The exotic VW SP2

Last modified on November 12th, 2020 by Martin Sanders

The VW SP2 is a Brazilian 1970s sports car based on the VW Type 3 platform, originating from the VW beetle. Designed by Mr Schiemann, husband and wife team Rudolf and Helga Leiding and Marcio Piancastelli. The stunning VW SP2 built between 1972 and 1976 combines the sleek looks of the Jaguar E-Type and Datsun 240-Z with the rounded rear end reminiscent of the Porsche 911. While this stunning VW has sporting looks, don’t be fooled. The SP2 is a classic cruiser powered by a “pancake” (aka “suitcase”) four-cylinder air-cooled 1700cc engine producing just 75 horsepower when new.

If you have been in the Veedubs scene for any time, you may have seen the gorgeous Karmann Ghia. However, the VW SP2 is an exotic 1970s sports car which deserves the Veedubs spotlight.

VW sports cars

Volkswagen may now be more memorable for its hatchback models; however, VW has created several exciting sports cars. The Karmann Ghia, VW Scirocco and Corrado all come to mind.

To understand the VW SP design, we need to look back to 1970s sports cars, especially those produced in Brazil. 

Volkswagen Brazil subsidiary company had always had independence due to trade embargos on foreign automotive manufacturing. This freedom was especially true during the 1970s when the Brazilian team started work on ‘Project X’ with designs created for the VW SP.

Having a closed market, Brazil experienced a boom in low volume independent car makers creating fun and sleek looking sports cars. While it wasn’t possible to import whole vehicles, independent automakers such as Puma, Santa Matilde, Miura used GM and VW parts to create new designs.

Volkswagen had become popular in Brazilian for manufacturing affordable, reliable and safe cars. By the 1970s the VW Karmann Ghia was coming to the end production. When the director of Puma proposed that because Volkswagen Brazil did not have a new sports car, that they may wish to feature a Puma at the 1969 Brazilian motor show. Volkswagen realised that they were missing an essential model within their lineup. VW concluded that they needed a new model which would restore their sports car status. 

Lead by Mr Schiemann, and designed by husband and wife team Rudolf and Helga Leiding. ‘Project X’ was briefed to produce a sports car design which would appeal in equal measure to woman and men. Marcio Piancastelli, an in-house designer at Volkswagen, received the Leiding SP design sketches and created a prototype based on the VW Type 3, presented as a prototype in 1971.  

Volkswagen’s Brizilian history

‘Volkswagen do Brasil Ltda’ was founded in 1953 to produce Type 1 cars using parts imported from Germany. Operated as a subsidiary, ‘Volkswagen do Brasil Ltda’ has made over 20 million vehicles being a market leader for most of its sixty years in operation.

VW founded the Brazilian subsidiary as a way to allow Volkswagen to sell vehicles in the Brazilian marketplace during an embargo which stopped the shipping of pre-built vehicles. The subsidiary was initially lead by ex-prisoner of war Friedrich Schultz-Wenk who was responsible for overseeing the assembly of imported kits. VW opened its first ‘Volkswagen do Brasil Ltda’ production plant in 1957.

There have been several Brazilian designed vehicles which entered the international market. Such as the Brasília, a rear-engined compact and latterly the Volkswagen Gol. A small entry-level car sold as the Fox in the Northern American markets.

What made the VW SP2 special

The VW SP is a sleek sports cars with a sloping rear, similar to that seen on the Jaguar E-Type and with a rounded rear end which reminds me of the Porsche 911. Being a “pancake” four-cylinder air-cooled 1700cc engine located at the rear the VW SP2 has a clear lineage to the original VW beetle.

Image thanks to Andrés Sebastián Miglio

These attractive lines make the VW SP2 one of the coolest retro Volkswagen’s of its era. The Volkswagen SP2 shared much of its underpinnings with the VW Type 3 and powered by 1700cc air-cooled four-cylinder engine producing 75 hp (56 kW) and positioned at the rear which had become a signature of the VW range since the 1930s. With its pedestrian underpinnings, it may not surprise to see that the VW SP2 has a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) of around 16 seconds.

The entry-level lower-powered Volkswagen SP1 also joined the VW SP2; this model was identical in most areas featuring quad headlights, while the more powerful SP2 had quad headlights with quartz iodine. The SP1 also featured lowly twin Solex carburettors 1600cc engine producing just 65 hp (48 kW). This lesser model was considered a flop at selling only 88 models and so was quickly cut.

Volkswagen’s SP2 designers had created a car suitable for international markets, sleek in looks and calculated in terms of safety. It featured a “collision belt”, front and rear dumpers which were spring-loaded to tolerate collisions approximating 5mph. And a steering wheel which could collapse in a crash and brake hydraulics with the dual circuit. All these safety features made the VW SP2 suitable for international sale, fulling USA regulations at the time.

In total Volkswagen sold 10,205, with 670 exported and 155 going to Nigeria. While the VW SP2 was a great looking car the lack of performance gave the VW SP2 its Portuguese nickname the ‘Sem Potência’, which means ‘without power’.

While not a huge sales success for Volkswagen, being outperformed in terms of sales by a fibreglass bodied car which shared the same running gear made by independent automaker Puma. The VW SP2 has become a highly sought after exotic classic. This rare, unusual automotive slice of VW retro history is a delight to the eyes and has to be on the bucket of any Veedub fan.

VW SP2

Image thanks to Renzo Maia

Why don’t we see more VW SP2s?

It is rare to see a VW SP2 outside of Brazil, rarely exported and built at a time when corrosion protection was at its infancy. You will be hard-pressed to find a VW SP2, especially in Europe where VW only officially exported a single SP2 to Portugal.

If you would like a VW SP2, it is highly likely that you will need to import a car from Brazil. You can expect to pay anywhere from USD 20,000 for a restoration project to USD 70,000 for a fully restored VW SP2. 

Volkswagen SP3

Volkswagen released details for a concept car called the VW SP3; this concept was an attempt to resolve the main issue with the SP2, that being its lack of power. While this concept never went into production, a prototype was built by an independent Brazilian company called Dacon. Dacon later offered conversion kits to Brazilian SP1 and SP2 owners. It is interesting to see that there could have been a 1.8L EA-827 (AP in Brazil) 99 hp @ 6,000 rpm water-cooled version had VW kept the SP design layout. 

How the SP2 continued with Porsche

In a twist to the VW SP2 story, when Volkswagen discovered that the VW SP2 had received positive media coverage. VW Wolfsburg decided to work with Porsche to develop a more powerful version of the sports car. 

Building on the platform and releasing a new VW sports car which would open up the gates to increased house power. The project relocated the engine, moving the motor to front keeping the drive at the rear.

This project was eventually sold to Porsche when the VW company ran into financial difficulties due to the oil crisis of the 1970s, deciding to focus its efforts on the hatchback and Scirocco models. Porsche introduced the 924 in 1976, which later became the beloved Porsche 944. 

Audi produced the entry-level Porsche 924 in Neckarsulm between 1976 and 1988. Introduced to replace the 914, Porsche 924 was a sales success selling 150,000 and became the first fully automatic Porsche.

Image thanks to Vauxford

With this lineage, it may not be so surprising to see VW SP2 with Porsche engine transplants.

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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