I am now the proud owner of a free, rare air-cooled Volkswagen race car, and I may or may not be completely over my head. I’m in the process of towing home the Volkswagen 411 we raced at Buttonwillow last weekend, and I’m pretty sure it’s marking its trail in oil dribbles.
I still think I made the right decision, though. The Volkswagen Type 4 was one of the last gasps of the aircooled Volkswagen. It was Volkswagen’s first four-door family sedan—a little bigger in size than the Type 3 but nowhere near as popular. It’s also powered by the same flat-four engine that sputters the Porsche 914 forward. Best of all, I keep getting my favorite question as a lover of weird, obscure cars: “What is that?”
Yeah, I definitely made the right decision.
We may have won Lemons’ highest prize, but we didn’t take the checkered flag. We were asked nicely not to take it back out because it was leaving behind a substantial trail of oil, much of which was blowing out the exhaust. Now the back end of our trailer could double as a grade-school diorama of the Exxon Valdez spill.
However, the puddles thankfully indicate that more is leaking out of the engine’s right side than its left. I don’t know the exact problem there, but people have floated theories: maybe a bad valve cover gasket, maybe a bad return tube seal, or maybe engine bearings. Either way, it sounds bad.
Other problems were discovered during the race. The Type 4 ran really, really lean on gas, for one—good for fuel economy but not so good for anything else. I, a person who’s only ever owned fuel-injected cars, will have to figure out how to adjust the carburetors and richen the fuel flow.
The car ran hot during the race as well, so we definitely need to improve its cooling somehow. I thought about adding on scoops to suck air into the vents. Furthermore, it’s missing the metal piece that separates the engine from the hot exhaust beneath it, so we need to find that part somehow.
The oil cap is also missing, which is a concerning thing not to have when your car is cooled by air and oil.
The usual maintenance items before a race need to be addressed, too. It needs new tires and brakes for sure, plus it had a small vibration in turns, so I’ll need to do new wheel bearings and seals all over just in case.
Additionally, the last owner kept a couple items. I’ll need to dig a tachometer out of my spares. Also, the car needs a seat permanently installed—perhaps set up a bit so shorter drivers like myself will have an easier time. We’re not exactly hurting for head room in there.
I had wondered about finding a manual transmission to swap in place of the slow automatic, finding a missing piece of passenger-side trim and going all-out on redecorating the car, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do those things now. The manual transmission from the Type 4-swapped Type 3 we ran years ago is long gone, and I need the car to merely run before I can even think about mods.
We got hit a couple times during the race, so I’ll need to find a new drivers’ side side marker light cover and secure the trim piece on that side if I have time. Worst case scenario, the tape is doing fine.
I was going to race it in Houston next month, but looking at the list of things that are wrong with it, I’m not so sure we’ll make it in time anymore.
I need to make friends with the David Tracy of old weird Volkswagens if I even hope to get this thing ready to race in Houston again, and I also probably need to strike oil in my yard. If you have any of my missing or broken parts or know where to find them, please let me know!
It’s probably the coolest car I’ve ever owned while also being the scariest thing I’ve ever taken on.