As Good As They Get – 1968 VW Type36 Panelvan

Words by Chris Turner & Photos by

Thirty-nine-year-old Alex Noel cannot help himself. He is a sucker for a project and loves nothing more that finding an old VW that has been left for dead and bringing it back to life. He describes completing one of these builds as a real sense satisfaction – almost like a drug, giving him such a buzz because of the journey. Completing a car is an exciting time during which he always meets new people, finds out interesting information and learns something new. Because of this he always builds a car or two every year. 

Until October last year, Alex was the trade sales manager at Justkampers where he’d worked for for 11 years. He is now pursuing his own career (VW related, of course), plus all sorts of other vintage stuff. Living with his wife Claire with their two boys Ethan and Dylan, he has still managed to find time to own many VW’s in the past. This is his tenth Type 3. He has had numerous early beetles, two early convertible beetles (’58 RHD and a ’61), Splitscreen Vans, Bays, T25’s, a Lowlight Ghia, VW 411, Porsche 912 plus a 1962 Ford Econoline Pickup, 1972 citroen DS and a 1958 2276cc street racer that did 12.30 sec ¼ at 108mph, to name but a few. He currently still has quite a collection: 1967 RHD split (owned for 18 years), 1960 Mango Green bus (owned for 15 years), 1987 T25 ex-German Firebus (5 years), 1958 Karmann Ghia (that has the 2276cc IDA engine form my old 58 Bug) (10 years), 1972 Citroen DS, 1968 unwelded beetle and this stunning Type 3 Panelvan.

Alex got into VW’s at the age of 13. His oldest brother had a ragtop beetle and used to pick him up from school in it occasionally. Like most kids he just loved the shape of the old Beetle and the quirky design features. One day when he was at home looking at some old family photos he saw a picture of a weird-looking estate car. It turns out it was his Dads old 1972 Type 3 Squareback that they had as the family car until he was around four years old. At the same time his mother had a yellow Beetle, and grandad had a Type3 Fastback. Sadly his father died when he was ten years old and in his own mind Alex to decided, in some way, owning the same old car might be a way to connect with him in some way.  It wasn’t until he was 19, after working at Halfords during evenings and weekends when not at college he managed to raise the money. He saved up £1800 and got his first Type3, it was a 1972 German imported Notchback in metallic turquoise, a sunroof and tan cloth interior. Little did he know that this would be the first of ten Type3’s he would own. It was nice and original and was his daily driver for three years. During that time he lowered it and fitted some Porsche 2 litre Fuchs. 

Alex’s grandad was a retired engineer and also his surrogate father. Alex describes him as “the nicest man you would ever meet”. He taught Alex a lot, mainly how to fix his own car. He will never forget fixing up his first Notchback with his Grandfather and going with him to his first Volksworld show. His grandad introduced him to an old-school Volkswagen mechanic called Dave Cummins who worked form home locally. He used to look after Alex’s parents’ and grandparents’ cars back in the day. Over the next 16 years or so Alex became very good friends with Dave until he sadly passed away. There wasn’t anything Dave didn’t know about an air-cooled Volkswagen and Alex was so grateful to have known him. He was always willing to share his knowledge, and without him Alex wouldn’t know half of what he does today. He’s now been driving and fixing VW’s since he was 19. He learned to weld on his first Splitscreen bus – the very same one he still has 18 years later (and it’s still not finished). Maybe 2019 will be the year?

Like so many of us, Alex is always looking on the internet for the next project and that’s just what he was doing when he came across the car we are looking at here. Type3s are his favourite VW. It’s not only the cool looks but they are so nice to drive. This car was advertised with only 5 really poor pictures but straight away he noticed some odd features. He could tell it was a 1968 model, but why the painted quarter lights, bullet indicators, no clock and no overriders? He could also see something through the back window that was the colour of the body, it then it dawned on him, “This Is a Panelvan!”.

Alex has a really good Buddy in Norway who contacted the seller for him. It was being sold by the original owners daughter who couldn’t tell us much about the car apart from it belonged to her parents and they had owned it since new and it had only driven in the summer months. The car hadn’t run for around 12 years and it would need to be trailered away. She managed to send a few more pictures but it didn’t really indicate the condition of the car very well. The fact she couldn’t open the front bonnet didn’t help. Alex still decided to buy it and his friend sealed the deal for him. The same friend went and collected the car and took it back to his house. He messaged Alex when he got home to say that the car was 100% rust free and that the brakes are ceased solid and the engine will not fire. He managed to open the bonnet and message a photo of the VIN tag which confirmed it was definitely a factory Panelvan and the owner had kept it as such – a two-seater with bulkhead. Alex has had some lovely Type3s over the years but never did he think he would find the rarest of Type3s. Luckily for Alex, his friend is a car guy and had no problems getting the engine running again. He also managed to free the brakes off enough to be able to roll the car. Alex waited and waited until he finally got an email from the shippers saying that the car is ready to collect from the docks. When he went to collect the car he was excited but also shitting himself at the same time. After 20 seconds of seeing the car for the first time he knew it was a very special. 

So what exactly are we looking at?  It’s a Volkswagen Type3 Variant Panelvan (Type 36) manufactured on 25th of March 1968, purchased the car in Norway November 2019. The car itself has taken approximately four weeks to recommission and fully detail.

Alex got the car home, gave it a wash and decided to go through the paperwork while the car was drying. He was blown away when he started looking at the history. The car was purchased new form Hakon Ljosland in Konsberg on the 19th of June 1968. It was purchased for 19950.00 Norweigan Krone (£1773 in todays money) By Hans Langerud, who lived also in Konsberg. There was the sales contract, two sets of keys with matching dealer key fobs, service booklet, owner’s manual and other paperwork which he could not read as it was all in Norweigan. The car was inherited by the daughter, Helene Anni Vestby, and the car was moved to Bodalen Norway (Close to Konsberg) until Alex bought it.

The car has covered 100,125 km (only 62k miles). After washing the car, Alex began to have a good look over it soon realised how original it actually was. Even the axle boots on the swing axle gearbox are the original ‘non split’ type fitted by the factory. Apart from the passenger rear wing, the whole car is original paint, even the wheels. He could see that with some time and effort it would look lovely and that the car was obviously well cared for and the Dinitrol applied when new had done its job. He then began the process of recommissioning the car sympathetically, with a deep clean inside. The seats and door panels just needed a good wash, as did the floor mats. The original tar-board insulation is in place and the floors have no rust inside. The dash is uncracked and the headlining is perfect. He removed the battery and there isn’t a spec of rust under it, only original black paint. He tested all the electrics and only one headlight bulb dip beam was faulty. Everything else just worked. He rebuilt the brakes. To keep the originality of the car, he rebuilt the calipers with all new seals. The discs and pads didn’t need replacing and the rear shoes and drums were also still fine so just the cylinders were replaced with FTE quality units and all four brake hoses replaced.

Alex gave the engine an oil change, did the valve clearances, reset the points and dwell angle, plugs, replaced the fuel hose etc.. He decided to leave the original cap, rotor arm, condenser, leads etc as they were all factory items and in his opinion you don’t take off a good genuine German part and replace it with a Chinese part that will fail far more quickly. The HT leads have VW logos on, as did the drive belt, oil strainer and gaskets. He removed the strainer gaskets carefully, greased them and reinstalled them and, yes… they don’t leak.

It was then time for the bodywork. All Alex did was give it a good polish. It has had chips and scratches touched up in its life as you would expect. The passenger door has a dent but he chose to leave that as it is part of the  history. The only panel that needed painting was the rear wing. He tried flattening it and polishing it first but sadly it wasn’t as good as the rest of the car. He decided to remove the wing and could see it was the original to the car. There was no damage to it so he can only guess it was scratched badly. He had the paint matched by the fuel flap and painted the wing in cellulose so it wasn’t too shiny. It looks great and a very good match to the rest of the car.

The four rear side windows were removed to reveal that someone had removed the old panels very well and cleanly in its past. Alex proceeded to bare metal the NOS blanks he had sourced, primed and painted with cellulose. He purposefully left some small dents in them as he wanted them to match the patina of the car and look like they are original. 

Alex finished the car the morning of this photoshoot and up until then had only driven it in and out of the garage. He pulled out of his drive and proceeded to drive it to 4 Star Classics for the photographs. Apart from a little bit of clutch judder when pulling away, the car drives like a brand new Type3. The heating got warm within minutes and didn’t give off any fumes. He describes the drive as like stepping back in time. It is by far the best and most original Type3 he has owned and he’s had some fantastic ones. On the journey back he stopped at some traffic lights, looked around the car to take it all in and felt quite emotional. These cars really do get under your skin, he was so grateful to be driving a Panelvan Type3. After all these years there he was finally sitting in one, living out his dream. 

Alex would like to thank: Hans for originally buying the car and looking after it so well for all those years; His good buddy and modern-day pen penpal Tore – if it wasn’t for him he wouldn’t have the car; Fer Latigo Beach for the NOS van blank panels, James, George and Jim at 4 Star Classics for use of their in-house photo studio, Especially George for the excellent pictures. Check them out at and the man upstairs for he is the one controlling the puppet strings that made everything fall into place. 

Much Love to all of them. Amen

1968 VW Type3 Panelvan Full Gallery