The Volkswagen Scirocco arrived with a dual purpose. It was intended to replace the Karmann Ghia as the affordable sports coupe in VW’s range, and to share a major company image makeover with the forthcoming VW Golf. The VW Beetle was thirty years old.
Moving with the zeitgeist, VW wanted to demonstrate how economy cars could be modified for excitement and performance; but they believed their immediate future success lay in the economy runaround represented by the Golf, so they launched the Scirocco first as a test-bed for any snags that might need to be resolved before the Golf hit the world at large. After all, both cars were based on the same front wheel drive, water-cooled, transverse-engined Al chassis.
VW should not have been surprised that the Scirocco very quickly established its own personality. It was styled by Giugiaro, fresh from the Lotus Esprit and VW’s own Passat. Low-slung and sleek, the Scirocco’s crisp lines were judged more attractive than other, rather half-hearted `super coupes’ beginning to appear (naming would be invidious); and its performance was well beyond respectable, with good reason. Though visually it struck a clever balance between safe, quotidian utility and a dash of hands-on, open-road fun, Karmann was in charge of production.
All the bits that mattered were given a sporty engineering twist, and each of the three power options (1.1, 1.5 and 1.6 litre – a fourth, the later 1.7 litre, was restricted to North America) performed above its weight. There were frequent tweaks during the seven years of the Mark I Scirocco, such as the 1975 quad headlamps, the 1976 single wiper, and the 1978 wraparound black bumper. VW had its mind on other things —and meanwhile the Scirocco was reinforcing its instant classic status by selling half a million.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Germany
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1974 (until 1981) ENGINE: 1,093 cc — 1,588 cc Straight Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 103 mph (166 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 10.3 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: If ever a car had its cool status ratified publicly, it is the Scirocco Mark I featured in George A. Romero’s 1978 humdinger of horror Zombie film classic Dawn of the Dead — where it is seen dodging frantically between the zombies in the shopping mall.