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VW Type What? The VW Type Designation Systems Explained

VW Type SystemWhat’s Your Aircooled VW “TYPE”?

Start hanging around the VW scene and you will shortly be confused by all the references to “Type this” and “Type that”. In written form, you will become even more boggled by a variety of VW Type System abbreviations including terms like “T4”, “Type 4”, or “TIV”. A general understanding the VW Type System will both assist you in communicating with your fellow Aircooled VW enthusiasts, and in deciphering many of the numbers (including part numbers) associated with classic Volkswagens. (After reading this, be sure to read our article on the VW Part Numbering System and also on Chassis Numbers).

The reason for all the confusion is that there are three different “Type” designations in use, and they have crossover in terminology. The three different VW Type Designations are: Vehicle Model Type, VW Transporter Model Type (unofficial), and VW Engine Design Type (roughly approximates vehicle model type, but differs enough to contribute to confusion).

Aircooled VW Vehicle Model Type

When the idea of “the people’s car” was born, Porsche (the creator of Volkswagens, in case you didn’t know) used numbers to describe and differentiate his vehicle prototypes and production models. Early Volkswagen prototype and wartime production models included:

  • the Type VW-3 (3 prototypes were built by Dalmer-Benz – 2 were wooden frame, the third built was the first all metal version of the VW)
  • the Type VW38 (approx 60 prototypes built by Reutter & Company in 1938 for road testing purposes)
  • the Type 166 – the Schwimmwagen (an amphibious 4 wheel drive vehicle)
  • the Type 87 – Kommandeurswagen (4 wheel drive)
  • the Type 82E – 2 wheel drive version of the Kommandeurswagen (used as a staff car by the German army)
  • the Type 82 – the Kublewagen (the forerunner of the Thing)

Production VW Type Designations were as follows:

VW TYPE 1 (aka T1, TI): Beetle, SuperBeetle, Ghia, Hebmuller, Thing

The first production model of the civilican Volkswagen “sedan” was built in 1945, after the end of WWII. It was based on Porsche’s original “protoype 1”, and so was designated as a “Type 1” vehicle. Production models that resulted from modification and changes to the original concept of Protoype 1 were also classed as “Type 1” vehicles, and model/version numbers were added to their type designations to distinguish them. Beetles (Type 11), SuperBeetles (Type 15), Ghias (Type 14), Hebmullers (Type 14A), and Things (formally designated as Kurierwagens – Type 18) were all based on the original Type 1 prototype.

VW TYPE 2 (aka T2, TII): Transporter Bus, Van, Vanagon

Prototype 2 for a “truck” version of the Volkswagen was developed in the post-war production years at the Wolfsburg Factory. The Beetle (or Type 1) chassis proved to be too weak to withstand the rigors of truck-use, and so a stiffer (and lighter) unitized body/chassis was developed. Production of Type 2 vehicles, formally designated as “Transporters”, began in 1950. Type 2 refers to any and all versions of the VW “vans” or “busses” that followed — and that includes an awful lot of models and versions! To help differentiate between the evolving VW Transporter models, within Type 2 circles, another “Type” naming convention came into widespread use: The TRANSPORTER TYPE SYSTEM…which we discuss in more detail in the next section.

VW TYPE 3 (aka T3, TIII): Notchback, Fastback, Squareback

The Type 3 Volkswagen was introduced in 1961 in the Notchback (saloon style) and Karmann Ghia Type 34 models. The variant models, Squareback and Fastback followed in 1962 and 65 respectively.  At the end of 1967, the Type 3 ‘E’ became the first German automobile in series production with electronic fuel injection as standard equipment. While the Type 3 was a more modern car in both design and engineering, it never reached the same level of popularity as the Beetle, and convertible models never made it to the production line.

VW TYPE 4 (aka T4, TIV): Models 411 & 412

Volkswagen Type 4s were first produced in Germany around 1968 and were only imported to the US between 1971 and 1974. Type 4s were an attempt to diversify the VW vehicle lineup, but they didn’t sell that well, and ceased production after only 400,000 were manufactured. The Type 4 was the last mass-produced air-cooled rear-engine passenger car designed with a usable rear seat. 

VW Transporter Type

Once you clarify that you are strictly discussing VW vehicle Model “Type 2” (that’s Transporters!), the VW Transporter Type designations will help you to differentiate between 

  • T1: “Early Bus” (T1a – “Barn Door”, T1b – 56-63, T1c – 64&up)
  • T2: “Late Bus” (nicknamed “Loaf” or “Bay Window”)  T2a for 67-71 “Early Bay”, and T2b for 72&up “Late Bay”, and
  • T3 (aka T25) Aircooled Vanagon (nicknamed “Brick”) style vans

  As far as we know, these are unofficial “type” designations, created retrospectively by VW enthusiasts. When written, they are usually only used in the short format “T1”, “T2”, “T3”.  When the VW Eurovan came along and people naturally called it a “T4″… not to be confused (hopefully) with the former VW vehicle models 411 & 412!

Aircooled VW Engine Design Type

All aircooled VW vehicle models shared the same basic characteristic of an aircooled engine mounted in the rear, which drove the rear wheels through a gearbox mounted forward of the engine. The “types” of engines generally reflected the vehicle model type to which they were originally fitted. Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 engines were really all just variations on the original Beetle (Type 1) engine. Although later Type II’s were fitted with a Type 4 engine. A better way to determine engine type is by using Engine Codes, but since you will inevitabley hear references to VW Engines by “type”, here is a stab at a guide for deciphering those references.

Type 1 “Upright” Engine:

  • Sizes 36HP, 40 HP, 1300cc, 1500cc (single port), 1600cc (single port), 1500cc (dual port), 1600cc (dual port)
  • 1500cc and 1600cc Type 1 engines switched to dual port intakes in 1971

Type 2 “Upright” Engine:

  • Early Type 2s were fitted with Type 1 engines. The engines were essentially interchangeable, but since the Transporter was a heavier vehicle which needed more power to move, they typically had a larger sized engine in any given model year.
  • 68-71 Type 2 engines were still a Type 1 engine, but now were modified by drilling the crankcase for mounting to a cross member
  • Late Type 2s were fitted with Type 4 Flat engines (see below)

Type 3 “Pancake” Engine: 1600cc

  • Basically a Type 1 engine again, but with different cooling system, clutch and exhaust.
  • Starting in 1971, dual intake ports were introduced on the cylinder heads, which had all had single intake ports up to that point.

Type 4 “Flat” or “Suitcase” Engine: 1700cc, 1800cc, 2000cc

  • The Type 4 is called a “flat” engine, because the cooling fan is fitted directly to the end of crankshaft. The Type 4 made use of a new more durable all aluminium crankcase.


  • Volkswagen Bug! the People’s Car, by Ray Miller
  • Volkswagen Model Documentation, by Joachim Kuch

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