Sometime after I had started building this project, I was told that VW had designed a five-door Variant but we didn’t know anything about how far the design had developed or if a prototype had been built. So I mentioned this “rumour” in my introduction to the project and thought no more of it. Then, in March 2008, I received a long document from Fokko Haanstra summarising the information on the development of the Type 4 he had accumulated over many years from personal research of books, magazine articles and other publications. He lives in The Netherlands and had read my comments. With his permission, I set out the information below.
The knowledge that Wolfsburg engineers designed a five-door Variant is far from common, even among the most ardent Type 4 enthusiasts. As far as Fokko knows, the only public reference to this project was made by Klaus Morhammer in the September/October 1997 issue of the German Volkswagen-dedicated magazine VW Speed (Delius Klasing Verlag, Bielefeld, FGR). The VW 411 five-door Variant project was given a special design code number: EA 240 (EA = Entwicklungsauftrag or Design Assignment). No drawings or photographs of this have been seen and, apparently, the EA 240 project was cancelled because of low sales expectations.
The added value of a five-door 411/412 estate car (alongside or instead of the three-door version) would have meant a tremendous enrichment to Volkswagen’s model range at the early 1970s. A five-door Type 4 Variant could have been positioned much higher above the Type 3 Variant than the three-door version and it is a great pity that such a car was not introduced at the time. In the end, Volkswagen’s very first production five-door estate car was the VW Passat B1 Variant of 1973/74. This was also offered in the UK as the Audi 80 Estate and in the USA and Canada as the VW Dasher Wagon and as the Audi Fox Wagon.
Volkswagen’s product development strategy from the late 1940s until the early 1970s was based upon four main pillars:
In addition there were several other design projects, amongst which was a front wheel drive Mini-VW (EA 48, 1953-1955), a rear-engined six cylinder Chevrolet Corvair-like VW Limousine and Stationwagon (EA 128 / EA 151, 1960-1966) and a “VW-MPV avant la lettre” (Porsche Type 700 = VW EA 76/1, around 1956-1958).
The Pininfarina-VW EA 41
The production Porsche 555
For some twenty years VW followed each of the four development policies simultaneously:
Ivo Waszink of The Netherlands sent me the picture of the EA 41 prototype shown on the right. (Added February 2011)
Porsche, Karmann, Pininfarina and Ghia all played a significant role in assisting “Volkswagen TE” (Technische Entwicklung) in most of these developments.
Arguably, the development of the Volkswagen Type 4 actually goes back to the late 1940s. In 1949 Porsche carried out a first study on a “VW Kleinwagen” with a unitary body construction. This was the Porsche Project 402 of which no further details are generally known.
In March 1952 Porsche was commissioned by Volkswagen to develop a driving prototype of a small passenger car with a monocoque body. This became the Porsche 534, described as “VW Klein-Sportwagen – Selbsttragend”, a down-sized, light-weight, two-door, four-seater saloon (wheelbase: 2,100 mm, unladen weight: 650 kg), with an air-cooled 1.0 litre boxer engine in the rear developing 20 kW/26.5 hp.
The Type 534, with its total length of 3,720 mm, looked like a shortened Porsche 356, keeping its most important feature hidden under its skin – its monocoque body shell. Officially, the main purpose for both projects (402 and 534) was to gather experience on unitised body construction.
In October 1953, Porsche presented its Type 534 to VW’s chief Heinrich Nordhoff. After that the vehicle remained with Porsche at Stuttgart, where it went through a rigorous testing programme before Wolfsburg eventually gave orders to destroy the vehicle.
After the completion of the Porsche 534 project, Wolfsburg continued with further investigations into the possibilities of unitary body construction. Volkswagenwerk commissioned Porsche to continue its research on the subject and to develop more monocoque body shell prototypes. It seems likely that at this stage the Budd Steel Corporation of Philadelphia also became involved.
Between 1955 and 1959 Porsche carried out several other unitary body studies for Volkswagen and developed the following monocoque VW prototypes (based on the Types 402 and 534):
In 1958 Volkswagen took over the Porsche Type 728 project from Stüttgart and code-numbered it EA 53. During the late 1950s and the early 1960s, seven driving prototypes were built at Wolfsburg, numbered EA 53/1 to EA 53/7. The early cars had a Porsche-designed body while the cars built later received a body designed by Ghia. At the same time several studies for new Volkswagen models built on a platform chassis were carried out. These design studies finally resulted into the VW Type 3 range of 1961 (EA 97/2 [?]) and the almost launched VW Type 13 of 1965 (EA 97/3) which in 1968 reached the Latin American market as the VW do Brasil 1600 (Type 103). Furthermore, much more effort was put into the development of new types of VW engines, particular emphasis being given to the so-called “Unterflurmotoren” or “Flachmotoren” design. These incorporated the more compact flat boxer engines without the upright fan of the Beetles and Type 2. The model in which such an engine was introduced for the first time was the VW Type 3 of 1961.
In 1961/62 the EA 53 project was re-evaluated for three main reasons:
It was decided to stop the EA 53 project and to continue with a new one, but drawing on the results of the EA 53. This plan was given the development code number EA 142. In October 1962 the project was defined as “a possible successor to the (still new) VW Type 3”. The first EA 142 prototypes were equipped with the same angular-styled monocoque Ghia bodies as the last EA 53 cars. At the same time, however, they received the new double-jointed rear axles.
Then the Italian design studio of Pinifarina became involved in the EA 142 project. Farina already had contacts with Volkswagen dating back to the early 1950s when they were commissioned to design a VW platform-based prototype EA 41. Later, a much more important task crossed their path when they were asked to redesign the VW Beetle for the 1958 model year. The principal change they introduced was the larger, more square rear window replacing the original oval rear window. In about 1963, Pininfarina set the main styling lines for the EA 142. These were carried through its further development and would finally appear on the VW 411. From this point, the design of the car’s rear end hardly changed.
Between August 1964 and February 1968 some 45 EA 142 prototypes were built, six of them with a steel sliding roof. In September 1966, out of a range of scale models and styling proposals, the definitive two-door model which was to become the VW 411 was chosen. The car’s objectives were now formulated in some detail:
“Vier bis fünf-sitziger Personenwagen der 1,5 bis 1,7 Liter-Klasse mit selbsttragender Fließheck-Karosserie; Radstand: 2.500 mm; Länge: 4.490 mm, Leergewicht: 950 kg.”
When introduced, the VW 411 was 35 mm longer and 70 kg heavier.
In October 1966, the first EA 142 prototype appeared with the oval headlights which would later become so characteristic of the first year VW 411. This meant that the styling process was as good as completed and the final design could be declared frozen. The process of defining the different body variants of the Type 4 was started. One of the alternatives built was a two-door VW 411 notchback, the so-called Type 22B. The design did not make it into production, however, the prototype of the 22B pictured here is displayed at the Wolfsburg Motor Museum.
EA 142 developments now went ahead in quick sequence:
|April 1967||EA 222 defined the four-door fastback saloon version of the VW 411.
EA 237 defined a two-door VW 411 Cabriolet.
EA 239 defined a two-door VW 411 Coupé.
Volkswagen commissioned Pininfarina with the design of both the cabriolet and the coupé. Only styling studies were made.
A “Super-Deluxe Executive-Version” of the Volkswagen 411 four-door saloon was also considered. This top-of-the-line model was intended to attain the highest luxury level one could imagine including, for instance, independent rear seats like the Rover P6 3500 TC.
EA 223 defined the three-door Variant version of the VW 411.
Also defined was the EA 240, which was a five-door VW 411 Variant. However, the VW Marketing Department believed that this would achieve low sales and so the five-door model was not prepared for production.
|May 1968||Pre-production of the VW 411 (Type 4) was started.
|20 May 1968||Wolfsburg unveiled the name of their new VW 411 four-door saloon and released the first official publicity photograph. Their hand had been forced after VW’s Public Relations Department had got wind of the news that the German news magazine Der Spiegel was intending to scoop them by publishing secretly-taken pictures of the Type 4 (or Type 5), the so-called “Erlkönigsfotos”.
|4 July 1968||
The first officially authorised photographs of the VW 411 Variant were released.
At the same time, development of the EA 158 / EA 241 was far behind schedule.
|August 1968||Mass-production of the VW 411 was started.
A full prototype of a VW 411 Cabriolet was built by Karmann Coachbuilders of Osnabrück (code name: Model Hamburg; no EA-number is known although a Cabriolet option was styled as EA 237 in April 1967). When this car was presented at Wolfsburg, Volkswagen’s top management showed little interest. It was suggested that Karmann should develop a Cabriolet on the basis of the new two-door version of the Audi 100 instead. Karmann actually presented the car at the 1969 Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) but it never made it into production.
Karmann also presented Volkswagen with an alternative to the proposed VW 411 Coupé. In this case a full prototype was presented of a 3-door hatchback version of the VW Karmann-Ghia Coupé Type 14. This design, called Type 143 TC, laid the foundation for the later VWdB Karmann-Ghia Type 145 TC.
|August 1969||The VW 411(L)E including the Variant (Type 46) was introduced. Although some photographs of this car had been released the previous Summer, it was launched with the new 1,7 litre 59 kW/80 hp fuel-injected engine and the facelifted front end with double headlights which were also given to the two- and four-door VW 411 E/LE saloons.
The VW-Porsche 914 (Type 47) was launched. This joint Volkswagen-Porsche development (EA 336) was a mid-engined two/three-seater. Since the 914-4 used the same engine as the Type 4, would it be too fanciful to consder this Karmann-built sports car as a Roadster version of the saloon car?
The new VW 411 incorporated all kinds of technical innovations but it remained a real Volkswagen, its main obstacle being the lack of enough “Volk” around willing to buy it.
Only a few months after its introduction, it became clear that the VW 411 was not going to be a sales runner. Wolfsburg’s technicians tried to make the best out of it. In August 1969 the car was changed into the 411E and in August 1972 it became the 412. In the Autumn of 1974, after no more than six years of dragging production, the Type 4 disappeared from the price lists, fewer than 368,000 cars having been made. However, it is known that 51 specially made VW 412 Variants were built in March 1975.
We shall never know if the VW 411 would have reached the market if Heinrich Nordhoff had stayed with us a little longer. He might well have withdrawn the car from production at the very last minute in favour of the VW 311 (Type 5). He had done so before with the Type 34 and 35 convertibles, for instance, these were presented to the general public at the Frankfurt Motorshow (IAA), 1961. Their brochures were already printed and distributed, their prices had been set, and first orders had already been taken, but in January 1963 the decision came that the cars should not be placed on the market.
Other examples of Volkswagens being completely ready for production but stopped at the threshold of their appearance (not to mention the EA 266/Type 19 Mittelmotorwagen), are the EA 97/3 – VW Type 13 and the VW 1600 Karmann-Ghia TC, this model was a three-door hatchback based on the German Type 34, not the Brazilian Type 145.
Maybe Nordhoff saw himself forced to continue the development work on a car which had started life back in the late 1940s, pushed by a strong group of traditionalists in both his Wolfsburg staff and at Porsche Engineering in Stüttgart-Zuffenhausen. That Heinrich Nordhoff and his management team remained far from certain about the potentials of the VW Type 4, even when the car was almost ready for production, is illustrated by several facts:
The most important Type 4 alternatives considered were:
In February 1969 the decision was made to cancel the EA 158 / EA 241 project. A VW 311 or Type 5 would never come about. Instead, the Volkswagen Type 3 was revitalized. In August 1969 the VW Type 3 (1600 Notchback/Fastback/Variant) received a comprehensive facelift (EA 306) and this range soldiered on until 1973. It was a smaller and cheaper alternative to the VW 411 launched a year before.
Others have been playing with and modifying the Type 4 for many years and Jens Vagelpohl has pictures of a few on his website. Most recently, the German car magazine Auto Zeitung (nr 3 – 23 Jan 2008, Baur Media KG, Cologne, FGR) published a rather intriguing photo of a four-door VW 412 Hatchback Saloon. It is not clear if this is an official VW prototype or a privately executed conversion. The vehicle appears to be based on a standard Fastback saloon and has an enlarged rear screen which also functions as a glass tailgate, much like the rear window of a Toyota Tercel Mk1 amongst others. The air intakes have been integrated into the rear wings, the engine lid has been downsized and is probably fixed to the body. This implies that the rear seat and luggage floor have been converted to the likes of a Type 4 Variant. Fokko has written to the Auto Zeitung editorial staff to enquire after some more background information on the car but has not yet received an answer from them. If they do reply, you can read about it here too!
This is an edited account of Fokko’s contribution, for which I am duly grateful. The EA 142 Design Development Project spawned further sub-projects that I hope to include here in due time. Several passages of what Fokko sent me were in the original German language and I will need a bit of time to translate them, although I have included a couple of shorter passages here without translation.