Lynn Pfenning spent 38 years chasing down his father’s beloved 1967 Volkswagen Type 3 fastback and four years restoring it to its original glory.
The cousin of the Volkswagen Beetle was a major touchstone of Pfenning’s childhood. His father purchased the Brunswick Blue Type 3 fastback for $2,200 in 1967 after totaling his 1965 Volkswagen Beetle. The car was no match for a cow he hit while traveling home from their grandparents’ house in rural North Dakota.
“Growing up, my job every Saturday was to wash and detail the family car before church,” Pfenning said.
Eight years later, his dad sold it to a local farmer who then gifted the car to his son – a friend of Pfenning’s – to drive to and from school.
Once Pfenning’s friend graduated from high school, the Type 3 fastback was used as a utility vehicle for several years before being barn-bound for approximately two decades.
A lifelong gear head, Pfenning went on to trade school, trained as a construction electrician and went on to work at an automotive plant for 20 years. As the years passed, however, Pfenning grew more and more eager to add the special air-cooled to his collection; he currently has two other collector cars, including a 1963 Beetle.
“Over the years, we may have gone our separate ways, but I always kept track of that car,” said Pfenning. “I would check in every five or some years to see if he was willing to sell me it.” The owner wouldn’t budge.
Thankfully, Pfenning’s luck changed in 2013. After spotting another Type 3 Fastback in St. Paul, Minn., he decided to ring his friend and ask again if the car was available for purchase. To his surprise, it was, and he was invited down to North Dakota to negotiate a price.
With some strategic haggling, his compelling backstory and a small nudge from the owner’s wife, he was able to buy the car at a fraction of the asking price.
“Before he had a chance to change his mind, I handed him the cash and away we went,” Pfenning said.
Contrary to photos, however, the car was in rough shape. The past owner had used the fastback as a farm vehicle to round up cattle, which in turn caused damage to both car doors and crushed the nose of the car. Instead of a proper fix, panels were filled with several inches of putty.
On top of that, the engine was severely damaged due to a hidden mouse nest, which caught fire and impaired the car’s cylinder heads. The windshield gaskets had failed years earlier, deteriorating the floor pan and transmission deck.
“It was like peeling back an onion – once I started pulling back the layers the car told a very different story,” Pfenning said.
The total job, along with custom additions, would eventually run him nearly $40,000. To help pay for the project, he worked late shifts, overtime, during shutdowns and covered coworker’s vacations. He also devoted 10 and 12-hour days on weekends to repairs and bodywork.
“I cut out all the rust and replaced it with new metal. All the nuts and bolts were replaced or refurbished,” said Pfenning.
A car collector at heart, he told the mechanic that he worked with during the restoration process he didn’t want to just write the check, he wanted to do the dirty work and learn about everything being done.
“He was more than happy to let me tear out all the rat-infested parts, grind paint, rip out of all the moldy, stinky interiors and rust,” Pfenning said.
Pfenning rebuilt the engine to 1776 cc from the stock 1600 cc and installed a custom tweed interior. All the brightwork was new or reconditioned. The final step was replacing the car’s original Brunswick Blue paint with a head-turning Candy Brandywine – a popular color found on 1930’s era hot rods.
“I was so far into the project there was no use in cutting corners,” said Pfenning.
Pfenning completed the project in July 2018 and decided to enter it in the North Dakota State Fair, where it received first place for best antique car. To celebrate, he invited his then-83-year-old dad to participate in the parade with him.
“He couldn’t believe it was the same car,” Pfenning said. “He smiled the entire parade – which lasted nearly two hours – yelling, in his distinct German dialect, ‘It’s a Volkswagen, and I bought it brand new!’ He was so excited.”
Since then, he’s entered the car in several competitions and received more awards. “I won first place for Vintage European car in Minneapolis’ Light the Night event: second place went to a fancy Porsche and third went to a BMW,” Pfenning said. “It was pretty fun to see my little Volkswagen beat out over them.”
That said, nothing will compare to his father’s priceless reaction from riding in his original Volkswagen. “Sharing this experience with him … has made every penny worth it,” Pfenning added.