The Volkswagen Scirocco Mk2 is a Wedge Shaped Coupé That Encapsulates the 1980s
Created at the start of the image-conscious 80s, VW's second-gen Scirocco could be launched by a manufacturer much more secure of its future.
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Last year, you and I looked at the Ford Capri for an old school approach to the affordable coupé in the 1980s, but today, we have a car that took a very different, but in some ways very similar approach to that same market - the Mk2 Volkswagen Scirocco, complete in all of its wedgy goodness.
The original Volkswagen Scirocco was a striking bit of car design, carrying an ultra-modern appearance that instantly drew glances. The straight-edged coupe was famously based on the Golf, but the Scirocco actually predates it by a few months, allowing Volkswagen to iron out any faults in what was an absolutely critical car for the company.
The 1974-vintage Mk1 Scirocco.
But seven years on when it came time to form a replacement, Volkswagen could be a lot more confident in its success. In fact, the original Scirocco had stormed to taking a 15% share in the coupé market in its native West Germany. Therefore, they didn’t need to be radical or shake up the proven recipe. In a remarkable turn in form, Volkswagen absolutely could rest on their laurels when it came to refreshing their coupe. As a result, the Mk2 Scirocco is still based on the original Golf and carries over the majority of its componentry from the old car.
Launched in 1981, the Mk2 Scirocco was the final car launched on the A1 platform, predating the second-generation Golf by a couple of years. But though this was in effect a heavy facelift of the Mk1, this car completely refreshed the Scirocco’s appearance.
The original was penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro, as was the Golf, but for the Mk2, Volkswagen took the styling into their own hands. They’d done the same with a couple of cars already, echoing Giugiaro’s style, and continued that across their next generation of cars.
Though the styling is therefore based on the original, this Mk2 updates the style by a decade. Though not as striking and slightly softer, there’s so much more going on in the design here than there was with the Mk1, and as a result, Volkswagen masked the age of the basic car extremely well. The black plastic wheel arch extensions, side skirts, oversize bumpers, and rear wing on this particular example all add a sense of dynamism and sporting intent vital in attracting customers to a coupe in the image-conscious 1980s. Compare that to the stark, though striking original, and the attitude is completely different.
The Mk2 accentuates its coupe body style through an increase in length by 33cm, allowing it to appear sleeker and much lower than the Mk1 despite a drop of only 5mm. Similarly, the wheel arch extensions add an extra 2cm, and though that’s minimal, it just beefs up the stance of the car that little bit to keep it both fresh and desirable.
Also altered is the glasshouse. The rear windows are much larger, thinning out the rear pillar and increasing visibility, but this also brings the styling more up to date. But the wing that surrounds and cuts through the rear screen is what I feel sets the Scirocco off. Despite the rather conservative overall styling, the contrasting body kit on this example beefs it up to the point where there are zero questions as to which decade this car hails from.
But on a more basic Scirocco that lacks the body kit or an example with it in body colour, instead a seemingly different character emerges. One that, on a body kit equipped car at least, retains a low, sporting stance but combines that with the prettiness and elegance of the simple, Giugiaro-inspired origami style. As it happens, that would be my chosen Scirocco, as I enjoy that origami style and its overall wedginess, but as a piece of history, the car we have here today is more indicative of its era.
And that is the crux of the Scirocco’s appeal. Both the Golf and Scirocco were beautiful designs, but the factor that would push people into buying a Scirocco would be the sleekness, dynamism, and youthfulness implied by the coupe styling and in this case the beefiness of the body kit. That’s where we can relate it to a car like the Ford Capri, chosen as I’ve written about that car before. Though with two very different characters, both these cars use the engineering from an ordinary family car and dress them up in bodywork that’s hard to resist.
The Mk3 Ford Capri. Beefier, but more agricultural than the Scirocco.
What may have increased the Scirocco’s appeal was a Targa-top, and Volkswagen did produce a prototype with a removable roof. That would have been very cool, especially in the form seen in this photograph, but only the Coupe was ever produced. This one does have a sunroof, though. Bring back sunroofs, I say.
A priority of the early 1980s was in finally dealing with the elephant in the room of aerodynamics. For decades, manufacturers had barely attempted to produce slippery shapes, and while the Mk2 Scirocco wasn’t an industry leader, Volkswagen did manage to bring the drag coefficient down from 0.42 on the old car, to 0.38, and that isn’t bad considering it is, in effect, a heavy facelift.
Increasing the car’s aerodynamic efficiency was one of Volkswagen’s two main objectives in the development of the Mk2, and the other was in practicality – which had the opportunity to increase sales directly.
That being said, the Scirocco still doesn't have very much room in the back. Certainly not enough for all 5' 9" of me. In that respect, a Capri would beat it hands down as that car would be comfortable for adults in the back on a cross-continental cruise. But moving around to the back, there's a proper boot, and the kind of person buying a Scirocco would probably prioritise luggage space over rear passengers. There is a penalty to having a Scirocco over a Golf, and compared to one of its German competitors it does fall short, but that’s because the Scirocco is physically smaller, and as I mentioned, having that larger boot is more useful in a car like this than that bit of extra leg room.
Where the Scirocco really does pull ahead of any affordable coupe, though, is in the quality of its design and production. Volkswagen products of the 1970s and 1980s are responsible for the perception today that the group’s cars are a cut above. Today, the story may be different, but in 1981, no doors thunked shut like those on a Volkswagen. Not even a manufacturer like BMW could match that, and though Volkswagens were relatively expensive in the UK, they were viable alternatives to the Fords, Vauxhalls, and Austins the majority of the population was rocking about in. Even these door handles are a work of industrial art. Not designed to be pretty, but they become beautiful with the execution of their engineering.
Like the original Scirocco and the Karmann Ghia that preceded it, the Mk2 Scirocco was built not by Volkswagen, but by Karmann, who at the same time were producing the Golf Cabriolet. Karmann was essentially a contract manufacturer, so companies like Volkswagen would ask Karmann to produce a car for them if their own factories were to capacity or for specialist production techniques. On what was a relatively niche product, it made perfect sense for Karmann to produce the Scirocco for Volkswagen. A similar thing still happens today with companies like Magna Steyr producing cars for Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Jaguar. Karmann was eventually broken up after insolvency proceedings following the financial crisis, and guess who bought most of their production systems? That’s absolutely right, it’s Volkswagen.
Back to the 80s though, and outsourcing the production of a car to a contract manufacturer like Karmann can actually be telling of the final quality of the product. Karmann only made its business through being contracted, so their quality control had to be high, and that has to be a good omen for the Scirocco.
The interior is more of the same. It’s very functional, with no frills, and though some of the plastics are closer to standard levels than I’d expected, the design gets the basics just right. What this dashboard isn’t is nicked out of another Volkswagen. It is unique to the Scirocco, complete with a shallow angle, echoing the sleekness of the body.
The four-spoke steering wheel with the off-centre Volkswagen badge is shared with other VW’s, however, and though the overall grey and black interior theme is rather sober, it seems to suit the serious character of the car. The rows of LEDs in the instrument cluster for the warning lamps are rather quaint, though.
The gear lever is where we start to see the practicalities of a car like this, and why consumers in period were so enamoured by a stylish coupe based on an existing family car rather than opting for something genuinely sporting. The ratios are advertised as 4+E, for economy, and though this car is badged as a GT, for a 1987 car that means poverty spec. That’s why we have the 14” steelies with the hub caps, which predictably I adore. Under the bonnet is a 1595cc overhead cam 8 valve four-cylinder, fed by a carburettor, pushing out around 75 bhp to the front wheels.
Up at the top of the range was the later Scirocco GTX, with the same engine as the Mk2 Golf GTi 16v. With those extra valves, 1.8 litres, and Bosch fuel injection, the 140 hp @ 6100 rpm propelled the Scirocco to 60 mph in about 8 seconds, a time that was really genuinely quick, eclipsing the Scirocco’s competitors. The GTX also benefitted from disc brakes at the back and vented discs up front, stiffer suspension, a thicker rear anti-roll bar, and a front lower strut brace. That’s all attached to the mechanical recipe that made the A1 platform so well-loved and so successful in period. Front-wheel drive with MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam with trailing arms at the back.
It's in this mechanical layout that the Scirocco sets itself apart from the majority of its competition. The aforementioned Ford Capri and its main rival, the Opel Manta, were both slightly larger, and rear-wheel drive, seeming to hail from an era before the Scirocco despite existing at the same time. But the slightly more sophisticated offerings from the Japanese were maybe more in-line with the 1980s, such as the Toyota Celica and Nissan Silvia, though both of these were more powerful than the Scirocco, sticking again with rear-wheel drive. Something else to throw in is the Honda CRX, a little smaller it may have been, but much more equivalent in terms of power, and with front-wheel drive. With this, I’m not particularly looking to compare the Scirocco, but to put out there that in the decade of the hot hatch, there were still a number of cool coupes out there for the taking, but Volkswagen’s Scirocco does a better job of sophistication than any of the above. And most importantly, it’s an illustration of Volkswagen during the decade in which they cemented their reputation in the UK.
I must add that I was very kindly invited to photograph/video this Scirocco by Tim at Stockley Classics, as the car is currently for sale! If you're interested, then please do check out their website:
Classic car sales - what we do. A lifetime's interest in classic cars has led Tim Ashworth to set up Stockley Classics - offering a range of value for money classic cars from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Whether you are looking for a classic car that's a project or a classic that's been overhauled and is 'ready to go'
If you enjoyed this article, then please do consider checking out my YouTube channel, Twin-Cam where I have a more in-depth video version.