By on September 10, 2010

Every good idea has its time in the sun, but the trick is to get out of it before skin cancer appears. The rear engine configuration was once a sensation, especially in the form of the ground-breaking and wind-splitting Tatra 77 in 1934. Ferdinand Porsche adopted it as his own for his various VW prototypes that led to the seminal Beetle of 1938. But by the late sixties, the Europeans’ interest was rapidly shifting to FWD. Not VW. Quite lost and confused amidst all the excitement about FWD, and becoming dangerously conservative, VW developed and built what would be the final blowout of the rear-engined sedan: the 411/412. It has been referred to as VW’s Edsel.

To get a little history and perspective on the 411/412, one only needs to look at…the 311 (above). A prototype (EA 142) designed to replace the Type 3 (1500/1600), it was, for conservative VW, a big step. The 311 had a unitized body, instead of the platform frame of the Beetle and Type 3. And it was styled with the help of Pininfarina. But VW chickened out, and instead just grafted a longer nose on the cramped and obsolete Type 3. But having come this far, and needing a bigger sedan to compete against the very popular Opel Rekord, the basic design was blown up a bit and became the the 411.

Introduced in Europe in 1968, the 411 (above) quickly fell on its long face. It was (finally) roomy, and solidly built, like all VWs, but the rear engine concept now showed its limitations. The air-cooled 1.7 L boxer four was slow and thirsty. Despite the big schnozz, luggage space still wasn’t up to par. And it was priced too high. Sales never took off, which alarmed VW. It undoubtedly led to the decision to quickly rebadge the very advanced FWD NSU K70 as a Volkswagen, after VW bought that foundering company. But even that was a stop-gap, until VW wised up and just adopted the very successful B1 Audi 80/Fox platform for its Passat (CC  here).

Well, at least it did have four doors, which alone was revolutionary for a VW. That gave rise to a popular saying about the 411′s name: four doors, eleven years too late.

Starting out with only 68 hp didn’t help either; the following year a somewhat more potent 80 hp fuel injected engine came along. But even that was modest, for a car that was exactly the size and weight of the Corvair, which had a much larger six cylinder engine. For whatever reason, the 411/412 didn’t make it to the US until 1971, two years after the Corvair’s demise, to take up the banner for the genre.

Even if the 411 was conservative for European standards, it did introduce a host of new design/build elements to VW. The unitized body, MacPherson strut front suspension, non-swing axle rear suspension, automatic transmission and disc brakes came out of the 311/411 development, and soon showed up in other VW products, with varying degrees of success. But after Fiat’s brilliant 128 appeared in 1969, the template for modern FWD cars was set, and VW efforts really all amounted to rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs.

The 412 appeared in 1972, with a revised nose and a slightly bigger 1.8 L engine. Not that it really made any difference. The 412′s reputation for being underpowered and thirsty was now cemented in the public’s mind. And the sales numbers confirmed it: In its six year run, VW managed to sell a total of 368k of them globally, of which only 117k went to the US. This is during a time when VW was used to selling almost a half-million Beetles to eager Americans annually.

Like the smaller squareback, the Variant/Wagon was by far the most successful 411/412 version, IMHO. The very low and flat engine meant that there was a considerable amount of room above it in the rear. And then there was still that fairly decent sized trunk up front. And the rear engine gave it superb traction, of course. The fact that the sedans didn’t have a hatchback made its configuration less versatile. Now if only VW had made a four-door wagon version, it would have been a true successor to the remarkable but equally unloved Corvair wagon.

If you’ve noticed that the sedan I shot seems to be sitting nose high, you’re right. It is, by design: In typical Germanic fashion, VW wanted to make sure the 411 had plenty of front luggage capacity (weight wise) to counter any critics. It’s rated for 220kg (almost 500 lbs), hence the big springs. The owner of the wagon above did what many 411/412 owners do: cut down the front spring and have that nose be pointing back at the earth instead of the sun.

The 411/412 shares quite a bit in common with the VW/Porsche 914, which recently earned Deadly Sin status here by JB. Ironically, I find the 914 a much more successful concept than the 411/412, and I’ll do a rebuttal on one soon. But what would have been interesting is a 911-powered 411/412, to take up the rear-engined battle where the Corvair Corsa left off. Then the 411 name would have had some real meaning.

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55 Comments on “Curbside Classic: Volkswagen’s Deadly Sin #1: 1974 412...”


  • avatar
    gslippy

    That gold one vaguely resembles a cross between a Saab 900 and Porsche Panamera.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    I don’t have so fond of memories of this particular VW.  Many years ago a Red Army Faction member parked a 411 loaded with homemade explosives in front of USAFE headquarters at Ramstien AB Germany and detonated the whole mess with a timer.  Fortunately no one was killed, but it injured a about a dozen people and shut HQ down for a few months.

    That little vent as a clue was driving me crazy though, I knew I’d seen it a millon times, but just couldn’t place it.

  • avatar
    threeer

    That Squareback photo brought back some good memories…my first GF owned a green one for a time.  A butt-ugly car, but nearly indestructible.  And speaking of type 3′s one of my uncle’s in Germany had a silver one that he kept in pristine condition until he sold/traded it for his last car…a 1979 Ford Fiesta that I desperately wanted…

  • avatar
    partsisparts

    My parents bought a 1972 red 411 sedan in March of 72′. It was full of innovations for the times. Gas secondary heater, fuel injection and superior build quality to name a few. It was a great riding car… when it ran. The car had electrical problems from day 1. It would not start in the rain or cold. It was towed 12 times in 24 months that we owned it. When the warranty expired my father sold it. The next day it rained and it did not start for the new owner. My father gave them $50 back to have it repaired.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    The hign nose catered for some interesting driving experience as well. The consensus seemed to be to attach a couple of sandbags up front to weigh it down and get more traction. Because the car was discontinuated so early, they were awfully cheap for an almost new car.

    My father was involved in a very heavy near fatal accident in a 412 wagon. It was him, me, and my older brother. I was one and a half years old at that time, this was mid-70′s. The accident happened on a long straight section of the road, it was late october, and with the first frost of they year.

    On that stretch, he encountered quite a bit of black ice, and as the car was so light up front, it just slid down the road sideways. He went off the road, hit a large rock, the car jumped and turned a couple of times. This was before seatbelts were common practice, so no one was fastened. My father busted his arm very badly, my brother was badly cut up, and I went out the window for a very long haul.

    My brother was the only one that wasn’t hit unconscious, so he called for help. My fathers arm was fractured in several places, it took two years for him to heal. I was hit unconscious and was in a coma, I very nearly died. I had just started talking at that time, but I stopped talking for a full year after the accident.

    So, no, I don’t have any good memories of that car.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    Paul, congrats for a CC clue picture that went unsolved!

  • avatar
    nikita

    That twin carb 1700 was even slower and thirstier in my 72 bus. Dad had a 70 Squareback and it already had a fully automatic transmission with the newer IRS, EFI and front disc brakes, even dealer installed A/C. The only things the Type 4 brought to the table were unibody and new front suspension. Oh, and that ugly four door sedan body. At the time I thought the 411 was a truly lame attempt at taking VW upmarket.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    For the record, I think the 914 makes a super-fab VW, just not a super-fab Porsche :)

  • avatar

    Almost at the same time, VW Brasil designed the “Brasilia” a variant of the bug which had moderate success from 1974 to 1982 in Mexico, this because it was roomier than a Bug, that succes lasted until the arrival of the Rabbit/Caribe in 1977,The Brasilia was a hatchback,2 Dr. I had one and so far, it was one of the worst cars I ever had, slow and with a very poor handling in anything but dry pavement as Ingvar stated above, due to the lack of weight on the front.
    The front fenders were a common replacement item due to the rust formed because of the angled top where mud could be accumulated, they never placed a liner betwen the wheel and the fender.
     
    here 2 images images of it…
    http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Volkswagen_Brasilia.jpg
    http://images04.olx.com.mx/ui/4/51/76/1266688681_67604576_1-Fotos-de-VW-BRASILIA-1981-PARA-COLECCIONISTAS.jpg
    It had the 1600 Air cooled engine and they modified the Diferential in 1980 to a slower one, I guess to try to control the speed on these deathtraps.
    I would say it was a deadly sin too.
    Best regards.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Anyone else notice the Edsel heading down the street towards the wagon?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Where does the term “squareback” come from?  Is it because of the large rear (actually rectangular) backlite?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      VW Type 3s have been referred to as notchbacks (trunked sedan), fastback, and squareback (wagon) since they arrived in the US. VW actually advertised them as that:
      http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.adclassix.com/images/68vwsquareback.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.adclassix.com/ads/68vwsquareback.htm&usg=__Pyvh1-OLgb-kcDs_h6yjuoR97vk=&h=546&w=400&sz=28&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=mWT3bjJ6LIFx8M:&tbnh=152&tbnw=89&prev=/images%3Fq%3DVW%2Bsquareback%2Bad%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26sa%3DN%26biw%3D1182%26bih%3D856%26tbs%3Disch:1&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=510&vpy=60&dur=533&hovh=152&hovw=111&tx=93&ty=137&ei=-GWKTICMO5LQsAOD24mbBA&oei=-GWKTICMO5LQsAOD24mbBA&esq=1&page=1&ndsp=30&ved=1t:429,r:3,s:0

  • avatar
    stevejac

    The Fiat 128 was ‘Brilliant?’ You’ve got to be kidding. Ask anyone who owned one, including me.

    Actually, the 128 was a brilliant design; the execution was a disaster.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Reminds me of the Tatra cars that German Army officers of WWII were not permitted to drive because of their dangerous handling.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    My then 37 year old father bought a new 411 Variant (station wagon) right off a display at a German auto show in August 1972.  It had a four speed and the fuel injected 1.7.  It was his first, and only, non-GM car. 

    This vehicle was a real beast of burden, it`s bonnet absorbed enormous quantities of luggage and it`s back was ready to tote anything from bundles of roof shingles to hide-a-bed sofas. 

    As a kid I remember this vehicle for being stifling hot in summer – no AC and no roll down rear windows – and for being freezing cold in winter as the Arctic heater blew its glow plug early in its service life. 

    The VW high metalic content paint oxidized almost immediately and the rust wasn`t long thereafter. 

    After a few muffler replacements sent through the VW supply chain, and the flag-style side mirrors going funky, the car ended its tour of duty with my family in 1978 when it was replaced by a Pontiac Lemans with – you guessed it – no AC and no roll down rear windows. 

    Today the old boy is still getting the groceries daily, but now in a Cadillac Deville.  I guess that 411 spoiled all future foreign jobs for him (and me). 

    As for that 411 Variant?  Well, you probably shaved with it this morning. 

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    I always liked the idea of rear engines.
    In the winters in the sixties, I loved my little VW’s ability to drive in the slippery winters.
    I hated that I froze driving in it, however.

    Can anybody explain why Rear engine designs never did make it as popular everyday cars.
    B&B are often yelping about FWD due to the weight and extra chores placed upon the front wheels, so I would think this system perfect.

    Is it luggage area?
    Is it temperature control?

    I don’t get it.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Two basic problems with rear-engine cars, which get bigger as the car gets bigger.
      1.  Rear weight bias.  Cars with more weight over the rear wheels than the fronts handle funny.  They tend to want to spin when you try to turn them.  A few people might find this entertaining; most find it frightening.  A “rear-engine car” BTW is a car with the engine behind the rear axle.  If it’s in front of the rear axle, these problems are ameliorated, but such a car can not have two rows of seats, unless you can figure out how to mount the engine under the seats (which Toyota did in the discontinued Previa minivan).
       
      2. Cooling.  The original rear-engined cars were air-cooled.  But air-cooled engines are sub-optimal in terms of both emissions and fuel consumption because their operating temperature can run over such a wide range (unlike water-cooled engines, whose operating temperature can be tightly controlled).  The problem with a water-cooled engine in the rear is that it is out of the airflow past the car (unlike the engine in the front), so you have to locate the radiator in the front of the car (to catch the airflow) which adds complexity and takes up more space.  See how Porsche does it for an illustration . . . but Porsche’s rear and mid-engined vehicles are narrowly focused on carrying two people and a small amount of luggage. They are not grocery-getters or family haulers. Porsche’s “family hauler” — the Panamera sedan — has the conventional front-engine, rear-drive layout.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      The two biggest reason are cost and packaging: a FWD car leaves huge amount of space in the back, and a low floor. It’s what made hatchbacks really work. Also, fwd cars are intrinsically more stable: they tend to be much less influenced by side wind, unexpected curves, etc.
      Modern technology could make a rear engine work well enough, and VW’s coming UP almost had a rear engine. But there is so much invested in the tooling and familiarity with front engines, that it would most of all be uneconomic.
      Look at how the Toyota’s iQ managed to squeeze two extra seats in a tiny car only inches longer than the rear-engined Smart. And they didn’t have to start from scratch.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Paul…

      I like what you say about FWD and its benifits.
      But why all the B&B FWD bashing then?

      Is it a performance thing that gets hit when  FWD is used?
      Does it then force the performance  problems from the rear to the front?
      For instance, does the front now become the pivot?

      Is there a basic torque benefit to a drive shaft as apposed to FWD power to wheels?

      I like FWD and the MKS has it.  Actually it has AWD, with FWD seeming to take the initial hit.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Rear engine cars want to lose grip prematurely at the rear end while cornering, which leads to a spin. Front wheel drive cars want to lose grip prematurely at the front while cornering, which leads to the car plowing ahead straighter than the driver’s intended course, but at least the front of the car stays out front (understeer is a stable condition, and oversteer is an unstable condition).
      Front wheel drive has a performance limitation because during acceleration, weight shifts rearward, away from the front tires. This favors understeer, which is stable, but it doesn’t favor optimum acceleration (if you have lots of power on tap). This is why real drag racing cars all have rear wheel drive (the import pretend-drag-racers compensate by using extreme front-biased weight distribution) and it’s why successful sports cars are generally rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. You can make a “sporty” car with front drive, and it’s not too bad if the car doesn’t have much power.
      For a normal grocery-getter vehicle driven by “everyman”, front drive is just fine (and my own car is front drive). But an autocross instructor once commented to me that, for performance driving, front wheel drive is “wrong wheel drive”.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      The heat on these air-cooled VWs did work when they were new.
      I had a ’72 Super Beetle (same as the ’73 American spec version) that I drove daily when I was stationed in Italy in the early 90s. When I got it the heat did not work b/c there were cooling/heating pieces and gaskets missing. Once I prowled the junkyards and collected the handful of parts I needed it made excellent heat. All the time. And in the summer too. So in the summer I had to disconnect the heater hoses under the car and cap the heather boxes. The flappers that regulated the heat leaked heated air all the time. Some folks capped the heater airflow at the fan housing.
      We could take this car to the snowy mountains and it would heat the interior quickly after a long day of skiing. The problem was that coasting down the snowy mountain cooled off the engine somewhat and the heater output was no longer hot but warm. Once we reached the flat ground again it heated up and I could close the heaters a little more to maintain a stable interior temp. I found that driving this car in the winter in varying traffic conditions and elevations meant that I did alot of little heater adjustments with the levers between the seats. Open all the way at idle, closed a little in slow traffic and closed some more at highway speeds. It was like driving a manual tranny often – didn’t require alot of mental power. The Porsche 911 had automatic heater adjustment of these same levers. The Beetle warmed just fine all the way down to about 25 degrees F.
      My friends ’78 VW Riviera camper made good heat too. All the way down to freezing or so. My ’78 VW Westfalia camper has never made good heat b/c several little air deflectors that kept the heated air hot all the way into the cabin have long rusted away. My friend’s ’78 van lost it’s good heat has her van’s air deflectors rusted away too.
      The problem with these little aircooled engines that they would put up well with being driven with many of the cooling/heater system components missing. Folks did not realize sometimes that the $1 gasket they just tore during some maintenance item was important to the summer cooling of the engine and the winter cabin heating. VW would have never put a thermostat on these engines if that thermostat wasn’t important. In the short term there did not seem to be a drawback to the cooling/heater systems being compromised. It was a long term durability issue. Engines like to reach a stable temp and stay close to that temp. Aircooled engines do these reasonably well. My bus and Type IV powered Beetle both seem to float between 300F and 350F b/c their thermostats are in working order. Compare that to my watercooled commuter cars that pretty much stay the same all the time.
      After these cars got old rust creeped in and the heater tubes in the rocker panels disappeared leaking the heated air outside. Rust proofing on these 60s and 70s VW amounts to paint. No galvanized anything. All sorts of little leaks in the heater hoses were possible. A couple of the hoses are paper covered aluminum foil. The ones under the rear luggage area had clamps but folks sometimes lost the clamps during engine removals and failed to replace them. I have never worked on a completely intact air-cooled VW except my own. VW put a heater booster fan on my ’78 van but it is pathetic. If the air reaching the front of the van is HOT (really HOT) then the fan helps keep the windshield clear. If the air is warm or cool, there isn’t enough air movement to make any difference. A solution is a bilge fan from a boat store or better yet – two of them. More noise and more air flow. A leaf blower pushing heated air would be nice… GRIN!
      Lastly is the risk of any air-cooled engine poisoning the driver and passengers with carbon monoxide. If your car is out of tune you might smell exhaust leaking through rusty heater boxes or missing gaskets and fear for your life. If the carbon monoxide creeps in without a strong exhaust smell you might never know why you are so sleepy. Never had any trouble with my cars but a girlfriend in HS had a ’67 Beetle with serious issues. We never drove anywhere without the windows open. Again – simple to fix.
      The handling issue: my ’66 Mustang actually handled worse than my Beetles and Bus. The Mustang would suddenly spin around with as little or less warning than my Beetle on wet roads. I suspect that there were alot of really poor handling vehicles on the roads in the 60s and 70s so people were on their guard – unlike now. Now with modern sticky tires my Beetle and Bus lean so hard in turns that I never approach the limits without warning… GRIN! The average person going for groceries is likely not to have any problems even in the rain. Pushing hard on mtn roads or highway ramps is another issue.
      The crosswind issues are sometimes related to poor tires or under-inflated tires. My bus and just about every bus I’ve seen comes with passenger car tires. They are usually too overloaded and the sidewalks are too soft to keep the bus pointed in the right direction in strong crosswinds. Most stores look at the size requirement and not the weight requirements and there aren’t alot of 14″ heavy duty tires sold in the USA anymore. The Beetle was just light. With a little extra weight up front we got good service even at highways speeds on windy days. Around town the cars never drove poorly in strong winds because the speeds were low.

    • 0 avatar
      Don

      Great stuff, Joe- thanks !

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Don – thanks. I try to give my 2 cents whenever I can. TTAC has good articles but the reader comments are usually just as informative.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the memory jog Paul, I had almost forgotten about these VWs. I haven’t even seen any at car shows for awhile.

  • avatar
    Revver

    From the owners I knew, constant fuel system (both carbs and F.I.) and electrical issues meant many trips to the garage and became the car’s real unforgivable flaw.
    In a weird way, the level of failure this model suffered, actually created a bit of buzz about what VW was going to do to save itself. The Rabbit arrived with huge expectations, as well as a lot of general awareness. . . which is never a bad thing.
    That VW has rebuilt its brand, and continues to anchor its sales on the 411/412s replacement is pretty amazing.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      Especially given that the Golf/Rabbit was an improvement in reliability in only a relative way. This was about the time that Americans noticed that the little Japanese cars spent a lot less time at the dealer. I didn’t learn this, however, until after my first watercooled VW.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    I bought a slightly used 412 2 door sedan in 1974 from a VW dealer in Columbus Ohio.  I wanted the then new Rabbit, but they would not meet my price.  It was the first car I ever owned that was fuel injected and I loved it for that alone.  Carburetors in the 70s were a mess, especially on imports.  I believe VW was one of the first manufacturers to start using the Bosch CIS system on lower priced cars and it was a definite improvement.  I put 80K miles on the gold beastie and finally sold it when I moved to Dallas because it did not have AC.  As stated above, the gold paint was ruined by oxidation and the Texas sun.  Nevertheless, it was a great car.

  • avatar
    Hank

    A two door in the same yellow as the wagon above was the first brand new car my mother ever bought.  Plus?  It was more reliable than the ’71 Impala she traded for it.  Minus?  It still needed a mechanic from time to time, and mechanics that would touch it were hard to come by in West Texas.  She traded it for an MGC that she still wishes were in her driveway (a rogue valet took that out of the equation, though).

  • avatar
    davec

    When I was in high school we had a type 3 Squareback as a second car. As the kid it’s what I drove. Dog slow, but I thought it was fast and it’s amazing that car survived me, my brother and later my sister before it rusted away. So my father, realizing the need for a third car with four drivers, and liking the Type 3, came home one day with a gold 412, a year or two old with low miles — almost exactly the one pictured here. Even then, in my early Car Guy years I had heard vague things about these cars being trouble, but it was solid and rode well, and it was roomy compared to the Squareback.  One summer day my mother came home from grocery shopping in the 412. She pulled into the driveway and came into the house. 5-10 minutes later a neighbor came to the door to point out that our car was on fire. Sure enough, the engine and most of the rear end were in flames. Something about chronic injection leaks over the manifold — well-known, apparently. That was the end of the 412.

  • avatar

    Small correction: it’s spelled “MacPherson” struts, after Earle S. MacPherson, who invented them in the mid-forties. A lot of printed and online sources misspell either MacPherson’s first or last name (or occasionally both).

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    I cringe when I recall that I had one of these 411′s used, once.  It lasted about 3 months and the automatic transmission blew out the direct drive/reverse clutch.  I could drive forward only in 1st and 2nd gears, and had to push it backwards.  I drove 20 miles from the Air Force Base to the VW dealer – whose mechanic scoffed at my statement that it seemed as if the dd/rev clutch had gone out.  “Pfwa, they NEVER go out….”  An hour later, he came in and mumbled “um, er, it’s the direct drive/reverse clutch out….” and after they gave me the repair estimate, I realized that it was higher than what I’d paid for the car. 

    So off to the scrapyard it went (and I paid the car off to the Credit Union over another 9 months while it sat in the scrap yard). 

    Not good memories for me, either. 

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    I like how Porsche-like the 412 looks in the back, and I’m not all that fond of Porsches.

  • avatar
    car_guy2010

    A few years ago, my brother and I had a chance to buy a 412 in a junkyard. Needless to say, we waited too long and it was forever lost to the crusher. Such regret. As VW fanatics, it still would have had a place in our hearts.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    My next door neighbor had a yellow 4 door 412. She drove it for a few years of reliable use till an electrical fire sent it to the boneyard. A H.S. friend had a gold 412 squareback. That caught fire in a rock club parking lot. Cause of death: fuel related.  

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I’m not sure what the 411/412 fuel system was like but on my ’78 VW Westfalia bus (all the baywindow buses) the fuel was gravity fed to the fuel pump and then sent to the fuel injection or the carb. If any part of this broke it would allow all the fuel to spill onto the hot engine and just burn to the ground. Modern cars take fuel from the top of the tank so there is not much chance of a fuel line breaking and burning the car to the ground. I’m going to add a normally closed fuel cut-off solenoid to mine before I drive it again (I’m finishing a engine/tranny Corvair transplant) just in case. Easier to fight a fuel fire if you can turn the fuel off. I’m also going to add threaded fuel line connections wherever VW left them out. I believe the fuel tanks on both my Bus and the beetle already have threaded connections for a metal fuel line that is 2″ long. Then the rubber line continues. As I recall several of these connections did not even come with clamps – they were just pushed on by hand. Now some of those rubber lines ‘glued’ themselves on but what if when the line ages and begins to crack?

  • avatar
    amca

    We had a 412 squareback when I was growing up.  The slowest car on the planet.  I remember driving it required flooring it frequently.  And flooring it in anticipation of upcoming traffic conditions.  Merging onto a freeway was serious white-knuckle territory.  I remember smashing the pedal down repeatedly attempting to invoke the downshift on its lazy, jerky automatic transmission.  And it was dangerous with a sidewind.  Its light nose wanted to go any which way the wind was blowing.
    Yes, it was practical as all get out.  The back space was huge, and the forward trunk was enormous.  But driving it was horrifying.  I’d have been happy to see it spontaneously combust.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Ingvar u have been really blessed, a lot of folks didnt even make it with much lesser accidents.
     
    God bless

  • avatar
    big_gms

    What’s up with the body side seam under the rear windows? Anybody know?

  • avatar
    Nick

    The deadly sins series provides me with hours of delight.  First, because they are amusing.  Second, because there is at least a 1 in 3 chance that a certain hapless family I know owned the featured vehicle.  Their unflagging ability to find the biggest dud available was really something to behold.  Alas, Hyundai came to Canada before the US, so I will never see a deadly sin article about this family’s 80s era acquisitions.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    My first gf had a 411. It was everything posters here are saying, slow, poor handling and it broke a lot. As a teenager, for me anyway, it was kind of a revelation. It was the first car I had ever seen that was actually put together pretty well. For someone who grew up on two slam GM doors, having a door that latched with a reassuring “kawhonk” was really a novelty. Seats, carpets and dash all held up well. We often took it camping and the enormous front boot swallowed loads of gear.
     
    And then, one day as I was trying to start it, the 411 caught fire and incinerated itself.

  • avatar
    windsormarxist

    I had one of these back in Denver in 1997.  It was terrible.  No, it was infernal.  Mine never had the fortune of being made into a bomb, but I agree with the previous poster- who felt that the RAF may have just been sick of it, or the car exploded on its own and was thought to be a car bomb.  Mine was rust free, as with many western cars, but the vinyl seats had ripped so much that the chromed metal frames poked thorugh.  It also had an unsolvable starting problem, which killed the battery.  Now, jumpstarting a beetle is bad, but the 412 had the battery under the driver’s seat- so if you’re pumping the gas to get it going, any battery explosion will result in you applying for adoption if you want children.  Not good.  Mine would randomly not start for no reason- and wost of all, the engine compartment lid was about the size of a tea tray- so double articulated wrists were necessary for removal of the rear spark plugs.  I think the Haynes manual section for spark plug service got to step six before stating ‘refer to chapter one engine removal procedures’.
    When it would start, which would be entirely random, the same tape that jammed in would come on- Bauhaus’s Bella Lugosi’s dead- and I remember the car firing to life to the chorus of ‘undead undead undead!!!’
    I sold it to somebody just before I left town for New Orleans. If the buyer is reading now, I can only say I’m sorry.  Truly sorry.
    The only car I had that was worse than this heap was a 1983 Lancia Gamma- but that’s another story entirely.
     

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      If it wouldn’t crank you needed to add a “hot start relay” to the starter. Can be a lawnmower relay or Ford starter relay. $10 or less. For some reason the wire that goes 12V+ from the key fails with age. Probably corrosion and the fact that the wire is 10-15 ft long depending on which aircooled VW you have.
      If it would crank but not fire, I think I’ve read somewhere about the solution for that too. Like so many of these old cars of any brand – enthusiasts and mechanic eventually work out the quirks.
      Not to say these cars were “good”. I like them but recognize that they are quirky. I have a couple aircooled VWs and am thankful for the internet enthusiast groups that work together to solve problems and provide links to parts and parts suppliers.

  • avatar
    sailudlow

    Ironicly my first car was a 74 412 four door sedan followed by a 62 Corvair Monza Wagon with a powerglide. What I learned was they were always cold. I nearly froze solid in both of them, they would climb a glass wall and they were quite the trick to drive quickly. That back end would come around on you faster than you could spit. The more powerful Corvair would swing even faster than the 412 but it still was no picnic. The front end would not track on slick surfaces either leaving the rear to its own devices… the next car was a Subaru.


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