Volkswagen History

Behind the Scenes at Volkswagen

BY HANS-GEORG SCHMITT                                Sep 2014

I read John-Williams Brazilian Cars articles with great interest, and in particular the section on the Brazilian Volkswagen 1600 seen above. There is an interesting story behind this car. In the early 1960s Volkswagen wanted to launch a successor for the Beetle. A development code EA 97 was allocated and a design for a two-door notchback passenger car was created. This had a passing resemblance to the contemporary Renault R8. It was tested and readied for production. I was working at Volkswagen as an apprentice in the tool room preparing press tools at this time. One interesting feature of this car was that both the engine and the fuel tank were placed in the rear section of the body.
During final testing by TÜV, the German standards organisation, it was noticed that at top speed the front of the car lifted of the ground since it was so light and plans to produce the car in Germany were quietly shelved and the assembly line dismantled and stored. The car design was modified to provide a four door version and all the equipment was shipped to Brazil where it was to be launched as if it had been developed in Brazil.
Unfortunately, the ship with all tools, assembly equipment and more sank in the English Channel. The ship was salvaged and the insurance paid for repairing the equipment. So after a considerable delay all reached Brazil and the car shown in model form above was launched.
The original German pre-production cars were used for some years within the Wolfsburg works as works transport, and today one remaining car is exhibited in the Volkswagen Foundation in Wolfsburg.
Photograph of model above by John-William Greenbaum and photographs of the real car as made in Germany at the Volkswagen Foundation in Gallery below by Hans-Georg Schmitt.
History repeats itself
Later in the 1960s Volkswagen’s technical development centre created the 411 which was a large two and four-door saloon with integral body and independent suspension, but still with a rear engine and rear wheel drive. Whilst this work was going on a replacement for the Beetle based Type 3 was also considered. The smaller car, named the 511, would be similar to the 411, but smaller. Development was outsourced to an American company which used early CAD processes to convert Volkswagen’s drawings, sketches and a sample door into prototypes which were shipped back by air to Wolfsburg in 1967. Press tools were then developed at Wolfsburg in the VW tool shop.
In the meantime the 411 was launched initially with oval front lights and it quickly gained a nickname “nose bear” from the long front boot. As the first 411s were seen on German roads the assembly line for the 511 was being built in winter 1968 to spring 1969 and the first pre-production cars were seen running on the plants internal roads.
In early summer 1969 sales of the 411 dropped dramatically so the decision was made to stop further work on the 511 and to facelift the type 3 instead. The assembly lines and presses for the 511 were dismantled and disappeared out of sight. In order to minimise the losses made on the 511 it was decided to send the tools and assembly line to Brazil. This time the ship did not sink so there were no insurance payments to help with the costs of the final development and re-installation of the production line in Brazil. Just like EA97 the car was announced as a local Brazilian design. It was sold in Brazil from 1971 as a two and four door saloon named the Volkswagen 1600 TL and it stayed in production up to around 1977.
A photograph of a model of this car from the current Brazilian Cars part work is shown above (photograph by John-William Greenbaum) whilst the gallery below shows some period black and white press photographs of the 511 and the Brazilian 1600TL.

Volkswagen Germany 511


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