This VW Type 3 Squareback Is The Ultimate California Beachcomber
Photography by Ted Gushue
How do you have iconic California surf culture without a VW Squareback? It’s easy actually, you can’t. For decades the little two door wagon was culturally pervasive on California’s coastline. Inexpensive, practical, economical, they were the ultimate surf wagon. As a result of the way they were used, so few have survived in a condition that doesn’t resemble a sand dune reclamation project.
TG: Growing up in Manhattan Beach the VW Squareback must have been a fixture. Were they a part of your life growing up?
MJ: Squarebacks were always the platonic idea of a high school surfer’s car, but really only one of our friends had one. Two door wagons have been cool since Chevy Nomads but I always thought the Squarebacks, or its Variants (as VW called them) were pretty perfect. With the seat folded, they’re big enough to sleep in, and hold a decent short board. With Nomads unobtainable and Mercedes Sprinter vans yet to be invented, these small, economical wagons were the right size for what we all wanted. There were many VW Squarebacks lovingly doodled on Pee-Chee folders at Aviation High School.
TG: How did this particular one enter your life?
MJ: I was looking for an original looking one that hadn’t been molested, dropped or otherwise cal-looked, and they were few and far between. It’s actually very easy to get the parts to lower the type 3’s (notch and square backs) but since most people “huck” the original suspension pieces, it’s become difficult to get the parts to put these back to stock height. I also wanted an earlier model with the slanted nose and full chrome bumpers I got the car from a mechanic. This was his mother’s car. He had done a pretty complete restoration before he let it go. I knew there was some stuff i wanted to do to the car, and this was a great start, in a great color.
TG: What modifications have you made to it? The vase with the Orchid can’t be stock.
MJ: I love the period correct accessories that were available for the Type 3’s and they are harder to find than early Beetle accessories. Lots of googling has lead to some cool finds. I’m also blessed to live close to ISP West in Carson, CA. The owner, Alex Pegado is a kindred spirit, type 3 fanatic/expert who has done a lot of the work on the car and helped me source some of the cool bits. While there are a lot of reproduction options for mud flaps for the Beetles, they don’t exist for the type 3’s. I sourced a set of NOS flaps from ISP West as well as a set of the chrome bumper overrider bars, which I really like.
I also added the European side markers, low back seats and front fog lamps. When I got the car it had a black headliner, and I swapped that for the correct white, along with white rear interior side panels. It lightened up the interior a lot. The car came without a radio, and I found an OEM stainless antenna delete plug. Like the mudflaps, the Type 3 bud vase brackets are rare, I found one in Germany along with a cool vase.
I had seen an old period photo of a square back with venetian blinds and the hunt was on. I found a NOS set in the Australian Bush. Shipping was the same price as the blinds, but it was worth it.
TG: Are these difficult to find parts for?
MJ: Basic parts are fairly easy to find, and having ISP West so close makes things super easy. The flat pancake motors and parts are around.
Finding parts for my type 3 Ghia is next level difficult. Im still always combing online forums for cool bits.
TG: What’s the general reaction when you park it on the street near the beach?
MJ: These were quintessential SoCal cars for all of the reasons we discussed up front, and there is romantic love for square backs from people on the street. You saw that in the El Porto parking lot when you shot the car. Lots of cool stories from passersby.
TG: What’s it drive like?
MJ: Compared to a Beetle, the Type 3’s are true cruisers and are really comfortable. I’ve taken some longer road trips in it, and it’s a great ride. Enough power, great brakes and my 60’s electric fan that serves as A/C.