Tuesday July 17, 2018
During the 1970s there were two forms of Volkswagen that, in the UK at least, were rarely seen outside of major dealerships – the K70 and the Type 4 411/412. The former was the first VW with front-wheel-drive while the latter also broke new ground for Wolfsburg. It was their first car with four doors (it was also sold as a two-door saloon) and to feature unitary construction.
Further talking points were that the suspension was by MacPherson struts at the front and coil springs at the rear while the Boxer engine had been enlarged to 1,679cc and fitted with twin Solex carburettors. It was also the largest VW to date and the coachwork was styled by Pininfarina although many observers thought that the 411 bore a slight resemblance to the Austin 1800 “Landcrab”.
The 411 was launched in August 1968 and was described as ‘The fastest, most exciting and most comfortable car ever to come from Volkswagen’. It was the same width but considerably longer than the Type 3 and much was made of how the Type 4 offered space for 20 cu ft. of luggage – 14 in the front and 6 in the well behind the rear seat.
It was also well-equipped especially in up-market L guise, with the specification including lumbar support adjustment for the front seats, hazard flashers, a cigarette lighter, a heated rear window, a clock, fresh air vents and a petrol exchange heater. One motoring journalist complained that the last-named feature required ‘probably more skill to drive than the car itself’. As befitting an executive car, automatic transmission was an extra and the fascia was decorated in plastic “wood”.
The Type 4 range was expanded with a three-door estate car in late 1969 and, very unusually for a family car at that time, there was now the option of Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. Alas, the 411 was not selling in the numbers that Volkswagen hoped for, as the majority were bought by existing VW drivers rather than anyone trading in their Opel Rekord Series C or Ford Taunus P7.
The joys of a rear-engine saloon seemed to by-pass many affluent motorists in Germany while in the USA, where the 411 did develop a following, Car and Driver magazine summarised its dilemma – ‘Wolfsburg seems to have decided that all it has to do is build a bigger Beetle and the world will continue to beat a path to its door - we're wondering if that path might not be detouring to the Far East’. Japanese cars were already making major in-roads to world markets and to many, the Type 4 harked back to a previous era.
In the UK, a two-door 411L was priced at £1,290, which made it more expensive than a Corsair 2000E while a four-door 411 with optional automatic transmission would have cost £1,517, which put it on a par with the Rover P6 or the Triumph 2000.
A further rival from the ranks of imported cars was the excellent Renault 16TS and the big Volkswagen mainly appealed to the British driver who appreciated its quality, its road manners and its sense of genuine individualism. A 1968 Autocar test stated that ‘the car is quite different from, and far better than, anything VW have made before’.
For 1973 the Type 4 was facelifted as the 412 and it gained a 1.8 litre engine in the following year, but sales were never impressive. It was finally replaced, along with the Type 3 and the K70, by the Passat in May 1974 after just 367,728 units.
Had the 411 made its bow in 1963 rather than 1968 it might have stood more of a chance of commercials success but by the late 1960s it was the new Audi 100 (more of which later this year) that anticipated the future of upmarket cars from the Volkswagen empire. However, the Type 4 did star in one of the finest ever television commercials -