The VW Scirocco

Last modified on November 12th, 2020 by Martin Sanders

Images thanks to abge-ranzt-scirocco.

The VW Scirocco has remained with Volkswagen over three generations. The Volkswagen Scirocco is a compact four-passenger (2+2), front-engine, front-wheel-drive sports coupé. A constant name in the VW lineup between 1974 to 1992 and 2008 until 2017. 

As there is so much love for this sleek coupe, I through it would be fun to look at the VW Scirocco. 

Volkswagen released the Scirocco in the 1970s; the car formed part of VWs new lineup to replace the ageing Beetle and Karmann Ghia. A decade which saw great VW names such as the Passat meaning “Trade Wind”, Golf/Rabbit “Golf stream” and Polo “Polar wind”. While VW launched the mk1 Polo during this same period, the Polo design wasn’t actually a direct VW concept, being inherited from NSU and Audi.

The Scirocco name comes from “hot winds that blow across from the meditation to Europe” which sets the scene of this sporty front-wheel-drive fore-cylinder Veedub.

VW Scirocco mk1 (Typ 53) 1974

The first Scirocco was a boxy but sleek design which replaced the ageing Karmann Ghia in the early 1970s. Italian automobile designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, an Italdesign founder, presented the design concept to VW using the A1 platform. An interesting twist to the Ghia story is that VW wasn’t initially keen on the Scirocco design and if it hadn’t been for Ghia offering to part-fund the coupe, we would never have seen this cool car. It is also reasonable to believe that Ghia had recognised that the Karmann Ghia was now very dated, so they needed a new model to stay in work.

You may not be surprised to hear that Giorgetto was also responsible for designing the VW Mk1 Golf/Rabbit and Passat. By the time Volkswagen had commissioned Italdesign, Giorgetto was famous for creating a string of attractive sports cars design during the 1960s such as Alfa Romeo 105/115 Series Coupés and Maserati Ghibli. By the 1970s Giorgetto had moved on from sweeping lines to embrace a more angular wedge look called the “folded paper”, this can be seen best in the designs for the Delorean, BMW M1 and Lotus Esprit S1.

The 1970s VW Scirocco was released on sale in Europe in 1974 and North America in 1975. Volkswagen put the mk1 Scirocco into production several months before the mainstream Mk1 Golf/Rabbit. VW decided to test their new production methods at Karmann with the sporty Scirocco before moving into the mainstream VW Mk1 Golf/Rabbit manufacturing.

Public reaction to the VW Scirocco was positive; critics claimed that it was the first genuinely sporty Volkswagen. The VW SP2 which went on sale in 1972 must-have slipped their minds. 

Volkswagen produced the mk1 Scirocco between 1974 and 1980 seeing VW sell around half a million coupes. To put this into perspective, the Mk Golf/Rabbit sold a total of 6.8 million units. As you can see the Mk1 Golf/Rabbit sales stats far outpaced the VW Scirocco, however, this may not be so surprising when we consider the broader appeal due to the Golf/Rabbit’s hatchback practicality.

If you were lucky enough to have been purchasing your VW Scirocco in 1974, you could have opted for a Scirocco “L” or “S” (50bhp and 70 PS) featuring rectangular headlights. Or if you had deeper pockets, the desirable “TS” with four round headlights and 85 PS (84bhp; 63 kW) could have been yours. It was not unusual to see enthusiastic Scirocco owners changing their rectangular headlamps for the more sporty rounded headlights.

However, if you wanted a 1970s VW Scirocco with real power, the Scirocco GTi entered into production in 1976 with its high-revving, 81 kW / 110 bhp 1600cc engine. Coming a few months ahead of the favoured Mk1 Golf/Rabbit GTI this VW Scirocco GTI earns a footnote in GTI history as being the first Volkswagen to wear this beloved sporting marker.

The Mk1 VW Scirocco was a genuinely international model for VW, selling in Asia, America and Europe. The car regularly appears in different markets with various trim levels which isn’t uncommon with automotive manufacturers. Trim options for Scirocco Mk1 included “GTE”, “GLI”, “GT”, “TS”, “LS”, “S”, “Storm” (UK only), “Sidewinder”, “Sidewinder II”, “Champagne Edition” and the “Champagne Edition II”. There was even a convertible concept which never went into production due to Volkswagen’s concern over potching sales from the stunning VW Mk1 Golf/Rabbit cabriolet.

VW Scirocco mk2 (Typ 53B) 1981

The mk2 VW Scirocco was an in-house affair, designed by Herbert Schäfer who had just formed the new studio at Wolfsburg Germany. 

It is was said that Herbert was never a fan of the mk1 Scirocco design so he must have been keen to improve the Italdesign Giorgetto Giugiaro designs. The Wolfsburg designers made the mk2 body broader and more practical by providing occupants with more headroom, at the same time, keeping the original A1 platform. VW had also improved the drag coefficiency making the new Scirocco 10% more slippery than its mk1 predecessor.

Volkswagen had by 1981 developed a new range of engines, there were in fact 11 different engine versions used during the production cycle between 1981 to 1992. During the 11-year lifespan of production at Karmann, VW sold just 291,497 coupes.

While many people feel the mk2 Volkswagen Scirocco design lost its Italian flair, as a child of the 1980s, I always thought it looked like a Delorean, especially when in silver. I’m sure, Giorgetto would have found this amusing as he had also penned the Delorean.

The Scirocco was a popular model in VWs 1980s lineup, with versions being made available from a leisurely 1272cc 44 kW (60 PS) to a 1800cc 178bhp with 16v borrowed from the Golf GTI. There was also a radical Rocco who had twin-engine producing 180bhp each mated which sadly never made it into full production.

In 1988 the Volkswagen Corrado was launched which bought about the end of the Scirocco. Both models co-existed for a total of 4 years with the VW Corrado offered as a more premium above the Scirocco. By the early 1990s the Scirocco was looking dated and so in 1992 Volkswagen decided to retire the Scirocco name.

VW Scirocco mk3 (1K8) 2008

In 2006 Volkswagen announced that they were going to reinvent the Scirocco, things had moved on in the past 14 years, but the Scirocco name had broad appeal with the public and Veedub enthusiasts. 

Having ceased production of the Corrado in 1995 VW was now one of the few European carmakers not to have a coupe within their lineup. With a clear gap within the range, what could be better than reintroducing the Scirocco?  

The new mk3 Scirocco used the PQ35 platform taken from the popular mk5 Golf/Rabbit and was produced in the AutoEuropa plant, Portugal. Volkswagen released the new Scirocco design to the public at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show. 

Volkswagen’s third Scirocco was a modern take on the classic coupe design, being an entirely new concept the new Scirocco inherited little from the original Scirocco other than the VW badge. The car was popular and introduced the coupe styling to a new generation of drivers. The VW Scirocco was sadly never offered in the North American markets due to VWs prefered fwd model being the VW Golf GTI. 

The Scirocco underwent a mild facelift in 2014, seeing the introduction of the notable GTS model which featured the same sporting 265 PS (195 kW; 261 hp) engine that featured in the mk7 Golf. Volkswagen had struggled to keep the three-door VW Scirocco model in line with the VW Golf, and by 2017 the PQ35 platform and Scirocco styling were struggling to keep.

When competing with the likes of Audi’s TT and the BWM 3 series coupe the VW Scirocco no longer appeared competitive, the Scirocco was regularly fulling behind Golf upgrades and so was dropped from the VW range.

Volkswagen has developed a niche within the coupe sector with its luxury-focused Passat CC. Interestingly both cars shared many parts such as the extra-wide rear axle and were both born at the same time.

Given that may motoring journalist and VW owners still admire the VW three-door coupe concept, I’m sure the Volkswagen will be reigniting the Scirocco winds.

Martin Sanders

A big fan of all things VW, establishing the Veedubs brand and website, sharing his interests in regular blog posts. Martin Sanders also works as a graphic designer, his work can be seen here.

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