A model 411 can be large

VW 411/412 (1968-1974): Do you still know it?

You know them. And somehow not. We're not talking about our own neighbors, but about cars that have remained so inconspicuous that only die-hard fans know them today.

Such models need not necessarily have been flops during their lifetime. But they ran under the common car buyer's radar. From now on, under the heading "Do you still know him?" Get young and old timers out of the fog of oblivion.

A new model from VW was a highlight in the 1960s, as is the presentation of a new Tesla or iPhone today. But in 1968 the Beetle concept had been exhausted too much in Wolfsburg: the VW 411 or Type 4 with rear engine looked anachronistic and, moreover, did not look really pretty. "Four doors, eleven years too late" soon became a popular saying about the car, which the godlike VW boss Heinrich Nordhoff, who had passed away shortly before, had bequeathed it as an inheritance.

Despite a lavish facelift (in the truest sense of the word) to the VW 412, the model stayed in the model range for only six years and was buried in 1974 in the Golf year. Only 368,000 vehicles were built during this time. A lot for other brands, at best mediocre for VW.

In 1968, the iconic Beetle had sold millions of times a year and established Volkswagen as one of the world's largest automobile exporters. Still, the ongoing success required a constantly evolving portfolio. VW looked to the future with the Type 4 (better known as 411) - a car that quoted the Beetle concept with an air-cooled boxer engine, but was larger in order to be better suited for families around the world.

Production began in September 1968, with the 411 being offered as a two-door or - first for Volkswagen - as a four-door sedan. Technically, the 411 relied on a thoroughly modern chassis with independent suspension at the front and a trailing arm axle at the rear.

The rear-mounted four-cylinder boxer engine with double carburetors and 1,679 cc displacement was a new development and was later to be used in the VW-Porsche 914. The unit initially delivered 80 hp at 5,000 rpm and a torque of 126 Nm at 3,300 rpm, paired with a four-speed manual transmission or a three-speed automatic transmission.

But the look took some getting used to: A long front section contained the large trunk, because the engine was in the back. However, the flat boxer also enabled a luggage compartment in the rear. At the same time, the wheelbase remained close to the level of the Beetle at 2.50 meters. And no grill adorned the bare front part. The result was an inharmonious design and the nickname "Coati" for the 411.

The Type 4 was introduced to the world with an advertising campaign that focused on the size and characteristics of the vehicle. One of the first advertisements for the car announced in bold at the top "The great one from Wolfsburg", another announced "Some things are just the best". Sales brochures underlined this idea and pointed to upscale features such as draft-free air circulation, thermostat-controlled auxiliary heating and six-way adjustable front seats that could be completely leaned back.

Designed with safety in mind, the 411 featured crumple zones at the front and rear, a padded instrument panel, a folding steering column and a steering wheel with padded spokes. In brochures, the 411's suspension was touted as similar to that of the Porsche 911, but with an emphasis on stability over speed.

But despite all the efforts of the VW engineers, the 411 was unable to build on the success of the Beetle and Type 3. In the middle class, the competition was great and also more modern. The 411 showed that the rear engine concept had reached its limits. The initial sales were sluggish; since production did not begin until the end of 1968, a little over 20,000 units were sold.

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In 1969 more than 48,000 411s were produced and a station wagon was added to the range. But the numbers were still a drop in the ocean compared to the Beetle, hundreds of thousands of which were produced annually.

In 1970, with the introduction of the K 70, a takeover by NSU and the forerunner of the Passat, the era of the water-cooled Volkswagen with a front engine began. The 411 was also exported to America the following year, followed by a thorough facelift in 1972, which was renamed the 412, and in 1973 an engine with higher power.

However, none of these measures really worked. The production of the Type 4 never exceeded 80,000 units per year. The last 412s were built in 1974 when the modern VW generation emerged with the Passat, Scirocco and Golf.

Picture gallery: Volkswagen Type 4