The Type 4 began its life as Nordhoff’s attempt to penetrate the luxury-car market and expand VW’s image to include upscale and highly developed products. It was to follow the typical VW layout with a rear aircooled engine and rear-wheel drive, but on a far grander scale than previously done.
The new product, however, suffered from negative reviews, if not disdain. At the time the Type 4 was introduced the world was waiting for rumors about front wheel-drive and watercooled cars from VW to come true. As Car and Driver in its April 1969 Preview Test of the VW 411L writes:
“That ‘sure thing’ rumor probably has been going around since 1938 when the first VWs were produced, and we hoped that with the introduction of the VW 411 it would have died a natural -and unlamented- death. Instead, VW has made sure that the rumor will be perpetuated by introducing an ‘all new’ car that is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Wolfsburg seems to have decided that all it has to do is build a bigger Beetle and the world will continue to beat a path to its door - we’re wondering if that path might not be detouring to the Far East.”
Even the German press, usually more loyal to Volkswagen’s offerings, did not hide their disappointment. “Auto, Motor und Sport”, one of the leading automobile magazines, tested the 411L in their February ‘69-issue against five competitors (Fiat 125, Renault 16, Audi 80L, Ford 17M and Opel Rekord 1700L). The Volkswagen ended dead last, even though it was the most expensive in the group. The authors complained that instead of looking at their competition VW clung to their own traditions and became blind for what was going on in the automotive world.
History proved the detractors right. Fueled by the disappointment over the technology, design and steep price of the “all new” car sales never really took off. In Europe the VW 411 was introduced in August 1968 as a ‘69 model. Barely a year later it received an update, along with the introduction of the VW 411 wagon, in the hope of making the design more agreeable, something unheard of from Wolfsburg before. This redesigned 411 was introduced in the US in 1971. Still, the cars would not move out of dealer showrooms. Another attempt at “saving” the Type 4 was made in 1972, it received a major facelift and a new name - VW 412. Nothing could stop the inevitable, though, and production was finally halted in July 1974 after one of the shortest production runs VW ever had on any model it produced.