Words by Steve Walker & Photos by Dan Du Cross

There was a time, long before channel 5 started throwing out sensation titled TV clickbait, when a shocking moment in world history actually meant something tangible, not just 5 mins worth of ‘Aligaitors murdered my Spouse’ padded out to fill 60 mins of airtime. You may even have heard people relate to what they were doing at the exact moment when something momentous happened – usually when they heard that Kennedy, Elvis or Lennon etc. were dead. 

Ok, not the most topical references, but they are the ones I grew up hearing. To bring this a little closer to home , I am sure anyone old enough to recall the 31st of August 1997 will know where they were the day Princess Diana died! By now you may be wondering where we are going with this. But bear with me, for on that fateful day when time in the UK seemed to grind to a collective halt, I was driving this very car around an eerily deserted M25 .

I had wanted this car since the moment I saw it, and the 100mph blast through the home counties only compounded my love for the thing. There were just a couple of small problems curtailing the path to ownership. Logistics threw a curved ball, but it was the lack of having any actual money that was the real pisser. So the car slipped through my fingers (although it never went far), but fast forward 24 years and now its back!

Car wise you are looking at an unrestored 1968 US-Spec Squareback- Variant , VW1600 or Type 3, depending on home market. It is a strange example in many ways with several prominent changes pointing to one year only or ’69 model introduction. The flagship model in the VW range always seemed to receive the latest developments before implementation across the board. You could argue that in ’68 the new 411 was probably seen by VW as the range topper, but we will conveniently overlook this as they are crap. And yes, the Samba may well have been flagshippy, but they’d pulled the plug on those 12 months previously, and much as I like the idea of a sunroof clipper kombi it was basically a hotel bus, bought by people who owned ski resorts or had touchy fertility issues and sprouted tons of kids. For the purpose of this journey it’s the ’68 Squareback, so lets move on and see what exciting features this car had to offer the discerning buyer .

The big news for 1968 was the introduction of a Bosch fuel injection system. The superbly named D-Jetronic arrived on the range topping TE and LE models (E, being an abbreviation for Einspritzung, which as we all know is German for injection). This feature made the Type 3 the first volume production car to have such jet-age technology. Of course our Teutonic friends had been dabbling with basic fuel injection for decades with notable examples being the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, and the 109 that used to chase Spitfires – but enough of that. The Type3 system had electronics and so was a major step towards the stuff we are familiar with today. I should add carbs soldiered on in some of the European spec models until their demise in ’73, so don’t rush out thinking your car has been hacked up if FI is not humming away on your engine compartment.

1968 also saw the introduction of the IRS rear suspension configuration, but this weird US car missed that particular upgrade. It did get the Hi Back safety seats, and strangely the ’69 model features like short armrests, short reflectors, one year only filler flap and nipple indicators, early dash top and some other little oddities – a mix of market specification and model detail advances. 

This car was thankfully ordered with a rarely seen sunroof option, as you would expect, fully functioning and just the job when in the height of British summertime you feel the need for a bit of rain blowing through your hair. Rear seat belts, 3 point front belts and radial white band tyres were some other ticks on the build sheet. You could even specify a rev counter – its just a shame the original buyer didn’t.

Our collective love for old VWs is fantastic, but as I have said before the friends we make along the way form the backbone of this Air Cooled journey, and it is down to such friends that my own particular journey with this car starts.

It was Summer ’97 when I first saw this car. It had been bought by the original Type Three Detective, friend and former Volksworld editor Ivan McCutcheon. I have no recollection why I was in Surrey, but I can recall the car like it was yesterday – it was quite simply the cleanest most original bone stock Squareback I had ever seen! Ivan was the Type3 guru, borne out as his encyclopedic mind overflowing with all the specs and facts relating to the car went into overdrive. I don’t think I heard a thing as I was well and truly jammed up in a Squaretrance.

A few weeks later I got the call saying the car was up for grabs. To his credit Ivan never loaded up car prices to his mates, but as we already know I was out of the game and the car quickly sold to the second Type Three Detective, and not former Volksworld editor Paul ‘Puppy’ Medhurst – his name may ring a bell?

Now Paul was, is and probably always will be one of my closest friends. We have shared many dealing, adventures and scrapes over the years – laughing through most of them – so the car was still in the family – even if I was the poor relation. True to form, Paul actually slammed the car on Ivan’s mum’s drive while Ivan popped home to grab the log book. This super quick stance reduction made the drive back to Newmarket a bit more acceptable for the king of lows.

Paul had one hell of a cool car, but so did his school chum and tall ginger shadow ‘Beaker’, and it wasn’t long before a deal was struck with Beaker’s show-winning Beryl Green Notch being swapped for the Square. The loss of the Notchback’s 5.5” original Fuchs was the Squareback’s gain, and that was pretty much that. Anyone remembering the old T3D blog days will no doubt recall the Beakersblog and this car. It became synonymous with the T3D presence both online and around the various UK shows, including the first T3D forays into Belgium and the formative Freddy Files events in Ninove, and to this day it is remembered fondly by many people. 

Then one day it just sort of stopped.

Beaker and Paul became more distant, and the car and Beaker were seldom seen together. Steve (yes, he had a real name too) moved towards water-cooled VWs and made a name for himself with online images of them – while theSquare sat in the garage as time and the advancing years took over. I would always ask about the car if I ever bumped into him, but it was always off the agenda, and that is how it remained until the tail end of last year.

After many attempts to wear Beaker down I finally got to almost see the Square – it was wedged in the family garage, tight against a wall and under a few covers. I managed a cursory glance and then we did a couple of weeks worth of negotiation. Suffice to say it wasn’t cheap but I was Squaretranced again, and as another friend Spike pointed out you couldn’t get anything close if renovating one to that standard- they are only original once. So I stumped up the dough and collected it a couple of weeks later.

12 years is a fair length of time to be laid up, so the resurrection was slow and methodical – fuel line replacement, tank flush and cleanse, brake nonsense, damn clutch problem and loose conduit meant a hokey cokey style engine in/out procedure plus some cables for good measure. As my mates are wind-up merchants there has always been a slightly macabre story thrown around about this car – it was funny when Beaker owned it – less so now. Whether this resulted in the drivers seat beading looking a touch faded in comparison to the rest of the immaculate interior, or it was simply a different beading batch that over the years has lost a touch of pigment I do not know. What I do know is thanks to Steve Gilbert pointing me in the direction of a chemical solution , the beading is restored to its original as-new condition.

The rest was a general fluid flush, new battery, engine service, carb clean and reassembly, plus a change to some nice powder coatedtinwear and a good clean while the thing was apart. I always seem to skirt over the engine stuff, so it uses the original case and crank etc, but freshened up with 1641 barrels and pistons added in the early 2000s. It may have a moderate cam actually- I should find out really. The heads I would have sworn were new, but they still have the FI sensor, so they must just be super clean – the rest is just stock really. Weber 40 idfs were also installed giving a metaphorical slap to the face for all those hard working Bosch and VW technicians responsible for its FI heritage.  

 Ironically the engine work was carried out by Andy Marriot, who’s party in London we were returning from on the 31st of August 1997 when this verbal marathon started a page or two back! The three people in the square that day – Paul, Beaker and yours truly !

It will still do 100mph (allegedly) but times are different now, and even my leaden foot can appreciate this lovely old survivor and treat it with a modicum of respect. I should change the tyres really, and believe it or not, give it a good clean and polish. 

For the record it has never been welded, other than its own ‘big bang existence session’, and apart from some historic paint correction to the front wings, the Fuchs and some consumables it is as it left the factory, unrestored and in amazing condition. Especially when you consider this car is 53 years old, and even more so when considering its early life experiences, being sold in the States, then making its way over here. Low mileage it may be, but I bet it could tell some stories – in fact it could clear up that rumour once and for all!

Typically life has thrown another curved ball, so my tenure may well be cut short, but this story has a moral – in fact it has several. Never give up, Quality counts, cars come and go – but more importantly, friends are the constant throughout all life’s ups and downs. If like me, you have a good bunch that’s all that matters…

1968 VW US-Spec Squareback Full Gallery