Curbside Classic: 1982 VW Scirocco Mk II – We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Italian Designers

Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall. (Pride before the fall). The gen1 Scirocco (CC here) is a gem, one of those rare cars that has always looked good since it first appeared in 1974. It’s crisp, dynamic, and as and tight and tidy as a lacquered jewel box. One of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s finer mass-consumption pieces, it and his companion Golf Mk1 made a brilliant twosome. It would be hard to find two more enduring cars, especially considering that they arrived in the mid seventies, a low point in American and Japanese design. No one will ever say the same about its successor Mk II.

When it came time to consider a replacement for the do the Mk I, VW’s priorities were more passenger and luggage space, and better aerodynamics. But VW didn’t just press the speed-dial number for Ital Design.  VW had survived its most difficult crisis thanks in part to Giugiaro’s masterpieces, and that irrepressible German–how shall we say it delicately?–self-confidence had fully re-emerged.

A sort of design competition took place, with several in-house designs considered along with one from Giugiaro, whose proposal apparently strongly echoed his original Mark 1. It was rejected in favor of the home-baked one. More interior space indeed, but that came at quite a price.

Obviously, the Scirocco II was meant to be the companion toy to the Mk II Golf (above), which was also designed in-house. Being that the Golf is the quintessential German car, the Golf II works, well enough. It too will never go down in history like the Golf I for its timeless design, but it’s adequate enough, and expresses its practical and conservative German roots.

But a sporty coupe is another thing altogether, and the Scirocco II would be VW’s first stab at such a thing. The brilliant and classic Karmann Ghia was outsourced for a very good reason. It established an Italo/VW tradition that would have been better to keep going.

The Mark 2 looks like it had collagen injections; all the sharp edges and tight skin have been softened and rounded, and that brilliant C-pillar and door-stop wedge shape tossed out. In its place are elongated rear side windows, and a drooping rear hatch with glass bisected by the spoiler, one of the earlier examples of its kind on a mass-production car. Better rear visibility indeed; how practically German is that?

As someone who’s always complaining about visibility, the Mark 2 definitely offers an improvement in that regard. And of course, it benefited from the improvements in engine capacity and outputs. That really applies to the later 16 valve versions, which upped the performance ante considerably.

The Scirocco 2 appeared in the US in 1982, with a carry-over 1715 cc 74 hp engine from its predecessor. That was a less than stellar start, considering that the lighter Mark 1 had about the same horsepower almost ten years earlier. In mid 1983, the Wolfsburg edition had the 90 hp 1.8 L engine as used in the US GTI. A long-overdue step in the right direction. This JH engine would power the basic Scirocco through its final US appearance in 1989.

The 16 valve 1.8 finally arrived here in 1986. The unsmogged Euro version had a healthy 139 hp, but even the US version’s 123 hp was healthy kick in the rear. Given the Scirocco’s light weight and excellent handling, there was plenty of fun on tap.

The Scirocco 2 just never sold adequately in the US. Its styling wasn’t that bad, really; but it also just didn’t sparkle like the Mark 1. Performance came along too late, and the mid-late eighties were the glory years for the Prelude, Celica and the other Japanese coupes, not to mention the Miata. The tide had shifted, and the Scirocco reflected the general malaise that engulfed VW in the US for all too-long.

The Mark 2 undoubtedly makes for a fun cheap toy, given the huge range of options available for upgrades. But one sees very few around, and they just don’t generate the love that the Mark 1 does. This particular example is not exactly typical, given the unique touches it has garnered. Let’s just say it reflects the Mark 2′s status perfectly: you’d never see a Scirocco Mark 1 given this treatment.