By Stuart Grant with photography by Oliver Hirtenfelder
VW has a tradition of naming its water-cooled cars after winds. There’s the Golf (German for gulf and short for Gulf Stream Wind), the Bora (a cold Hungarian wind blowing onto the Adriatic Sea), the Passat (a trade wind) and the Scirocco. Scirocco is a hot, humid wind originating as dry desert air over Northern Africa, flowing northward into the southern Mediterranean basin.
In 1974 Volkswagen introduced the MKI Scirocco, a few months before the debut of the MkI Golf. It proved a sensation as it replaced the ageing Karmann Ghia and introduced and entirely new era in VW design. Penned by Italian Giorgio Giugiaro, the Scirocco shared a platform with and offered styling clues for the coming Golf. You have to love the MkI interior too: with the likes of tartan seat covers and plush red carpeting it was a match for any shagpile ʼ70s designer home. A three-spoke steering wheel and additional gauges in the hotter versions kept the appearance racy.
With a wedge shape, low belt line and Bürzel spoiler, the original Scirocco had a combination of classic sports car proportions and unpretentious looks. Moving forward in the technology department, VW threw out its air-cooled lump and replaced it with a transverse water-cooled engine. The overhead valves were operated by a quiet running belt, and at the front independent McPherson suspension was added. The rear was really innovative with a semi-independent set-up. Initially Volkswagen offered the coupé with three engines: 1.1-litre with 37kW and 1.5-litre with 51kW and 63kW, but an 81kW GTI and GLI version followed later.
Motorsport formed a hefty portion of Scirocco marketing. In 1976, Volkswagen Motorsport in Hannover issued a special series of 50 cars for the newly established Junior Cup. Like VW’s Polo Cup, the series gave youngsters a launching platform, with a number going on to even greater things. Most famous of the Junior Cup bunch was future Formula 1 pilot Manfred Winkelhock. For current historic racers it is interesting to note that the Junior Cup cars made 81kW, had bolt-in roll cages, full interiors, road rubber and production-spec bodywork. The stripped-out, flared-arch versions you might have seen competed in European Touring Cars as well as the USA Trans-AM Series. The Scirocco proved so successful in the Trans-Am that VW soon began to promote the road car as ‘The Racing Volkswagen’.
Road users weren’t left out of the performance picture – the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel-injected GTI and GLI models went on sale in 1976. The GLI had the same 81kW unit under the bonnet but was more luxurious with bronze-tinted windows, high-end fabrics and metallic paint. In 1978 there was a subtle facelift: front indicators became wraparound, metal bumpers made way for plastic, and black B-pillars and a decorative frame on the grille were added. Things stayed like this until the end of 1981, when the last of the 504 153 MkI cars left the Karmann factory and the MkII Scirocco was launched.
Like the MkI, the second-generation Scirocco was based on the Golf I platform and produced by Karmann. It was bigger, more aerodynamic, more efficient and sold under tags like “If it was just beautiful, it would not come from us” or “Please excuse us for talking about savings in the company of such exciting cars”. While around 120 Mk1 Sciroccos were sold in SA, the MkII was not sold locally (although a few imported examples have been spotted here and there). Production of the MkII stopped at 291 497 units in September 1992 and VW unleashed its replacement – the Corrado. Then, in 2009, an all-new Scirocco was launched.
Like with the original, designers of the third-generation Scirocco shared the Golf underpinnings of the time and kept its sportiness. All the good Golf GTI stuff was there but because the new model was wider and lower, it felt much more like a sports car. This was VW’s first dedicated two-door coupé for years and had a much more athletic feel than its souped-up hatchback sibling.
The winds of change meant that production of the Scirocco finally ended for good in 2017 but the legacy of this racy VW lives on.