Sunday, October 25, 2009

In order to form a more perfect Notchback

Jason Weigel (a.k.a. Notchboy) is embarking on a comprehensive detailing project on his low-mileage, all-original and already nearly perfect '63 sunroof Notchback. He started a video blog thread on so we can follow along on his progress.

You can follow the thread here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

VW 1500: der große Personenwagen

Similar to another scale model that I wrote about a couple of years ago, this bus model carries an ad for the VW 1500. I'd like to think that ads like this were all over the streets in West Germany in the early '60s. Are models like this based on documentary photos of street scenes?

[image swiped from an eBay auction]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Factory-style key tags

Jeff Grant (a.k.a. "Anchovy" on has started offering these cool reproduction aluminum key tags stamped to order with your VIN for just $12.

When VWs were originally delivered the keys came with an identifying tag like this. Our '65 Squareback's keys still had their original tag—lucky for us, as most were discarded by the original owners. Though the tags became increasingly thin and more crudely stamped as the years went on, the '58 tag Jeff modeled his reproduction on was cut in a nicely rounded shape from heavy-gauge aluminum.

It's the perfect key fob for your set of original keys. Go here to order yours.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

'41 Tatra joyride

A couple of weeks ago Jonny Lieberman sent me a text message from the back seat of a Tatra T87. He had gone to a meeting of the local Citroen club and met Paul Greenstein, owner of many interesting and unusual cars including the T87, and he said I needed to drop everything and head over to Echo Park right away to see it. About 10 minutes later I was standing in front of Paul's immaculately restored 1941 Tatra, which recently returned to Los Angeles from the Czech Republic, where it was on display in the Tatra Museum. Incredible car—larger than you might think from photographs, the black teardrop coachwork with its central fin and three headlights suggesting some sort of art deco Batmobile from an alternate future. Paul asked if we wanted to go for a ride, and we were like...yeah!

Here's Jonny's cameraphone shot from the back seat as we made our way around the Silver Lake reservoir. The T87 felt right at home on the neighborhood's twisting 1920s hillside streets, the suspension surprisingly well-sprung and smooth for a nearly 70-year-old car. The rear-mounted aircooled V8 had a deep, throaty burble, not the VW-like clatter that I would have expected. Probably the most remarkable thing about the drive was that nobody on the street seemed to give the car a second look. No double-takes for a Tatra? Are we Angelenos really that jaded? Apparently so.

You can read the full story of Paul's T87 on Mike Bumbeck's great site Clunkbucket.

Thanks Paul and Jonny!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Car and Driver on the VW 1500 gray market

How did so many VW Type 3s find their way to the United States before the VW 1600s were officially introduced to the American market in the fall of 1965? Conventional wisdom says that the cars were brought over individually from Germany by servicemen and tourists, or brought over the border from Canada, where the 1500s were available from their introduction in 1961. While there's no doubt that many 1500s found their way here through those channels, there was also a more formalized gray market supplying 1500s to the U.S. market in the early '60s. There were companies that acted as semi-official importers, supplying dealers with nearly new "used" Type 3s outfitted with sealed-beam headlights, MPH speedometers, etc. This allowed even authorized VW dealers to sell Type 3s years before they were officially imported (as seen here and here). VWoA tolerated the gray market, though when speaking on the record they were against it.

This great article from the April 1964 issue of Car and Driver on VW's reasons for not bringing the VW 1500 to the American market explains how these gray market importers brought VW 1500s into the U.S., including how they set up special "Americanizing" factories in Germany just to prepare 1500s for export. The article posits that VW didn't interfere with the gray market because it was actually a profitable way to sell more cars here indirectly without upsetting the official balance of trade between Germany and the U.S. If VW had increased its export volume by expanding its range of models in the U.S. it could potentially have lead to trade sanctions—after all, a trade dispute between Germany and the U.S. just a few years earlier resulted in the U.S. government slapping a retaliatory $257 tariff on all German trucks, including VWs. The gray market was actually a win/win/win for VW, the gray market importers, and American consumers.

Walter Henry Nelson's Small Wonder and the February 1964 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine are other good sources for information on the VW gray and black markets that were thriving in the early 1960s.