OK, here's a sobering thought: The last brand-new Volkswagen Sciroccos sold in North America were 1988 models. That makes the newest cars in this buyers guide at least 17 years old. What's more, because the first generation of Volkswagen's first true sports car was introduced in 1974, some of the cars I will be talking about have been around for more than 30 years. For those of us who have admired and coveted the Giugiaro-designed, origami-styled coupe, it just doesn't seem possible they are really that old. But I'm already getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.
At the end of the 1960s, Volkswagen was in deep trouble. Although the legendary and iconoclastic VW Beetle was still selling well (1970 was a record sales year in North America), it was clear the outdated aircooled engine would never be able to pass upcoming emissions standards. The basic design of the Beetle dated from the 1930s, and it was time for the company to come to grips that it needed a replacement. Dozens of concepts were examined, but ultimately a front-wheel drive design with a transverse watercooled engine, styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign, won out. This would become the Volkswagen Golf (Rabbit in the United States) and ultimately was destined to set a new course for VW and outsell even the original Beetle. In addition to the Golf (Rabbit), Giugiaro penned a striking 2+2 coupe based on the same Golf platform. Unlike Volkswagen's previous Karmann Ghia, which was more of a boulevard car, this tightly drawn coupe had the makings of a real sports car. Called Scirocco (named after a wind from the North African coast), the car actually went into production in 1974, ahead of the Golf. It was built in Karmann's Osnabrfck factory in Germany, the same plant that built Karmann Ghias and VW Beetle Cabriolets.
The First GenerationLike the Rabbit, the original VW Scirocco had a 1,471cc, 70-bhp watercooled four-cylinder engine placed transversely at the front of a lightweight unit body. The transmission was the same four-speed manual found in the Rabbit. The front suspension used MacPherson struts, solid front disc brakes, and rack and pinion steering with a tight 3.25 turns lock-to-lock. At the rear the Scirocco had drum brakes and used the Rabbit's pressed-steel torsion beam axle with coil springs and an integral anti-roll bar. It was simple but effective, and the lightweight Scirocco quickly drew praise for its handling prowess. The Scirocco's 13-inch tires, although on the small side, were up to the task. By today's standards the VW sports car wasn't very fast, with a zero to 60 mph time of 12.7 seconds, but compared to other sports cars of its day like the MGB or Triumph Spitfire, it could hold its own. The early cars were fitted with a single Zenith carburetor and suffered from the same drivability problems that vexed early Volkswagen Rabbits. Like those early Rabbits, the early Sciroccos were also prone to rusting, a problem VW fought for years to remedy. Soon after production began, Volkswagen set about correcting the problems and improving the cars.
First generation models1974-1975-These were the first cars, the ones with the Zenith carburetor and only 70 hp from the 1,471cc engine. The interiors on these early cars were loud and garish in the 1970s style, but even that momentary fashion miscue can't detract from the taut, stylish lines of Giugiaro's design.
1976-The engine size increased to 1,555cc and a single windshield wiper replaced the two used in the earlier cars. The bigger engine provided no real usable increase in performance, and cold start and drivability problems remained.
1977-1978-Big news! Bosch fuel injection replaced carburetion and improved the Scirocco's drivability issues. The interior also improved, becoming more restrained and stylish rather than loud and garish. The front vent windows became fixed and no longer opened.
1979-1981-Another increase in engine size, this time to 1,588cc and 76 hp, didn't quite offset the increase in curb weight that came from a new optional five-speed manual transmission and the addition of air conditioning. The five-speed made the cars more pleasant to drive, but performance had not improved. The interiors were better still, with Recaro seating options and packages available with different alloy wheels, bigger front air dams and larger tires.