Late to the Party – 1971 Volkswagen Type 3 Fastback

Words by James Peene & Photos by Dan Du Cros – Originally published in Hayburner Issue 33

The whole “late-cars can be as cool as early ones” thing has been done to death. But, if there’s one car worth raking it over one more time, surely it’s Ashley Gratton’s late-model Fastback?

In the casually passive-aggressive clique that is the Volkswagen scene – Older is always without exception better. Don’t argue. It’s just how it is. Stuff from the ’50’s and ’60’s comes with slim bumpers, tiny taillights, happier interiors, five-bolt wheels and all the bits and bobs a guy or girl truly needs to achieve automotive nirvana. It doesn’t matter what you say about ’70’s cars and parts being more affordable and easier to live with on a day-to-day basis, they just come back with the same knockout argument, that later models are an assault on your eyeballs. End of discussion. No comebacks. Except that it isn’t. Ashley Gratton’s ’71 Fastback proves everything you’ve just read is all a load of bollocks.

Cool is cool and age is no barrier.

The simple formula to make anything better is to get it as close to the ground as possible and wedge some killer rims under the arches. But there’s a heck of a lot more to this story than just that.

Talking to Ashley about this car goes a long way to understanding how it came about. After all, who bothers with a late-model anything? Someone who spends their days working on pylons and has, as he puts it: “Never had a normal job.”

He goes on to say “Cars are just a side hobby. I’ve had Golfs and a ’79 Bay that I’ve never driven because it’s always been in bits.” And so where does the late-model love come from we asked. “Well, no one really likes them or does anything with them. I think that’s where it comes from. I’m always late to the party and what I’ve done to this one with the wheels and stance really suites it with the later bumpers and colour. It’s an ugly duckling and it’s orange. And I really hated the colour to start with but am so glad I kept it. Actually it was one of the provisos in me doing the car.”

How so? “I used to work for a steel erectors firm and this was sat in the underground car park beneath my gaffers flat in London. It had been off the road since 1982 and was all covered in dust. This was back in 2011 and my dad offered to buy it but my boss said no. He was going to fix it up but then he called back six months later and let us take it. We trailered it home, took it to bits, did a spot of welding and lowered it a couple of splines. My dad then lost interest in doing it and it sat like that until 2018 when he finally gave in and handed the keys over to me. I’d just finished my Golf but was feeling a bit down about having just been laid off work and needed something to help pass the time. My dad asked me to go for a pint and said: “Do you want the Fastback?” The only thing I had to promise was to keep the original colour – Clementine Orange.

I carried out a full strip down and rebuild in three months. All in a concrete sectional garage in my garden with help from my mate Evan Chalky, who also did the paint.” 

It was rusty in all the usual places but it hadn’t been touched. So, there were no real bodges to deal with. The floor pans were totally untouched so I had them sandblasted and powder coated. The sills weren’t too bad either, but all of the panels needed work of some description.

I remember my granddad used to have one back in the day. It was a real rot box with rags in the foot wells to soak up the water that came in when it rained and there were no floor pans under the back seat.

I didn’t want to run fibre-glass panels though, so everything was repaired. The only panel I ended up replacing was the passenger door as it was all beaten out of shape following an accident.

We started just before Christmas and were done by March. The intention wasn’t to go as far as we did, but I got carried away.” That’s pretty good going, especially when you hear what Ashley told us next. He said: “Working through the winter was really bad as we were freezing our tits off. We had an industrial space heater to dry the garage out and had to wear goggles to see, but by the time the garage was dry, one of us had already run off to the shops to get beers. The amount of Budweiser we got through was unreal.

Better still: “When we were painting the body, Evan was so pissed that he was following the roof line down but carried on going and face-planted into the floor. He then used the C-pillar he’d just painted to haul himself back up so had a lovely blow in to do – Absolute legend!

Having bought 15-litres of paint and hating the colour, the freshly painted body was flatted back. Ashley says: “There were countless hours of polishing. I don’t know how many, I’m just surprised there’s any paint left on it.” It was then built-up using new rubbers and trim from “some dude in Birmingham” although the bumpers are actually stainless late Karmann Ghia items with the front mounts chopped to bring it closer to the body a good three or four inches.

Wheels and stance were always going to loom large in this build and the lows come courtesy of Limebug and a healthy blast of air-ride. The front beam is actually one of their prototype four-inch narrowed air beams and aired-out the car sits half an inch off the deck. Meaning it can still be driven around car parks and shows on its lowest setting. But there’s a good six to eight inches of lift at the back. Ashley reveals: “The idea was to modify it, but not cut it up so I could change it back to stock if I wanted in the future. Bolt in and bolt out again.

What about those wheels? Obviously they’re 16-inch BBS RS items and weren’t a straight forward fit.  Ashley says: “They’re 6.5-inch barrels with1.5-inch lips all round. I’m not sure what the ET is as I built them around the car. I’ve got 12 different sets of lips at home so went at it until everything fitted. I started with spacers but they wouldn’t work so it’s on 4 x 100 discs with the back end redrilled to match the wheels.” 

The interior is largely stock. Carpets are courtesy of TMI with the headliner coming from Kens Kustoms. The seats, door cards and dash top are OG and if you spot the tiny rip in the rear seat, well, tough. Ashley has no plans to replace it, as it’s all so original. There’s a Bug Tech shifter stirring the cogs and it was through talking to Ned about this that led to the feature your reading now.

On it’s first outing after resto, the original 1600 engine seized 30 miles in. That was a kick in the tits, but it led to better things in the form of 1776 Heritage motor running 44 IDFs.  As Ashley says: “It’s not made to go fast. It’s more of a Slowback than a Fastback. I love everything about it, but I also hate it. One day it will work and the next it won’t. I’m going to spend this year dialling it all in. It was supposed to be stress relief but it was a real nightmare. All my mates drive modified cars but nothing as old-school as this. Whenever we go to a water-cooled show no one knows what it is, they think it’s a Mk 1 Passat or an MG.

It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks it is, or any of their misguided preconceptions about late model VWs.

Those who know, know. 

Late to the Party - 1971 VW Type 3 Fastback Full Gallery