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Wolfsburg, 19 September 2008 – Forty years have passed since Volkswagen presented the VW 411, at that time the company’s largest and most powerful model yet, to some 200 journalists in Wolfsburg. The journalists had earlier put the VW 411 through its paces on the new Volkswagen proving ground in Ehra-Lessien, testing the vehicle’s equipment and performance. Volkswagen built 367,728 units until production ceased in July 1974, and 416 of these are currently registered as old-timers.
The ads claimed there had never been a VW like this before. And they were quite right. This was the very first model with a unibody, a four-door option, more space than any other Volkswagen and a longer wheelbase than the Beetle. A newly-designed, powerful, 68 bhp air-cooled 1.6 liter boxer engine mounted in the rear of the VW 411 was robust enough even for long journeys at a maximum speed of 145 km/h. The innovative sporty chassis with MacPherson strut front suspension and rear suspension with double joint axles also used in the Porsche 911 made sure the car held the road well. The midsize saloon featured “the luxury of a luxury car”. Available with either a Normal or an L equipment line, “Wolfsburg’s biggie” offered customers space and ride comfort, enhanced safety, a total 570 liters of luggage space in front and rear and an optional automatic transmission.
The history of what was known as the Type 4 began in 1962 as development project EA 142. The economics of series production, which began in February 1967, were based on the sale of 822,500 vehicles over a four year period with daily production of 1,000 units. The price of the VW 411 ranged from 7,770 to 9,285 DM.
Compared to the Gegenüber dem 1961 erschienenen VW 1500/1600, als dessen Nachfolger er antreten sollte, war dVW 1500/1600 launched in 1961, the VW 411 was noticeably larger and better equipped. Volkswagen aimed to establish the new vehicle in the upper midsize segment which was beyond the reach of the Beetle and the Type 3, and to expand the market position in the long term by broadening the model range. For this reason, the publicity concentrated on technical innovations and the high level of comfort as well as highlighting typical Volkswagen characteristics such as quality, economic efficiency and service.
In the run-up to the market launch on October 5, 1968, dealers, the press and customers responded positively to the VW 411. Once the car had come to market, problems with the clutch on the first models delivered and an increasingly negative press curbed sales prospects. The most common complaints from customers related to engine and driving noise, the engine’s limited output and what was perceived as an unaesthetic front end. Since over 80% of VW 411 buyers were already Volkswagen customers, the vehicle failed to win new customer groups. As a result of these marketing problems, which could not be remedied by sales incentives either, Volkswagen sporadically lowered production to 75 vehicles per day.
The company introduced an improved version, the VW 411 E, for the 1970 model year. Electronic fuel injection boosted engine output to 80 bhp and the front end, which had given the model the nickname of “Nasenbär” (coati), received a facelift. The VW 411 E Variant, provided even more space for luggage, and this estate version was soon selling twice as well as the hatchback saloon. Type 4 exports to the USA began in ab 1971, and the car sold better than expected there, soon accounting for roughly 40% of total sales. A further new and improved model called the VW 412 followed in 1972. eingeführtes letztProduction of the Type 4 at the Wolfsburg plant continued until 1973, when the production line was relocated to Salzgitter, and production at Volkswagen of South Africa commenced in 1969.
Even though the VW 411/412 did not break any sales records, the model nevertheless has an important role to play in Volkswagen’s automobile history as the last large series model with air cooling and a rear-mounted engine. A 1966 prototype is on display at the Automuseum Wolfsburg. The Type 4 has by no means been forgotten. Type 4 fan clubs in Germany and abroad have been presenting their lovingly preserved automotive rarities at a stand at Techno Classica since 2005.