Deciphering the past of a project car is easier said than done. It's often been through the hands of more than half a dozen owners by the time someone restores it. Minnesota resident Lynn Pfenning didn't need to scavenge for clues because the 1967 Volkswagen Type 3 he brought back to life was purchased new by his dad.
Pfenning explained his father Marvin bought the Type 3 Fastback to replace a 1965 Beetle he totaled by hitting a cow. It cost him $2,200, which represents about $17,000 in 2020. He used it as his daily driver until the middle of the 1970s, when he sold it to a local farmer who ended up giving it to his teenage son. That's where the story would normally end. The new owner would, in all likelihood, either ultimately sell the car to someone else and move on or drive it into the ground and scrap it, and the original owner would never see it or hear about it again.
That's not how it played out this time. When the farmer's son outgrew the Type 3, it became an improvised farm truck used to round up cattle, among other tasks Volkswagen engineers never envisioned. It picked up more than its fair share of dings, dents, and scratches as it slogged through fields while rust inevitably chewed the body. Its retirement was even less gratifying, because it spent decades parked in the corner of a dusty barn.
Pfenning never forgot about the Type 3, and he knew where to find it, but the owner never wanted to sell it, a frustrating situation most enthusiasts have found themselves in (your author included).
"Over the years, we may have gone our separate ways, but I always kept track of that car. I would check in every five or some years to see if he was willing to sell it to me," he told Volkswagen, adding his first few requests were categorically shot down.
Meanwhile, the Type 3 lingered in a North Dakota barn, where it supported an ecosystem of various animals, including generations of mice that love to feed on wiring and upholstery. Its engine had caught fire at one point, damaging one of the cylinder heads. It sounded too far gone to save, but Pfenning jumped at the opportunity to buy it when the person his dad sold it to finally decided to let it go in 2013 after owning it for 38 years.
Pfenning towed it to his house in Minnesota and started tearing it apart. "It was like peeling back an onion. Once I started pulling back the layers, the car told a very different story," he remembered. He cut out and replaced rusty panels rather than piling on a thick layer of bondo, changed everything down to the nuts and bolts, rebuilt the air-cooled, 1.6-liter flat-four into a 1.8-liter for more power, and gave the Type 3 a fresh coat of Candy Brandywine. Aftermarket alloy wheels, new chrome trim, and fender-mounted mirrors added a finishing touch to the look.
The restoration cost Pfenning $40,000. He worked late shifts and nights, during shutdowns, and covered for coworkers who went on vacation to pay for it all. He's taken the Type 3 to several car shows since finishing it in the summer of 2018 and he's won several awards. It was notably honored as the best antique car at the North Dakota State Fair. Taking his 83-year old dad for a spin in his car was more rewarding than any trophy, though.
"He couldn't believe it was the same car," he said proudly.