Northern German winds

Wolfsburg, translating into “Wolves’ castle”, is a northern German town known as the home of Volkswagen (hereinafter VW). I’ve never been to Wolfsburg so I can’t really say if it should also be famous as a particularly windy town. Its geographical location in the middle of the country suggests it shouldn’t, VW’s model naming over the years however very much suggest it should! Starting with the Golf (from the Gulf stream) over the Jetta (from the jet stream), the Polo (from the polar winds), the Passat and then of course the Golf’s mechanical twin dressed up like a sports coupé, the Scirocco, we end up with the Corrado (from, well, actually nothing at all). The Corrado was a break with VW’s naming convention given the name is invented and has no meaning, but it has the benefit of sounding Italian, something that’s never hurt any sports car. Luckily the car itself is not invented but very real and a bit of a gem, which is the reason we’ll look closer at it this week!

The Corrado is actually smaller than a modern compact car

Through the Piëch owner family VW is obviously closely related to Porsche, and in fact VW’s first two tries at a sports car both ended up under the Porsche rather than the VW brand, following some probably quite heated discussions in the respective board rooms: the first was the almost forgotten Porsche 914, the second the not much liked 924. The third time around VW resorted to simpler tactics, taking all the mechanics from the Golf and then asking Giugiaro to design a coupe-like body. So he did and the car was called Scirocco and built in two series between 1974 and 1992.

Second series cars are slightly re-designed and carry lots of plastic spoilers, wings and other things that were far cooler then than now. They were however also a showcase for new VW technology, notably its first 16-valve engine. This had the slight disadvantage of making the Scirocco expensive, and as VW had more ideas on new technology they wanted to test, they therefore saw a need to develop a new sports car positioned higher in price and sell it in parallel to the Scirocco, until a new, cheaper model could replace it. Enters the Corrado in 1986 as the more exclusive car, but VW never managed to build the intended Scirocco replacement, so the Corrado and the aging Scirocco would be sold in parallel until the latter was discontinued in 1992.

Leather seats add a bit of flair to the otherwise quite gloomy interior…

Design-wise the Corrado goes back to the first Scirocco series, basically looking like its body-builder brother, but with a lot of the original lines still preserved. I wouldn’t call it timeless like some other cars from the time, but it definitely looks good and has the right proportions. It also has a rear spoiler that deploys at speed to reduce wind drag, not much to brag about today but excessively cool in the late 80’s, and a feature that was applied to the Corrado before it was so on the 911 (964)!

Underneath the body, the car was however very much the second series Scirocco, meaning a Golf II. Logically therefore it was praised for its practicality but also for its handling, steering and gearshift. VW were however serious in making the Corrado a showcase for new technology, and the only available version of the car therefore had the new G60 engine. With 158 hp, the output of the 1.8 litre four-cylinder was perhaps reasonable, but given the Corrado was far heavier than the old Scirocco with the less powerful 16V engine, it lost more than a second in the sprint to 100 km/h. Not great news for a more expensive car intended to showcase new engine technology…

The most compact V6 ever seen (at least until then)!

VW thus needed a new engine before all potential clients went away and bought a Honda Prelude instead. The problem was however that the Corrado is a small car with not much space for really anything more than a 1.8 litre, four-pot which was already supercharged. But of course this was a German car, so it wasn’t long until a bunch of German engineers put their minds together and solved the problem. What do you do when there’s no room neither for a larger volume four-cylinder engine, nor for a straight or V6? Einfach (easy)! You reduce the angle of the V until it basically looks like an I. Maybe not quite, but they went from the typically 60 or 90 degrees of a typical V6 to as little as 15, putting the six cylinders close enough to use a single cylinder head.

This increased the volume to 2.9 litres and the power to 190 hp. The engine was named VR6 with V for the V-shape and R for “Reihen”, i.e. straight in German, as the engine had the same firing order as a straight six. It thus ran smoother and sounded better than a typical V6 and more power meant the Corrado was now a second quicker than the Scirocco to 100 km/h at 6.4 seconds, and managed a top speed of 225 km/h. Not only that, when the Corrado VR6 was introduced in 1991, it was part of the Corrado facelift and now based on the Golf III rather than II as the predecessor, basically meaning even better handling and weight distribution. Everything was thus pretty great, except for one thing: the price.

Good things don’t come for free and the inflation Corrado prices went through during production years 1988-1995 resembles what we experience these days. The Corrado VR6 was in the end more than 30% more expensive than the original, G60 car. Realizing the problem, VW also offered the car in the cheaper 16V version, which wasn’t however what people wanted given it had far less power. In the end this meant Corrado sales numbers were far below what VW had hoped for – in the last two production years, less than 6.000 cars were built. The effect of that a few years later is usually that residual values are kept high, and here the Corrado is no exception.

A good VR6, which you’ve hopefully understood by now is the one you want, starts at around EUR 25.000. There are cars out there but the offer isn’t unlimited, and finding the right one will take some digging. Except for the Corrado VR6 being a great car, it’s obviously also great that it’s mechanically pretty much a Golf, meaning help is as close as the next VW garage and parts shouldn’t be a problem. Chances are however you won’t need them as the Corrado may be a VW, but it also comes from the best era of German manufacturing. It’s a very solid car but one that looks and drives with more feeling and inspiration than a VW usually does, and also carries a more exotic name!

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