AT YOUR SERVICE

Two new Beetles— one for the zippier, one for the hippier

ALBERT TREMBLAY March 1 1971
AT YOUR SERVICE

Two new Beetles— one for the zippier, one for the hippier

ALBERT TREMBLAY March 1 1971

Two new Beetles— one for the zippier, one for the hippier

AT YOUR SERVICE

CARS

ALBERT TREMBLAY

IT IS AN IRONY of history that, among other less acceptable things, Adolf Hitler’s legacy to the world was the sort of total mobility that even Detroit, birthplace of the peripatetic way of life, was unable to provide for North America during the boom years of the Fifties.

Because Hitler ordained it, Herr Porsche designed a people’s car in the 1930s. The Volkswagen never did put all Germans awheel because the war intervened, but when the war ended the bug was reborn and throughout the world it and its imitators brought the automobile within financial reach of nearly everybody — even those North Americans who couldn’t afford, either in cash or space, a more conventional car.

And now that Detroit and the Japanese and a score or so European car makers have invaded the bug’s market, Volkswagen is fighting back.

In Canada, its principal weapons are the Super Beetle and the VW 411, a four-door deluxe sedan introduced —and not particularly well received— in Europe three years ago. Sadly, the really exciting new VW product, the medium-sized Audi sedan, is not being sold in Canada yet.

The Super Beetle is designed to provide the young with a zippier car and the 411 is aimed at aging bug owners who want to escalate in terms of room and luxury.

The Super Beetle has a hood that is 3.2 inches longer to provide more luggage space; engine modifications to improve performance; redesigned suspension to improve handling; an updated interior, and refinements such as improved heating, bigger headlights and brake drums and a rear-window

defroster, an item rapidly becoming accepted as a winter essential for Canada and the northern U.S. In roadtesting, all these changes work. The Super Beetle is genuinely more of a good thing.

It is, unfortunately, not as easy to be as sanguine about the VW’s other weapon in the armory — the 411 sedan.

In terms of the manufacturer’s aims, I suppose the 411 could be regarded as a success. It is aimed at the onetime bug owner, grown affluent and perhaps a little complacent, who now values comfort, workmanship and service above all else. The car and the company provide these. The dashboard is well planned and finished. There is ample leg and headroom for rear-seat passengers, seeming acres of space in the front seats, a good air-conditioning and heating system and a slew of luxurious accessories — including, of course, that rear-window defroster.

However, on the road the 411 compares unfavorably with many other cars of competing size. The handling is far from exciting, and — like the bug itself — the 411 is uncomfortably sensitive to side winds. Although the traditional flat-four air-cooled engine has been, boosted to 1700 cc and is fed by an electronic system of indirect fuel injection, it still develops only 85 horsepower — which would be totally inadequate but for the superbly complementary ratios of the four-speed gearbox. And even though the 411 has disc brakes in front, its stopping power is hardly inspiring.

But then total mobility is now being regarded as something of a social problem, and to drive a big and usually overpowered car is regarded by some as'a social sin. After all, it was the very smallness and economy of the original bug that were so attractive to the kind of Canadians who bought them in the first place.

It could be that the very faults of the 411 will turn out to be its virtues in the marketplace. □