Volkswagen Consolidate Their Position

Wolfsburg Announce the Entirely New 411

World domination of car sales by VW, the masters of mass-production in West Germany, has been one of the motoring and merchandising miracles of the pre-War era. Time and again we heard that the summit sales of the Beetle could not possibly last. It was, as VW themselves admit in their extremely clever advertising, ugly, slow, noisy and, in this country, expensive. Nevertheless, with such advantages as strong construction, comparatively quiet running, a trim trim, dual braking, rear-footwell heating, longevity, and some others they modestly refrain from referring to in the aforesaid advertising (see page 784), the Beetle has captivated the World’s motorists to the tune of some 15-million sold and continues to maintain its sales-appeal in America.

Much of their maintained success can be attributed to the indisputable fact that VW have never been slow to improve the Beetle, and introduce subsequent models in order to maintain their unassailable reputation. Although these later models were basically similar to the original insect, even if outwardly different in appearance, the 1500, the 1600 Fast-back and the big-engined Beetles have all contributed their quota to maintaining the remarkable position which VW holds in the World and of which many of their competitors are envious, if not openly jealous. One might have said earlier this year that the present range of VW models would adequately maintain the position, for an adequate time to come. But complacency is unknown at Wolfsburg, and to stem any criticism that they are out of touch with present-day trends and content to rest on past achievements comes the completely new Type 411.

Until we have driven this car we do not propose to devote much space to it, but just as a new Rolls-Royce is an event of absorbing interest, if not excitement, in the motoring world, and Wall Street came to a standstill when Ford replaced the Model-T with the Model-A, so the release of a new VW is a revolutionary happening and an occasion which cannot be ignored, even though the car is just publicity blurb and glossy pictures.

Not only has the 411 a new shape; it has completely changed front and back suspension, proper interior heating, and it can even be obtained with four doors. As a sentimental traditionalist I must weep one or two tears for the demise of Dr. Porsche’s torsion-bar i.f.s., which was virtually identical to that used on the pre-war G.P. Auto-Unions but which, in the 411, has given way to strut-type coil-spring i.f.s. of the kind good enough for Ford to adopt in 1950 and others, like B.M.W., Humber, Sunbeam, Triumph and Porsche to copy later. I regret, to a lesser degree, that the allegedly-notorious torsion-bar swing-axle i.r.s. has given way to coil-spring trailing-arm i.r.s., to which even Mercedes-Benz do not aspire. But if these changes result in impeccable handling, tradition has done well to get itself abandoned.

I am delighted that the 411 retains the famous rear-placed VW flat-four air-cooled engine with all the ingenious but deeply-hidden technical features and magnesium-alloys that place it deservedly amongst the World’s great internal-combustion power plants. It has increased itself in size to 1,679 c.c. and 68 (net) b.h.p., still runs at modest crankshaft speeds, on a modest c.r., and, they tell me, is good enough for 90 m.p.h. and 25 m.p.g. of inexpensive fuel in the spacious new saloon.

If this new VW retains the well-known features that have helped preceding models to maintain Volkswagenwerk as still the leading importers of foreign cars into the U.S.A., and which have built them up into the third largest motor-vehicle producers in the Universe, it should be as big a success as its makers require it to be. It is pleasing to know that the traditional VW feature of adequate tyre size is retained, the 411 having 15-in. tyres, compared to the 13-in. covers that suffice for the B.M.W. 1600, the larger Opels and the Fiat 125, etc. Moreover, the 411 is presumably intended to be driven fast and make the best use of its handling qualities, because these tyres, whether Dunlop, Pirelli, or Continental, are radial-ply.

That is about all we propose to say at the moment, except to observe that, just as, years ago, VW soon wiped the smile off the faces of those who maintained that air-cooling wouldn’t work, they must now have reduced to a very solemn countenance many design-teams who have been contemplating smugly their 1969 models.

The foregoing is the measure of the enthusiasm we feel for Wolfsburg’s most-recent step forward. Whether the VW 411 will match up to this enthusiasm on the road must remain until we can write a further instalment.—W. B.