Featured: This VW Type 3 Squareback Is The Ultimate California Beachcomber

This VW Type 3 Squareback Is The Ultimate California Beachcomber

Ted Gushue By Ted Gushue
December 14, 2016

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.

Our friend (and Petrolicious film star) Matt Jacobson has what I can only describe as the baddest little wagon on the beach. We teamed up last week to photograph it at legendary surf spot El Porto.

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.

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Mark Jordan
Mark Jordan

Great little cars. Four of us traveled from Philadelphia to San Francisco in one of these in the summer of 1968. A bit more that 10 years later, I bought a clean example of a ’64 Notchback and used it as a daily driver in L.A. for three years. It never left me stranded.

Skip Walters
Skip Walters

Had a ’67 red squareback, bought in ’71, and loved that car. Did trips from Montana to Virginia and back, eventually died in Minneapolis while taking two young friends to their HS prom, so she didn’t have to have her dad drive her. It was the second of my three 60’s and 70’s VW’s.


This is a type 2. Type 3s had a flat front and no chrome strip across the front. They also had flat tail lights and different bumpers. I had 2, a ’71 fastback and a ’72 squareback


Er, no. Transporters are Type 2s. Post-’69 Type 3s are like you describe, but pre- ’70s (like my ’66 Fastback) had a round front and moat had the stainless steel trunk lid handle. Don’t base what you state as fact about VWs on just the 2 you owned.

John Pedigo
John Pedigo

Had a ’70 (my first car) and a ’71…Lots of good times in the “Baresquack” as we called it. I ended up lowering it and the car couldn’t take it…broke two motor mounts and gave up. Ended up with 4 more Veedubs…

Fizzy Gix Stang
Fizzy Gix Stang

First car I ever owned was a red 73 Squareback. Got it for $150 from a college student when I was 15. Many many many good times had in it. After about 6 years everything started breaking down and I didn’t know what I know now mechanically. Donated to local VW shop in hopes some parts could live on in others. Rusted out hulks now going for 3-4 grand around here. Ha.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Ahem … err .. being of a certain age I hate to disagree .. but in reality VW Squarebacks were far and few in between when it comes to the surfing culture of the California coast [ as well as being rare as hens teeth in general in the US ] What was the ultimate as far as VW’s were concerned was the ever present and much loved Beetle Bus . The ultimate Holy Grail though was the Woody Wagon .. of any make or year . But what really populated the beaches and surf haunts of the California coast… Read more »

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

We used to cruise my friend’s squareback in high school… with punk rock emanating from the cassette player. Good memories. Thanks for sharing.