupholstery too. Other than the headliner I did the rest of the assembly myself. It took me about two and a half years of my spare time to finish it.
By that time my work situation had changed and I needed a newer daily driver for my long freeway commute. We found ourselves with too many cars and I was itching to get started on another Type 3 restoration project, so in 2003 I reluctantly put the Squareback on the market and eventually sold it to a Japanese collector through Alex at ISP. Here it is on the final drive to ISP:
I miss that car. I learned a lot from it. Hopefully it's resting comfortably in a warm and dry Japanese garage.