The Bug's popularity continued unabated with the 1967-1969 Volkswagen Beetle, but when VW tried an offshoot that wasn't a Beetle, the failure of the new model should have been a warning sign for the company.
Steady improvements continued in 1967. The 1967 Volkswagen Beetle's engine was upsized to 1493-cc (as on Type 3) and 53 horsepower (1200 and 1300 engines continue outside U.S.). Also new were dual-circuit brakes, backup lights, door lock buttons, and a 12-volt electrical system.
Another extensive round of changes occurred for the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle. Bumpers were raised and the overriders eliminated, while larger taillights incorporated the tail, brake, and backup lights into a single unit.
A fresh-air ventilation system was added that necessitated an air-intake louver on the cowl, and crash safety was improved with a collapsible steering column. An external fuel filler was a welcome addition, as drivers no longer had to lift the trunklid to gain access to the gas cap.
Engines took on emission controls thanks to U.S. exhaust regulations. And for the first time, those who spurned manual transmissions were treated to the Automatic Stick Shift, which was actually a semi-automatic; the clutch pedal was eliminated, but the driver still had to move the shift lever to choose between the three forward gears.
Nineteen sixty-nine brought yet another year of comparatively extensive improvements. The 1969 Volkswagen Beetle sported double-jointed rear axles, which first appeared on the 1968 Automatic Stick Shifts, improving handling and stability. Rear windows on sedans gained a defroster, a locking steering wheel and fuel door were adopted, the trunk release was moved to the glovebox, and a day/night rearview mirror was added.
Volkswagen experienced a major failure, however, with the Volkswagen 411, introduced in the summer of 1968. With chunky styling, a 98.5-inch wheelbase, and a 1.7-liter version of the Type 3 engine, the Volkswagen 411 was offered as two- and four-door fastback sedans and a Type 3-like two-door wagon.
But the Volkswagen 411 was just another blown-up Beetle, quite ugly, and rather overpriced. Buyers yawned on both sides of the Atlantic, and kept doing so despite the substitution of fuel injection in 1969, followed by 1973's desperately facelifted 412 models with 1.8-liter engine. Volkswagen finally gave up in 1974.
Such fumbling led some to conclude that Volkswagen was a "one-car company," unwilling -- or unable -- to go beyond the Beetle, let alone replace it. And indeed, by decade's end, Volkswagen had a yardful of dead-end prototypes that mostly advanced the state of the Beetle, not the automotive art.
Yet there was no great panic in Wolfsburg, for the Beetle was still confounding the doomsayers by selling better and better each year. In the U.S. alone, deliveries had soared from nearly 118,000 in 1960 to beyond 300,000 in 1967. In 1968, Americans bought a record 400,000-plus Beetles -- fully five percent of the entire U.S. market. Not bad for a basic design nearly 50 years old.
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