It’s been called everything from a Studebaker to a Rambler to even a Jaguar. But the stack of Volkswagen enthusiast magazines on Richard Crego’s coffee table provide a hint to the identity of his beautiful pearl black early ’60s vintage European sedan.
"It’s a 1965 VW Notchback Type 3," he explains. "They never imported it into the United States. I have heard some were sold in Canada. They did bring the wagon and the fastback over, but not the Notchback — they probably didn’t want it to compete with the Bug."
Crego had built a couple of Bugs for his daughter and a ’62 Karman Ghia for his son, so he was already well into Volkswagen automobiles. He said he told the parts guy he dealt with to keep an eye out for a Notchback sedan and, surprisingly, he wound up with not one, but two of them within about a month.
"They were both rough. I could run one of them, but the other one, I could put my finger through the metal anywhere on the body," he recalled. That was back in the mid-1990s.
He decided to combine the two well-used machines into one and began dismantling them, using the hood, fenders and deck lid off one and the chassis and mechanical pieces off the other.
"I put hooks in the ceiling of the garage and I would hang the parts on them. I would take one down and work on it and when it was done, hang it back up and start on another one," Crego said.
"I finally started getting it put together, when the time and the money was there.”
He liked the Notchback sedan because of its clean, simple styling — and the fact most people in the United States had never seen one. To add to the mystique of the car, he decided to remove virtually all of the VW emblems from it.
The biggest change, however, came under the rear deck lid of the Notchback, where Crego installed a rebuilt 914 Porsche engine.
"It bolted right up to the Type 3 (4-speed) transmission," he said. There was some modification needed for things like the clutch and throttle linkage, but the real challenge proved to be the pair of Weber 2-barrel carburetors he wanted to install on the horizontal 4-cylinder engine.
Clearance was going to be a problem if he retained the engine cover, which acts as the floor of the rear trunk. (In true VW fashion, the car also has a trunk in the front.)
Crego said he trimmed approximately four inches off the intake runners to bring the Webers down closer to the engine, but still couldn’t make the twin air cleaners clear the engine cover if he mounted them on top of the carbs. So he fabricated his own set of air tubes out of shiny copper pipe that allow the air cleaners to be mounted inboard of the carburetors.
The setup adds a nice bit of flash to the engine compartment. Currently, the 2056 cc engine produces approximately 135 horsepower, enough to make the car, which tips the scales at under a ton, fairly lively. A pair of Empi exhausts that exit below the rear bumper hint at the performance potential, but Crego says he thinks he can improve the Porsche power plant’s breathing by creating his own exhaust system employing glasspack mufflers.
The most striking aspect of the car is the subtle color-shifting effect of the red pearl-over-black paint job applied by All Angles Body Shop & Restorations.
"I tried painting it three times myself but I never got it to come out the way I wanted, and I got tired of sanding off the paint I had put on it," Crego said.
The car looks jet black from one angle, shifting to a root beer brown at another and a deep, royal purple from yet another. The paintwork is complemented by a freshly rechromed set of front and rear bumpers that Crego traded another VW enthusiast for.
To give the little sedan a more aggressive stance, he tweaked the front suspension, lowering it by 2 inches and slightly raised the rear by going to larger tires. The stock 4-inch wide VW rims have been replaced by 5 1/2" chromed versions sporting baby moon hubcaps.
A pair of 205/75R/15 Uniroyal Tiger Paws fill up the rear wheel wells nieces, while 165s are fitted up front.
Inside, Crego bought a stock reupholstery kit and did the door panels himself. But after wrestling to get a clean fit on the seat covers, he took the car to Downey Upholstery, where they were given the factory fresh look, along with a brand new headliner.
He ditched the inefficient VW hot air heater, noting it was just 40 pounds that he didn’t need, as he didn’t plan to drive the car much in cold weather. The factory instrument panel was cleaned up and painted, with a set of rally-style gauges added on either side of the steering column.
Crego also installed power windows in the Notchback and added a power antenna that rises out of the engine cooling cowl when he switches on the radio hidden in the glove compartment. He also installed a 1937 Dodge tail light with the word "Stop" cast into the lens as a third brake light mounted on a pedestal in the package tray.
The car was finally finished in 2011 and nicknamed "Dahlia," after the movie "The Black Dahlia." He began attending car shows with it shortly afterward.
"I have had a lot of fun working on it. And I can say, I did that — I got my hands dirty and I did that," Crego said.
"Nobody else has one. That’s what I like about it, they’re rare. You go to a car show and you see Bugs and Squarebacks, but you don’t see any of these.
"I have a lot of people tell me stories about their VWs. I get to hear their life stories about how it was back then, and that’s what it’s all about.”