Well, if it wasn’t such a rare beast, you just wouldn’t bother! Rotten doesn’t begin to describe.
The owner, Steve, bought this 1972 VW 411 LE Variant a few years back with the intention of making it solid and roadworthy once again. A fire caused by one of those ‘lovely’ fuel-burning heaters had ravaged the wiring and a few other bits in the back end. The original control module and harness for the fuel injection, along with some of the injection components were melted, but thankfully not much else seemed to have suffered.
The plan for the car was to not spend any real effort on the appearance, ie no shiny paintwork. He wanted to keep the rough old paint (done back in the 80’s. -Badly) and concentrate on making the car totally solid & mechanically sound whilst giving the old ‘wagen a low but driveable stance, improved braking & handling, and more power. A true rat-look I suppose. A few body modifications were discussed at this stage; the idea being to make the 411 look a bit prettier, a bit less square, like an older VW, therefore losing the chunky square bumpers and the nasty grilles in the front apron. Ok, so that’s a little bit of effort with the body, but once completed it shouldn’t be immediately obvious to anyone other than a 411 buff that much had been altered. And it should end up looking like it was always like that, since before that nasty 80’s paint was lashed on.
Starting with the basics; lets make that body structurally sound. The front wings, whilst still on the car gave the impression that all wasn’t too bad, although the sills had obviously been attacked by the tin-worms. But the wings are fibreglass, so they wouldn’t have rusted, would they?! Upon removal all was not good behind. Not good at all. After pulling a 2ft-long (no exaggeration!) chunk of carefully-crafted fibreglass out of the inner wing area in one piece, it became a wonder how the car hadn’t collapsed under its own weight.
As the pic shows, cutting out all of the inner wing only removed SOME of the problem. The chassis-leg/bumper-mount area had previously been ‘repaired’ so badly that the original shape was completely lost. The suspension turret was all decayed around its base too; rust swelling inbetween the separate layers of steel. And this turned out to be the good side! Ha ha.
So… Out came the subframe, steering gear, fuel tank etc. The tank was full of powdery rust so it was washed and flushed, then sealed with tank-seal. New bumper-hanger legs were fabbed up, as were new inner wing panels and parts of the inner arches. On the offside, new chassis sections were also grafted in where the subframe mounts. The boot floor was barely repairable and, with the inclusion of a re-shaped front valance, a re-think on the spare wheel-well was necessary anyway.
If you’re familiar with 411’s you’ll know that the spare wheel lies flat in the boot floor, and the front edge of the wheel-well bulges out into the valance. So if, like me, you see the front of a car as it’s ‘face’ (headlights are eyes etc.), then this bulge looks like you’ve pushed your tongue behind your lower lip; like we used to as kids, doing the ‘you’re thick’ face. Maybe this wasn’t a widespread phenomena (!) and you’re thinking “wtf are they on about?” Either way -not a great look!
Back to the plot… So the wheel-well was hacked out and replaced with a nice new 1303 panel, set in at such an angle that it doesn’t encroach on the front valance. As we planned to get the car to sit low we raised the suspension turrets by 40mm -the max there’s room for without touching the underside of the front hood, other than a small cut-out in the framework at each rear corner. This also got in the way of the ‘lateral-spring’ arrangement originally used to hold the hood open, so we scrapped it in favour of a pair of gas-struts mounted inside the inner wings.
All the inside-boot area, arches and inner wings were hit with a good helping of stonechip paint -did we mention that this’ll be Steve’s daily driver once completed? Then it was all oranged-over with old-skool coach enamel -applied with a roller! to replicate the finish on the rest of the car. That’s just the front end. In addition, we fabricated new floorpan sections both sides, made new double-skin footwells (monocoque chassis) and also fabbed new sills for the front half of both sides. The rear of the car’s a completely different story, and other than 2 small local repairs to the rear trailing arms, no welding was needed -phew!
Now onto the mechanics: To get the 411 to sit low, we’d already dropped the front by 40mm by raising the turrets; we sourced some shorter springs to bring her down by roughly another 3″, then by swapping the ‘tractor tyres’ for some 165/45/15’s we got her sitting about as close to the ground as you’d dare with a daily, also giving plenty of clearance between tyre and wheelarch. Note/ This is a temporary setup -she’ll be going on air sometime in the near future -we’ll update as & when.
Brakes were always going to be an issue. The original calipers were toast, as was the master cylinder, most of the pipework, and everything on the rear. Brand new bigger BMW calipers were fitted up-front, coupled with a baywindow master cylinder, and new 411 rear drums with some slightly altered t3 shoes and baywindow (bigger) rear cylinders. It took a bit of homework to choose the correct parts, but they all work together very nicely. The pipework up-front was also re-routed for more clearance, and to suit the calipers and dual front-outlet master cylinder.
Engine: Originally the LE was fitted with a 1700 fuel-injected pancake motor. Ok, but as aforementioned, the wiring and some crucial injection system components were destroyed by fire. The ‘case upon inspection proved to be in good nick, and was still holding its oil -unlike most pancake motors, the ‘heads were free from cracks too, and having done only 70k miles from new it seemed a good base for a rebuild.
We found the motor to have only a minimal amount of end-float, and no play in the big-ends. Stripped down, the crank was untouched, and the old bearings hadn’t taken much of a beating either. The pistons & rings looked ok -just coked up and a bit of scoring on number 1. But we’re not using them.
We thoroughly cleaned the ‘case, replaced all the bearings and assembled in the crank, cam & oil pick-up.
A set of 96mm pots were purhcased, along with a WEB cam & followers, twin 40mm Webers and short manifolds & filters to squeeze it all under the rear floor. The ‘heads were sent to Jim at Stateside Tuning for a complete overhaul, comprising uprated valves, guides and springs, and cut for 96mm barrels. A nice job he did too. We modified a bell-crank linkage to fit a mounting platform we made, also incorporating the fuel-filter and coil. An additional breather was also added. You can see in the pic where the body needed cutting to give clearance for the left-hand carb.
So, with 1915cc displacement, a tasty cam, re-worked heads and twin 40’s all hidden under the loading floor we’re expecting a bit of a sleeper; something that looks like an old knackered estate-car that wouldn’t threaten your granny’s Micra, but hopefully enough grunt to embarrass the odd GTi. We’ll run the car over to the local dyno once she’s on the road for a final tune-up & get some figures & update once she’s run in.