Volkswagen persevered longer than most manufacturers with the rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout. The 1968 Type 4 was its last hurrah.
In the mid-1960’s, there was still a wide variety of mechanical layouts to be found in passenger cars. The so-called conventional layout, with a longitudinally mounted front engine and gearbox linked by a propshaft and live axle to driven rear wheels, was still predominant, and the wholesale switch to front-wheel-drive by mainstream manufacturers would not happen for another decade.
The attraction of this layout for manufacturers was easy to comprehend. It was mechanically straightforward, and separated the steered front from the driven rear wheels, reducing complexity, while aiding accessibility, engine cooling, and weight distribution. The only real drawbacks were that it was inefficient in the use of space, with a large transmission tunnel bisecting the interior.
UK manufacturers were in the main pretty conservative, possibly influenced by their American parentage in the case of Ford, Vauxhall, and Rootes Group. (The latter’s problematic rear-engined Imp model predated Chrysler’s involvement.) The exception was BMC, which had been building the transverse-engined FWD Mini from 1959 and its larger 1100 and 1800 siblings from 1962 and 1964 respectively.
In Western Europe, there was more variety to be found: Fiat manufactured small rear-engined RWD cars, larger conventionally engineered models, and was evaluating the transverse-engined FWD layout with the 1964 Autobianchi Primula. Renault still made the rear-engined Dauphine alongside its more modern range of FWD cars. Likewise, Simca made the rear-engined 1000 alongside the conventional 1301 and would soon launch the transverse-engined FWD 1100.
In Germany, things were rather less complicated. Mercedes-Benz and BMW models were wholly conventional, as befitted their conservative image. Audi models had FWD, albeit with longitudinally mounted engines, and Volkswagens were still wholly rear-engined and RWD, using air-cooled flat-four engines. Heinz Henrich Nordhoff, who had been Managing Director of Volkswagen since 1948, was still, at least in public*, wholly committed to the company’s classic mechanical layout and was keen to expand the model range upwards from the Type 1 (Beetle) and Type 3 into the more lucrative mid-size saloon segment.
The 1961 Type 3 model was, essentially, little more than a Beetle in a sharper and more modern suit. It shared the Beetle’s 2,400mm wheelbase, but was 146mm longer overall, employing the same body-on-floorpan construction. The Type 3, while usefully bigger than the Beetle, was still a pretty unsophisticated car to drive. Moreover, having just two passenger doors limited its practicality.
Nordhoff commissioned an all-new design, the Type 4, which would be built in two and four-door fastback saloon and three-door estate (Variant) formats. Oddly, there were no plans for what might have been the most practical version, a five-door estate. The new model would retain the Beetle’s mechanical layout but, like the Type 3, it would utilise a compact low-height flat-four engine to allow for additional rear luggage space in the estate version.
The Type 4 would also be Volkswagen’s first model to employ unitary construction. This considerably improved body rigidity and refinement. The flat-four 1,679ccc air-cooled engine, although conceptually identical to earlier Volkswagen units, was a new oversquare design that was smoother and quieter, and produced stronger torque at low revs. The wheelbase, at 2,500mm, was 100mm longer than the Beetle or Type 3. MacPherson strut front and trailing arm rear suspension with coil springs was employed, another first for Volkswagen.
The new model was launched at the Paris Salon in October 1968 as the VW 411. The design was credited to Pininfarina, and while clearly related to the Type 3, it also could be said to have imbued some influence from the design house’s 1963 Corvair Speciale concept. Nevertheless, one wonders how much latitude the Italian carrozzeria had been allowed.
In launch specification, the engine was equipped with twin carburettors and produced 68bhp. After less than a year, the engine was equipped instead with Bosch fuel injection, which increased power to 80bhp. The revised model was designated 411E and is identifiable by twin round headlamps in place of the original single oval units.
It wasn’t until 1971 that the 411 was introduced into the US – the fuel injected version being developed largely for the American market. Car and Driver characterised it as the “Beetle Brougham – the longer, lower, wider Beetle”, a description which probably wasn’t greeted with unmitigated joy along the banks of the Mittelandkanal. Sales reflected the implication.
The Type 4 received its only major overhaul in August 1972 when a new front end, designed by Brooks Stevens**, was grafted on. The twin headlamps were relocated to just above the front bumper and moved inboard, which allowed the front wings to be lowered so they were flush with a reprofiled, flatter bonnet. The new model was designated 412LE. A year later the engine capacity was raised to 1,795cc and reverted to twin carburettors with a new designation, 412LS.
Production of the Type 4 ended in July 1974 and it was replaced by the first-generation Passat, effectively a rebodied Audi 80. Over a six-year production run, a total of 367,728 Type 4 models were produced. This was far short of the initial sales projections for 1,000 models a day, which would have totalled over 1.4 million in six years. Moreover, 80% of Type 4 sales were to existing Volkswagen owners, so the model had limited success in attracting new customers to the marque.
Incidentally, the Type 4’s engine had been offered as an option in the Type 2 Transporter from 1971 and it became standard in 1973. It lived on for another decade before being replaced by a water-cooled boxer engine in 1983.
I had the relatively rare pleasure of travelling in and poking around a 411 Variant when a neighbour of my parents purchased one new in 1970. To a nine-year-old car-obsessed boy, it looked very smart in its gleaming metallic blue paintwork. It was positively plush compared to the austere Beetle, with twin-dial instrumentation (speedometer and matching clock with inset fuel gauge) proper ventilation outlets and that signifier of luxury, a strip of (plastic) wood on the padded vinyl dashboard.
Look more closely and you got a clue as to the underpinnings; the floor-hinged accelerator pedal, rearward placing of the vertical gear lever, and a VW peculiarity: a 3D isometric ‘map’ of the gearchange positions drawn on the dashboard. In the Beetle, this was on the ashtray immediately ahead of the gear lever but, in the 411, it was on the glovebox lid directly in front of the passenger! On the road, the car was certainly a lot quieter than the Beetle, but the distinctive metallic clatter, although less intrusive, was still there.
The Type 4 was a decent effort to update the company’s traditional mechanical layout, but it was outdated and destined to fail. Volkswagen’s 1965 acquisition of Auto-Union (Audi) gave the company access to FWD technology and knowhow, and its 1969 acquisition of NSU gave it a new and production-ready FWD saloon, the K70. The latter proved to be something of a false start for Volkswagen, selling just 210,082 units over its short, four-year lifespan, but the company used those years productively to create a whole new generation of modern FWD Volkswagens that would transform the carmaker’s image and fortunes.
For Heinz Heinrich Nordhoff, the Type 4 would be the last Volkswagen he commissioned and oversaw. After suffering a heart attack in the summer of 1967, he returned to work, only to die suddenly on 12th April 1968, aged 69. Nordhoff’s passing marked the end of an era for Volkswagen: the Beetle would continue in production for some time, but the future for the company’s passenger cars would be FWD and water-cooled.
* Volkswagen had secretly built prototypes with different mechanical layouts, but none made production.
** Brooks Stevens was also the designer of the highly influential 1963 Jeep Wagoneer and the entirely uninfluential 1980 Briggs & Stratton Hybrid Concept.
49 thoughts on “Last Throw of the Dice”
Daniel, thanks for a thought-provoking history of an unusual car which never caught the imagination of the paying public.
Was the Type 4 VW’s Landcrab? They had similar lifespans and sold in about the same numbers – 386,000 for the ADO17. And of course Pininfarina was involved with both.
Perhaps VW missed a trick by not using these four doors (elf Jahre zu spät, let’s not forget) to create a Maxi-like Type 3 replacement.
The nearest VW got was the Brasilia. It had the 412’s good looks, but seems to have missed out on the shared aperture engineering opportunity.
Good morning, Robertas, and thank you for your kind words. You have brilliantly anticipated at least one and, possibly, two forthcoming pieces on DTW! In the meantime, here’s an intruguing image:
At first glance, it looks like a regular 412 but look again and you’ll see that it has an enlarged glass rear hatchback and the former ‘bootlid’ which provided access to the engine is now a fixed part of the rear bodywork. Access to the engine must now be through the floor beneath the hatch. The engine air intakes are relocated to the rear wings, which are bolt-on like those on the Variant.
The image appears on VW’s press room website, so it must have been a further update to the 412 that never made production.
Here’s another interesting (Photoshop) image:
A enterprising British 412 Variant owner is converting it to five door format, using the doors from the saloon. There are photos of the work in progress on the owner’s website. Further information can be found at http://www.rastall.com/sbw.html.
Sharing the apertures between 411/412 and Brasilia would have been difficult because the Brasilia is smaller with ten centimetres shorter wheelbase and a Karmann Ghia/VW 181 floorpan.
Access to the 412’s engine always was by removing the boot floor because the 412 had a low build engine with the cooling fan at the end of the engine ratger tgsn on top of it, Beetle style like in the Brasilia.
Hi Dave. On the Variant, engine access was through the boot floor, certainly, but the saloon has an external lid, visible in the photo of the red 411 in the piece and in this photo of a 412 saloon:
I have to confess I’ve never seen a Type 4 saloon in the metal, but I’ve always assumed this was how the engine was accessed.
you are perfectly right. I have a mental shortcut between ‘411/412’ and ‘estate’ because that’s what was the most popular version on the road. The saloon indeed has an engine lid but sill the space saver engine, resulting in lots of empty space atop the engine. The estate had a removable lid in the boot floor with even a separate access panel to the glow plug of the engine independent heater.
This is a symbol for some of the strange features of the type 4: you got crude or downright primitive things like the floor mounted heater controls (those were good enough even for Porsche to use then on the 911 up to 1974) but an engine independent heater, controlled by pulling the right hand lever (controlling the standard exhaust operated heater) up until a green idiot light in the dashboard went on then pulling the left hand lever for the desired (thermostatically controlled!) temperature with warm air from the fuel operated heater. The type 4 also got a completely reworked engine which finally had a proper cartridge type oil filter, a true crossflow engine with exhaust ports pointing downwards instead of sideways, on late engines they finally fitted an aluminium crankcase instead of the Beetle or early type 4 magnesium item, but you still had only four cams on the camshaft, making the push rods sit at an angle, resulting in strange valve gear geometry. At least these engines were capable of delivering serious power with up to aroundn 140 PS in race trim.
VW also experimented with 412s with a Porsche 914 2.0 type engine which was considered too expensive and too powerful for the gearbox.
Very interesting on the hatchback 412! Never seen that one before. I find it absolutely mindboggling the Type 4 never had a rear luggage compartment. The Type 3 fastback had one, and it made the cargo area actually larger than the notchback. It’s incomprehensible they didn’t make it for the larger car, I just don’t understand it at all?
Dave – I wasn’t being entirely serious about the shared doors idea for a notional half-way-house Type 3 replacement, but it has encouraged a bit of number wrangling.
The effect of the Maxi’s enforced door sharing – the idea of Hopeless Harriman – was that its wheelbase was only 2″ (51mm) shorter than the 1800, and the car itself was uncomfortably expensive compared with its intended home market rivals.
Carrying over the idea over to the VW product line reveals that it was even less rational than BMC/BLMC’s when the 411 arrived. The Type 3 was a Ponton-bodied , bigger-engined Beetle – same 2400mm wheelbase and track dimensions.
How difficult would it have been to stretch that platform to 2500mm for a second generation Type 3? The beach-buggyists shortened it without much bother at all, so I’m guessing not very.
I chose 2500mm because that’s the wheelbase of the 411. The VW Type 4 really needed to be more generously sized, and the BMC 1800 looks a good paradigm with its 2700mm wheelbase and 1422mm front track. The Type 4 tracks are 1340mm/1380mm. The BMC car weighed 115kg more than the 411, as Greek Al got away with over-engineering which would not have been allowed at Wolfsburg or Turin.
What were the Type 4’s intended competitors? I’m guessing the Rekord C and Taunus P7, both of which had 2700mm wheelbases. The 411’s dimensions seem all wrong, both for the time when its “keel” was set, and for the Niedersächsische Leyland which VW had become when it went on sale.
A scaled-down EA128 might have been better for VW’s sales and reputation. Least said about that one the better. I’m hoping it’s on Daniel’s “hit list”.
Hi Robertas. It is now!
the story is a bit more complicated as one might think. 2,400 millimetres were a sacred number at VW because all the equipment at Wolfsburg’s ‘Halle 54’ productin facility was designed around this wheelbase. That’s why the Golf Mk1 had to have this wheelbase (and follow the Beetle’s unique production process where body creation started with welding together the inner halves of the rear side panels and the roof on a gigantic rotating welding robot and then working forward/downward to the rest of the car). VW also said that their workshops had maintenance booths and respective equipment designed around this wheelbase and that replacing/adapting all that stuff would be too expensive. Considering that at that time in Germany there were thousands of VW dealers and fuel stations with ‘VW Wartung’ signs this was a valid consideration.
Anything much bigger than the 411 with its 2,500 mm wheelbase would have caused serious trouble in field support.
An unexpected competitor for the Nasenbär was the Renault 16. At least one of my parents’ neighbours wanted a 411 first, found the salesman too arrogant and as a result bought an R16 Mk1 because he liked the fastback design of both cars. Only later was he convinced by the R16’s features and as his next car he bought another R16 Mk2.
To satisfy my curiosity, I sent an e-mail to Judi, the person who is building the five-door 412 Variant conversion. Judy kindly replied and told me that other work has caused the project to be paused, but she hopes to finish it this year. I’m sure we all wish her the best in her endeavours.
And of course there was the one that got away – the two door Type 4 saloon.
Were they thinking of a four-door too?
Hi Robertas. If you’re inferring from that unusual panel-gap over the rear wheel that VW was thinking of making a four-door notchback, then I’m sorry to have to disappoint you: all the two-door Type 4’s had that detail and it didn’t align with the door-shut in any event, as you can see in the photo of the home-made four-door Variant above.
The seam/gutter running free of the DLO is very distracting. Designers must have longed to get rid of this feature. Apart from that the saloon is pleasingly formal and gawky. I see some considerable similarity in feel to the cars of Eastern Germany. Is that an illusion? You could view VW as being the western cousin to the family of car makers left in the GDR so the German car family is made up VW, Porsche, NSU, Wartburg and Trabant in one group, Opel and Ford in another, and BMW, Mercedes and Borgward in a third. I may have forgotten some names.
I know they were outdated in their time, but there is something appealing about the Type 4.
Interestingly, VW is making big news of the fact that the ID3 is rear wheel drive (with a rear-mounted motor). Of course they tried and failed to make the Up! rear-engined first, before abandoning the idea and going down a more conventional route.
There is something deep in the company’s DNA here… a sense that after the Golf, they are once again re-inventing ‘the people’s car’ by returning to original principles. Inevitably the SUVs are on the way, but the fact that they are launching with the ID3 hatchback is commendable.
Good morning Jacomo. I’m really looking forward to seeing the ID.3 in the metal. My first car was a Beetle and our next ‘practical’ car will almost certainly be an EV. The ID.3 might fit the bill as we have no interest in an SUV.
A couple of days ago I saw my first ID.3 in the wild. It was flat grey with a BS (Braunschweig) registration, so was most probably a VW experimental car. It looked positively conventional without the stylistic experiments of many other electric vehicles and the only remarkable thing was that it was driven like every electric vehicle I’ve met – at snail’s pace.
Would I buy one? Most certainly not. I almost looks good but is still too far away from meeting my requirements – decent range and short refuelling times. If forced to buy an electric car, I’d rather go for a Toyota Mirai, even if it is pig ugly.
Yes, it’s interesting that EVs tend to be driven slowly, especially on motorways. There is something about the psychology of range anxiety that is having quite a profound effect on driving habits.
Anyhow, the decision on whether or not to go for an EV now really seems to depend on whether you can charge it at home easily or not. If you can, you can fully charge the battery every evening, at low or maybe even zero cost, and then you have a vehicle with, say, 200 miles of range waiting for you in the morning. Other costs of ownership are also dramatically lower.
We don’t have off street parking at home though, so the decision is more complicated for us.
IMO Volkswagen could have done a better job with further updating and developing its rear-engined models before switching to FWD instead of almost falling to fatal indecisiveness.
Surely it would have made sense to further commonize the Beetle and Type 3 (and Beetle-based Brazilian Type 3 aka reincarnated EA97 prototype) with 1.1-1.6 Pancake engines (possibly even larger 1.7-2.0+ Type 4 units) and other Variant II type developments via a modified Type 3 platform adapted to feature front MacPherson struts, rack & pinion steering as well as negative roll-radius steering geometry at the front similar and rear CV-joint drive shafts?
Together with both the Type 3 and Type 4 featuring earlier albeit improved Brazilian Type 3-inspired styling via “Leiding Nose” and more thanks to Marcio Piancastelli. Such changes would have also benefited the alternate Karmann Ghia Type 34, Karmann Ghia TC and Volkswagen SP models, not to mention have been very useful updates to the Beetle with a rear-engined 4-door hatchback version making less of a robbery trap in places like Mexico where it was used as a taxi.
Returning to the Type 4 it appears other alternative models considered include a 90 hp 2-litre Type 4 engine, 90 hp Wasserboxer and a Porsche Flat-6 versions. – http://www.rastall.com/412/vw-ea240.html
One question that comes to mind would be relating to the rear-engined EA266 project, despite understanding Porsche’s role in the project and the fact it was said to be slightly larger (and allegedly a better drive) then the mk1 Golf. Were the 65-105 hp 1.3-1.6-litre water-cooled inline-4 OHC engines connected in anyway to the EA827 engines or were they a clean sheet design developed by Porsche themselves?
A two litre version of the type 4 engine needs comprehensive and expensive reworking compared to the 1.7/1.8 litre versions. The longer crank needs short sleeved pistons that clear the crank throws and the crankcase has to be reinforced and many more expensive changes that Porsche made to the 914 2.0 engine.
The VW EA266 had its engine under the rear seat so clearly was mid engined. It was not a better drive than the Golf Mk1 because it had the lethal handling typical for early mid engined cars. The EA 266 had its drivetrain where it would have needed chassis rails to form a torsionally stiff basis for the rear suspension, a design bug similar to the 914.
The engine was a clean sheet pure Porsche design that had no commonalities whatsoever with EA827 or EA111. It was an I4 tilted by ninety degrees with provision of being extended to a boxer eight intended for Porsche go-faster versions lof the EA266. At least the EA266 would have held a world record for the longest dipstick in automotive history with over 150 centimetres long.
Thanks for the clarification regarding the background of the EA266 engines, when mentioning the provision of the engine being extended to a boxer eight is that to say the engine was to form the basis of a horizontally-mounted V8 or a literal Flat-8 engine?
The trouble with the idea of EA266 possessing lethal handling typical early rear mid-engined cars of the period would not be because it is not accurate given the layout, but why Volkswagen felt the need to have journalists sign non-publication agreements to prevent the latter from publishing their driving impressions of the EA266 after a handful of them drove EA266 in late 1975 and said it was sensational and much better than the Golf?
I don’t know whether the Porsche version of the EA266’s engine was a 180 degree V8 or a proper boxer. At least one EA266 with such an engine was built and tested and must have been absolutely mad. For a true boxer it would have needed wafer thin crankwebs, something Porsche had enough experience with.
It was VW’s own engineers, above all Rudolf Leiding himself who knew how to drive and evaluate a car, considered the EA266’s handling suicidal and completely unsuitable for everyday use in average customers’ hands.
This and the high production costs and complicated and expensive maintenance (everything had to be done from below the car) spelt the end of EA266 which was production ready and had its production tooling already set up. The existing seven prototypes were to be destroyed by Leopard tanks (another Porsche development) but somehow one car escaped and is now presented in the museum.
The Jalopnik story gets it wrong on several accounts.
The EA337 (Golf) wasn’t derived from Audi designs. It was a pure, clean sheet VW design under the supervision of Professor Ernst Fiala, brought to production readiness in then world record time of 37 months from the first line on the drawing board (the reason for its many teething troubles), using only the EA827 Audi engine for the more powerful versions as an outside contribution. The Golf brought torsion beam suspension to the mass market and they even managed to include new radiator manufacturing methods pioneered by French manufacturers (stretch fit instead of soldering of the matrix) as a last minute change.
The EA266 wasn’t developed with assistance by Porsche, it was a pure Porsche development because in the Nordhoff/Lotz era Porsche was considered as VW’s development department for historical reasons.
One gets the impression Rudolf Leiding was understandably prejudiced against Porsche having a role in developing Volkswagens at the expense of their own developmental team that was further complemented by engineers from Auto Union and NSU.
Though the following is doubtful one wonders if the EA266-based 8-cylinder had any ties to the 908 Flat-8 engine that was used in the 914/8 one-offs assuming it was indeed a Flat-8 instead of a V8, whether directly or in terms of Porsche thinking since it would have made no sense in developing two different 8-cylinder engines without some degree of commonality.
Just because two engines have the same cylinder arrangement they aren’t necessarily related.
The 908 was an air cooled, dry sump quad cam race engine with gear/bevel drive cams and the 266 engine was a water cooled, wet sump SOHC chain drive affair. The 908 just like the 917 engine had their roots in the 911 which definitely wasn’t the case with the 266.
And Rudolf Leiding wasn’t prejudiced against Porsche, he just rightfully thought that Porsche had earned enough money throuth the useless experiments of the Nordhoff/Lotz era and that VW needed to do their homework themselves. He also thought that it wasn’t VW’s obligation to finance madcap experiments by Porsche like the EA266 which was only possible because Porsche thought that in the end VW would have to pay the bill and therefore they could through somebody else’s money out of the window. Porsche still got EA425 which later transmogrified into the 924.
My bad regarding the 8-cylinder engines, just the 908 engine was what immediately sprang to mind with the only other 8-cylinder Porsche engine being the much later 928 V8.
The various accounts surrounding the EA266 prototypes seem to imply there being personal conflicts, resentment and other issues over what was a contentious project that was cancelled by Rudolf Leiding after much investment, with some usually citing Porsche’s own Leopard I tanks being used to as the tool of choice to destroy the other EA266 prototypes with anything related to the project either being burned or cut-up.
That aside while other EA266 bodystyles were considered including roadsters, coupes and a minibus, is it known if 4-door EA266 variants were considered prior to it being cancelled as it would have been illogical for such a version to be omitted?
Porsche already had done flat eights before the 908. Think their formula one racer or the 772 engine for the 904/8 and 907 racers.
To understand the end of the EA266 you have to look at VW’s situation. Neither of their former chairmen Nordhoff or Lotz did have a viable idea of VW’s future beyond the Beetle. They commissioned innumerable prototypes and investigations which all came to nothing. EA97 or EA218 already have been mentioned, but VW’s museum is full of those dead end attempts. Porsche had a hand in many, if not most of them because of their traditional development contracts with VW. Then all of a sudden a dyed-in-the-wool car guy like Rudolf Leiding gets into the hot seat of bankrupt VW. All he sees is that the future of the company is bet on a mad concept like the EA266 which everybody with a bit of common sense could see as the wrong way to go. I think we all agree that had VW started production of the EA266 then today there would be no VW. Then Leiding did the only logical thing: he killed the car that would have killed VW and he started a new, sensible project that later became the Golf.
There is little dispute that Volkswagen doing nothing to replace its rear-engined cars or approving EA266 would have been a mistake, only that why was no apparently consideration was given for designing a 4-door version of EA266. It also makes one wonder if Porsche tried to recycle some elements of EA266 into their subsequent projects similar to their earlier brief involvement with Studebaker via the Type 542 and Type 633.
At the same time am struck by what was brought up in Simon Glen’s book on the Type 3 regarding Volkswagen being capable of doing a better job of improving their rear-engined cars in the early-1960s as a stop-gap via some the ideas mentioned in the book, had they embraced a similar approach as their Brazilian division and some jointed-up thinking for their various branches.
Obviously Volkswagen would have still needed to switch to a FWD water-cooled layout from the late 1960s onwards, yet the likes of the Variant II and other developments appeared to have belatedly remedied most of the flaws of their rear-engined designs. When one takes Volkswagen’s dithering with the countless prototypes into account over the previous decade, they could in retrospect have handled things much better than they did.
VW’s board member in charge of sales calculated that to make even a tiny profit the EA266 would have had to be sold at prices on a par with Audi 100 or K70. The projected price was a minimum of 10,000 Deutschmarks at a time when 4,500 Deutschmarks bought a Beetle, 9,000 bought a well kitted out Audi F103 and 11,000 bought a BMW 02. Even years later people complained that a Golf Mk1 with a minimum of kit cost 7,500 Deutschmarks, so there would have been very little chance of the Ea266 being a sales success or earning any money. Developing a four door would have made it even more expensive.
Am aware of the EA266′ costs meaning it would have had to have been priced a segment above in order to even a make a project had it reached production, only that little mention is made of a 4-door meaning it was either planned into the project before being cancelled or perplexingly omitted as on smaller models. Suggesting Volkswagen’s attitude on smaller 4-door models roughly mirrored BMC/BL’s resistance on using the hatchback layout for models below the Maxi under the belief it would have stolen sales of the latter.
I’ve been dipping in to Richard Porter’s recently published book on car trivia, and one of the stories relates that, in 1967, Pininfarina had been commissioned to start work on the Passat. Volkswagen then asked Farina to tour a motor show and pick out the best designs and most of the ones chosen were from Italdesign. Volkswagen promptly dropped Farina and commissioned Italdesign to do the Passat, Scirocco and Golf.
I’m glad Volkswagen dropped the EA266, although it’s interesting to speculate what might have been. I found this short film which gives a bit more background.
Hi Charles. Ouch, that must have been painful for Pininfarina. Interestingly, this Passat prototype from 1972 was rather reminiscent of the original Lancia Delta in its extreme angularity:
That prototype actually has a transverse engine. It predates the decision instead simply to put a new rear end onto the Audi 80, to save costs.
Hello Daniel – yes, it’s got a real Italian stance. Reminds me of the Alfa Romeo Sprint.
Apologies – having checked, I realize that I should correct myself; they asked their Italian importer to do the motor show tour, in 1969.
All I know is that on my 411LE Variant, 1970 the heater never worked. It had a cut out under the rear seat that kept tripping out. It was scary when the petrol heater occasionally boomed into life. liked the car a lot though.
Having an air-cooled Volkswagen was one thing. Having a heater in a car was another thing. It rarely happened in the same universe.
My father in law bought a 411 brand new . Continual problems with the fuel injection. He unfortunately didn’t like the car a lot.
The conventional wisdom behind the amalgamation of the EA272 Passat-Vorgänger with the Audi 80 development was that VAG (as it wasn’t called until a few years later) had ambitions for both vehicles to revive their fortunes in the USA, where they have a sensible aversion to the archaic practice of ‘doing gears’.
There was no suitable automatic transmission for use with a transverse engine with an end-on gearbox, so the decision was taken to standardise a longitudinal configuration which allowed use of the corporate 3 speed automatic transaxle from the Audi 100C1.
One thing I haven’t noticed before, but have you seen how much alike the 412 is to the second generation B2 Passat? I’m talking 412 2/4-door sedan vs 3/5-door Passat. It’s virtually the same size and shape? Including the long front overhang and the upkink of the third side window at the rear. It’s like they jumped a generation over the more rectilinear Passat B1 because they really wanted to trademark that slightly hunchbacked style? I can’t post any pics but if anybody would be so kind to post a twofer in side profile you will all agree with me how much alike they really are.
Good morning Ingvar. Happy to oblige:
You’re right. There’s even something about the curvature of the sides that is very similar. Well spotted!
This would make the Passat B2 a VW 413!
Thanks! Very interesting seeing the two together. Also, I’m fascinated the 412 is actually less cluttered with no quarter lights. It’s interesting VW continued with that retrograde step of out non openable quarter lights for so long, the last ones disappearing with the ’90 facelift of the Golf II. For what purpose? Couldn’t they fit a single pane at least on the front doors of the Passat? Also I wonder if the hump at the back of the Passat was designed to fit a possible booted 4-door fastback version of the Passat? Like they held that option open for very long in the design process, before finally deciding for a 5-door hatchback?
The Passat B2 has even stronger Nasenbär credentials than the 412.
At least it has an excuse, with five cylinders in line ahead of the front axle line.
Fascinating how badly VW were caught out by lack of forward planning (leadership?), resulting in new models being behind the times similar to BMC. The Model T provides a stark example that you can’t keep making the same car in an evolving market, and VW ran longer than that car, even before you consider its prewar origin.
A couple of observations on the early part of the article: mid-sixties Rootes cars weren’t conservative because of Chrysler; and don’t forget the BMW 700, also Mercedes had a rear-engined model in their past.
Hi John. Fair point about Chrysler, who first invested in Rootes in 1964 so had no influence over the mid-1960’s range. I imagine Chrysler wasn’t unhappy with Rootes’ conventional cars, but was probably bemused by the ‘mini-Corvair’ Imp.
The BMW 700 ended production in 1965 and, as far as I can recall, Mercedes-Benz’s rear engined models were all pre-war vintage.
That’s a very good point about Ford, John. William Morris similarly famously hated Issigonis’s Minor and couldn’t understand why the Morris 8 couldn’t continue.
I always thought Volkswagen had a ‘Beetle-policy-in-miniature’ with its Jetta / Bora. They finally seem to have accepted that we don’t want a booted Golf, in the UK, at least.
At the risk of drifting off topic, the latest Jetta looks a rather fine thing, like a smaller Arteon:
I think the UK could take to the A7 Jetta, but it’s uncomfortably close to the Passat – 105mm shorter wheelbase, but only 65mm shorter overall.
A quick review of early Passats shows few for sale (1970-1980) and the prices varying wildly. While Ford and Opel saloons from this period have a larger following, the Passat is tending towards friendlessness though I´d guess a lot of them found happy customers in the 70s. Designwise, VW didn´t lead the pack (Christopher B will have a good explanation). You´d need a strong will to call them anything other than borderline acceptable. My definition of essential German automotive design is biased towards BMW and Mercedes offerings of the period. Really, the field is diverse as Germany is (I should know this having learned of the Kleinstaat phenomenon in recent years). There may be an undelying tendency in 70s W. German cars. It is not manifest on the larger scale. Park a 70s Passat with a Taunus, Ascona, cheaper 5, an Audi 80 B1 and a stripped out Benz W-123 and you five rather different interpretations of the genre. Which is the real German car? Could I point to the Taunus and Ascona as representative of W. Germany (the European nation with the American godfather?) And the others as representative of the Länder they hail from? Keeping strictly to the less expensive end of the spectrum, the Passat draws more from France´s R16 than it does from its compatriots. It´s a modernist car to Ford and Opel´s popular vernacular.
More info on the EA266 from YouTube channel, HubNut, showing new archive footage from Porsche of prototypes in Finland and South Africa in what I think may 1969 and / or 1970, given the competitor cars visible (e.g. Fiat 128).
It’s amazing and fascinating to me to see this footage. I’m so glad Volkswagen developed the Golf, though. It must have taken a lot of courage to ditch EA266 and start again.
Bravo to Porsche for releasing this material and to HubNut for doing the video.
Thanks for sharing, Charles