Courtesy of The Vanagon List Files Archive

VW Type II Station Wagon
Prime people mover with new, highly effective front disc brakes.

Road Test Magazine, February 1971 (U.S.)
by Ron Hickman

One of the latest automobile fads, particularly in trend-setting Southern California, is the use of a delivery van for personal transportation. You see all manners and types of vans, with curtained windows, rear shackles lengthened to hoist the rear end, fat rear tires, surfboards mounted on top or protruding from the rear door, and eight-track stereo blaring away. It makes a lot of sense. You can carry a staggering volume of people and/or sports equipment in a van, people have been know to live in them, and by adding a few seats, the utility of a station wagon is obtained at a lot less cost.

There is undoubtedly a substantial market for box-like vehicles seating seven or more in comfort in a large space which can be readily filled by a standard commercial van. Since Volkswagenwerk AG has been highly successful in sensing new market trends, one might wonder what new offering could be expected in 1971 from Wolfsburg to capitalize on this one. The answer is none. Their entry in the van-wagon-campmobile market was introduced to the U.S. in 1955. It is called the Type II, differentiating it from the Beetle (Type I), or the 1600 Fastback (Type III). Instead of Volkswagen having to come up with a new vehicle for this sector of the automotive market, their Type II has probably helped more than any other to create it.

There are five two-tone color combinations available in the single body style, each sharing the pastel white top. Chianti Red will no doubt be favored by most customers. In addition, there is a soft blue, green, beige, and finally the color of our test car, Sierra Yellow, which is an exact duplicate of the color scheme recently adopted by General Telephone Company for its fleet of thousands of service vehicles. We were repeatedly asked when we had gone to work for the telephone company, so unless you are a career professional in the telephone communication field, pick another color.

Consistent with Volkswagen policy on model changes, the 1971 Type II is the result of evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes. The opposed four-cylinder engine now has 50 percent more displacement and twice as much horsepower than when it started life in 1951. The rounded edges found on the early wagons have been squared off so that no space is wasted. It appears Volkswagen has adopted the philosophy that if the blessed thing is going to be called a box, it might as well look like one.

There are comparatively few departures from conventional Volkswagen design in the 1971 station wagon. One of them is an increase from 57 to 60 horsepower, brought about by a change to a dual-port intake manifold and improved carburetor. Longer engine life will result from the use of a new magnesium alloy in the crankcase and also from improved cooling contributed by a new aluminum oil cooler and a larger fan. Among the changes needed to maintain engine emissions within 1971's more stringent levels are additional engine modifications, a new carburetor, and the evaporative control fuel system. We also noticed that the ignition timing has been retarded another five degrees, and is now at 5 degrees after top-dead center.

The four-speed all-syncromesh manual transmission connected to the engine with a single plate dry clutch is the only one available on the Type II. Gear ratios are quite low, with a 5.375 final drive ratio. Although this allows the wagon to climb a 27 percent grade or pull stumps up to 18 inches in diameter, it means that the car runs abruptly out of revs at 15 mph in first gear, at 25 mph in second, 50 mph in third, and in fourth gear horsepower matches drag at a true 68 and an indicated 72 mph. It also means that it can and usually must be driven flat-out on the freeways.

Torsion bar suspension is used all round. Spring rates have been softened from the rock-hard setting used on earlier VW wagons. The dreaded rear swing axle is a thing of the past, having been superseded by double-jointed halfshafts located by trailing arms and diagonal links. A front stabilizer bar is standard equipment.

One of the major 1971 changes, and a most welcome one, is the switch to power-assisted front disc brakes, augmented by a 20 percent increase in rear lining thickness and by a brake-force regulator in the rear brake circuit which functions as an anti-skid device by helping to prevent premature rear wheel lock. Brake cooling is aided by the use of perforated wheels, and handling has also been improved by increasing the wheel width half an inch to 5-1/2 inches.

When comparisons are made between station wagons, though, it's what's inside that counts. And what's inside the VW Type II is room ... lots of it. We regard the interior room and accommodation as its most outstanding feature. The model we used for our test was the three-door, seven-seat version with a pair of bucket seats in front, a rear bench seat which accommodates three and a bench seat for two between them. Even with this much seating, there's enough room left over to virtually walk around. Other interior options include a nine-seat wagon (the "bus" of VW advertising) and a camper arrangement. The seats can be removed by loosening a few wing nuts to make a rapid conversion to a delivery van configuration. When this is done there is a total of 176 cubic feet to fill with furniture, gardening tools, camping gear or basketball teams. If the assigned task includes transporting totem poles or grandfather clocks, an optional sliding sun roof is available.

In addition to this space, there is also a 35 cubic foot luggage compartment reached through an upward swinging rear door. This space can hold a substantial number of suitcases (provided that some provision has been made to restrain them from flying forward in the event of a sudden stop) at the price of completely blocking the view through the rear window.

Unfortunately, access via the front doors to a commodious interior leaves something to be desired. The front seats, which are positioned directly over the front wheels, are 39 inches above the road, and the front floor is 22 inches above it. To climb into the front, it is necessary to step forward of the seat, not an easy task unless the door is at its maximum opening, grab something convenient like the steering wheel or top of the door and haul away until elevated sufficiently to assume a seated position. It's about as easy as it sounds. Dismounting is done in the reverse manner, though possibly a little more gracefully. Although this is a rather harsh condemnation, we can't honestly suggest how the situation could be improved; the seats are really in the right place.

Once seated, comfort is top level. With all the interior height available, the seating position is fully upright, and the front bucket seats are curved enough to provide a good degree of lateral support. The driver's seat is provided with a back-rake adjustment in addition to the forward and back adjustment.

Access to the rear seats is a different story. The sliding side door exposes a 3-1/2 by 4 foot opening through which either rear seat may be reached conveniently. Actually the front seats can be reached by this means also, since there is a foot-wide opening between them which also allows easy transfers within while on the road.

With the massive array of side windows and the large windshield located close to the driver, visibility is great in all directions save directly to the rear through the rear window. Here the placement of the inside mirror is such that the driver is unable to see the horizon behind him, and in fact a car immediately following is cut off at about the belt line. No amount of squirming or adjustment could correct this situation, which could be potentially dangerous. It does appear that the inside mirror could be mounted lower; this, coupled with a change to a larger mirror, should solve the problem.

The driver is provided with the traditional VW instrumentation and control package, consisting of speedometer with fuel gauge and warning light cluster and an array of push-pull switches for headlights, wipers, inside light and electric rear window defroster. The Type II shares with the balance of the '71 VW line a "memory" switch which turns the headlights off while leaving the parking lights on when the ignition switch is turned off without turning off the headlights. After years of production, all operational problems have been solved save for the distance between the gear shift and transmission which introduces some uncertainty into the linkage.

There is a very effective ventilating and heating system. Fresh air is supplied through six outlets controllable from the dash with two supplying the windshield, two outlets in the dashboard, and two supplying the rear compartment through ducts located on the inside of the front doors where they also double as arm rests. Flow-through design allows exhaust and a comfortable air flow through the car while cruising without the need to lower any windows. Heat is supplied from an exhaust manifold heat exchanger in the traditional manner. There are five heated air outlets beside the two defroster outlets at the windshield. Each heater outlet can be separately controlled.

Thanks to the revised spring settings the VW Station Wagon delivers an acceptably comfortable ride over any paved road surface that we could find, and holds its own on the dirt stretches we encountered. However, any attempt at brisk cornering will probably strike terror into the heart of a driver inexperienced in the operation of van type vehicles. A seating position above the front wheels and less than two feet behind the front bumper permits an unusual degree of awareness of what the front end of the vehicle is doing. Once armed with this realization, the VW wagon's cornering performance is revealed to be on a par with its class.

 Straight line performance is either suitable or unsuitable, depending on driving habits. Sixty horsepower will only accelerate 3,000 pounds so fast. In this case, we departed from our normal practice and took the acceleration times with four people on board. Thus, although, they don't represent the car's absolute performance potential, they do give a very honest picture of what the average owner can expect to achieve when he has the whole family with him. Top speed, 72 mph indicated, is reached after a genteel wait, and getting up to this velocity in less than a minute is accomplished only by taking the engine to or past the maximum recommended speed in each gear. Freeway cruising at 65 mph or better requires nearly constant use of full throttle on anything but a dead level surface. Although the owner's manual assures you that the normal cruising speed is the same as top speed, we can't help but wonder what a steady diet of this would do to engine life. Incidentally, any acceleration through the gears is accompanied by noticeable drive train noise in the three lower gears.

The owner's manual suggests a limit of 1,000 pounds on the weight of any trailer, and we question the use of any trailer at all, although we've seen many of them over the years.

If the acceleration is not impressive, the braking performance certainly is. On both a qualitative and a quantitative basis, the operation of the power assisted disc brakes is nothing short of overwhelming. The favorable impression starts with the feel of a swift sure stop with no directional instability or lock-up as soon as the brakes are applied. It's almost as though the proverbial great hand is reaching out to take hold of the car. The numbers bear out the feeling, with the stopping distance of 167 feet from 60 mph being equivalent to a deceleration rate of about 23 ft/sec or 0.72 g. While reducing our field test data to the proper format for the data sheet, we became intrigued with comparative acceleration and deceleration rates, and came up with the interesting fact that the average deceleration rate from 60 mph to stop was exactly twice the average acceleration rate to 60 mph from a standing start. It is comforting to know that you can stop in half the distance that it took you to reach a given speed.

After the fact that the engine is accessible from the rear rather than the top has been accepted, one realizes that all components are indeed readily serviceable, although it's a longish reach into the battery which nestles just to the right of the engine. The service of this without spillage requires a special pitcher which normally is found only at a station specializing in Volkswagens.

Gas mileage claimed by VW is 23 mpg, this being achieved at 75 percent of maximum speed, or 53 mph. Since we can't imagine anyone driving on any state or interstate highway at less than 65 mph when weather and traffic conditions permit, we took our fuel economy data at that speed and recorded a figure of just under 19 mpg. This is very comparable to the city fuel economy which averaged out at just over 18 mpg, and the country mileage is only marginally better than the city mileage because it was nearly all recorded at full throttle.

On a price per pound or per foot of length, the VW wagon costs about the same as a domestic station wagon or van. This is to the great advantage of the VW which can be bought for under $3,000 if you supply your own music, or for $3,095 POE Los Angeles (plus the usual destination, dealer prep, tax and license) with the optional side vent windows and an AM radio as installed on our test car.

The VW station wagon will not appeal to boat owners, drag racers or arthritics. It can be an outstanding conveyance for commuters in large ride pools, den mothers, Scoutmasters and camping families. Its principal drawbacks are power-to-weight ratio, front seat entry and exit, and unacceptable visibility through the rear window. These are countered with truly outstanding comfort for seven passengers complemented by a capability for movement inside the vehicle while on the road. (Don't knock this feature if you've never taken a long trip with small children.) It has great visibility to all points of the compass except the rear, an effective ventilation and heating system which distributes heat to all parts of the interior, and a favorable purchase cost followed by reasonable operating costs and unusually low depreciation. And, of course, the styling is not likely to become obsolete in the foreseeable future. The VW Station Wagon is bound to continue in heavy demand. If you don't believe us, go to a dealer and see if you can buy one off the floor.

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