Scirocco: VW’s wind of change…

Note: this is a slightly amended version of the first draft of a piece I wrote for a client…who promptly rejected it! Feeling unwell with the flu, I’d contrived to wander a little from the job spec. Cue a rewrite…

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A peaceful revolution took place at Volkswagen in the early 1970s, one which would have radical and long-lasting consequences. From being a manufacturer of rather dated rear-engined cars with air-cooled engines, VW rapidly became known as constructor of modern, capable and efficient vehicles. The European car industry would never be the same again.

One of those new cars, a three-door coupé named after a fierce desert wind, the Scirocco, was introduced in 1974 as a replacement for the stylish but obsolescent Karmann Ghia. Based on the same platform as the impending VW Golf, the Scirocco’s crisp, Giugiaro-penned lines were the perfect avatar for its maker’s reinvention.

The performance of early Sciroccos didn’t quite live up to their looks, however, with only the 1.5 litre, 85 bhp version being able to offer a reasonable turn of pace (104mph, 0-60 in 11.1 seconds) by the standards of the day.

VW was, however, on the case, and 1976 saw the arrival of the 1.6 litre, fuel-injected, 110bhp Scirocco GTI. Coupled with the Scirocco’s light weight, this new engine propelled it to 60mph from rest in 8.1 seconds and enabled it to outdrag a 3.0 litre Ford Capri over the standing 400m sprint.

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The arrival of this pocket rocket was preceded by a single-season racing series, the Scirocco Junior Cup. Fifty specially prepared Sciroccos with the GTI engine were sold (at a loss) to racers aged under 30, who then, along with selected guest drivers, participated in an 8 race series. Two of the participants in the series, Manfred Winkelhock (who won four of the eight races) and Keke Rosberg (who appeared as a guest driver), went on to race in F1. Winkelhock tragically lost his life in 1985, but Rosberg went on to become the 1982 F1 World Champion.

In 1981, a mark 2 Scirocco was launched. This continued to use the Golf mark 1 platform but featured a curvier, roomier and more aerodynamically efficient body than the outgoing model. The second generation Scirocco struggled, however, to make the same sort of impact as its predecessor. Although it still cut the mustard in terms of style, the mark 2 Scirocco faced increasingly stiff competition from an ever-growing array of hot hatchbacks that could often match or better its performance, were more practical and were usually a little cheaper to buy.

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When VW’s response to the challenge posed by the armada of hot hatchbacks finally came in 1986, it was in the shape of the 16V, LHD-only GTX model. With 136 bhp at its disposal, the GTX’s performance (128mph, 0-60 in 7.8 seconds) was at least a match for the best of its rivals.

With the Scirocco looking rather venerable towards the end of the late 1980s, VW introduced a new coupé, the Corrado. Based on the same platform as the mark 2 Golf, the Corrado was bigger, heavier and considerably more expensive than the Scirocco, which remained in production as a cheaper alternative until 1992.

As with both marks of Scirocco, the Corrado suffered from a somewhat underwhelming choice of engines at launch, with the base 1.8 litre, 136bhp 16V unit being supplemented by a 160 bhp supercharged powerplant. The latter unit, which powered the Corrado G60 model, was something of a curiosity. For starters, VW had chosen to mate the supercharger to the less powerful 8V version of the 1.8 litre engine. And then there was the supercharger itself. Rather than use an established type of supercharger, VW had plumped for one that they had designed themselves. It was, alas, a unit that suffered from excessive wear, resulting in both impaired performance and reliability issues. And to add insult to injury, the G60 wasn’t that much quicker than the 16V. But if the engines were a little underwhelming, the Corrado’s handling was exactly the opposite. Grip levels were high and the chassis quickly revealed itself to be a great communicator.

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In 1992, VW came up with another clever idea to boost the Corrado’s performance. This time, though, it worked. A direct replacement for the G60, the new Corrado VR6 boasted a narrow-angle V6 engine that was lighter than a conventional V6 and almost as smooth as a straight-six. More pertinently, it gave the Corrado the performance that it had been crying out for, with a top speed of over 140mph and the ability to dash from rest to 60mph in around 7 seconds. It received a rapturous reception from press and public alike.

Ultimately, however, the Corrado never sold in anything like the numbers that either of its predecessors had managed, due in no small part to its price tag. When production ended in 1995, just 97,000 Corrados had left the production lines. By way of comparison, a little more than 500,000 mark 1 and just over 340,000 mark 2 Sciroccos had been built.

VW chose not to replace the Corrado, and it would be thirteen long years before their range included a coupé model. Care to guess what they called that car…