Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Masterpiece Ahead of its Time

I bought my Volkswagen Corrado in 1999 at a shady used car lot in Portland, OR. At the time I didn't know what I was getting myself into. A recent college grad and a fan of Volkswagens, I was looking for something practical, something like a Golf or a Jetta. 

I didn't know much about the Corrado, but I knew it turned heads. At $6000, my Rado was cheaper than the reliable Golfs and Jettas I was finding. Sure, it was ragged out, but I was young, stupid, and had graduation money burning a hole in my pocket. 

Still, the Corrado eluded me. The son of a mechanic, I was no stranger to quirky cars. I'd dealt with glow plugs, a truck with "FARM USE" spray-painted on the tailgate, and Saab's unfortunately placed ignition. I'd even driven a stick on the column. 

But at the time, to me, the Corrado was just a successor to the Scirocco. A Golf that had been flattened and stretched. Like many others, even as a Volkswagen fanboy, I held the bias that Volkswagen didn't truly design performance sport cars from the ground up. 

I couldn't have been more wrong.

While purists may disagree (or maybe they will agree), the Corrado stands as Volkswagen's one and only true sports car. Yes, the GTI is fast, but it's always been a fast Golf or Rabbit. The Scirocco was a 2x2 available with performance engines, but it also came in varying degrees of bland. 

To date, the Corrado is Volkswagen's only car that was designed with the sole purpose of being fast. It makes sense, even in Volkswagen's storied history of modular practicality, because the Corrado isn't a Volkswagen at all. Built by Karmann, the Corrado was designed as a successor to the Porsche 944, and that is exactly what it is.


I'll never forget where I was when I noticed the spoiler. Heading downtown on Highway 26, I glanced to a friend in the backseat when I saw it. "I didn't know I had a spoiler." When I got out, the spoiler was gone. Throughout the day it would be there on the highways. At the stop lights, nothing. 

Finally I dug out the manual and there it was, as was the inconspicuous switch under the steering wheel. While just a blip on what this beast was truly capable of, I knew I had found a very unique car, and I knew that this was more than "just a Volkswagen." 

The Corrado's history is a torrid one. Because of Volkswagen's reputation for practicality, when the Corrado was offered, no one wanted to shell out the kind of cash it was asking. Not when they could get a BMW for the same price, even if it was a boring 3-series. People didn't get it.

In 1999, five years after the last Corrado rolled off the assembly line in Osnabruck, people still didn't get it.

Even with its badged grill, people would pull up to me at stoplights and ask, "What is that thing?" When I replied, "a Volkswagen Corrado," I'd get a "No way that's a Volkswagen!" Those who knew better knew what to say, "Damn, man, that's a Corrado! Make the spoiler go up!" 

Fast as ****.

I've driven everything from classic Benz's to Turbo Saabs, and I've never felt as cool as I did at any moment in my G60. And at the time, I feel I never fully appreciated it. Maybe it's because I was a 22 year old idiot, or maybe it's because it was frustratingly unreliable. But 16 years later, I'd give anything to drive it again.

Not long after I bought the Corrado, I moved back to Virginia. My cross-country drive is where I discovered just how powerful she was. Even in its ragged condition, its 100,000+ miles, I got it up to 145MPH driving across Wyoming. She may have fought me through a bumper-to-bumper Hillsboro commute, but cruising above 90 on the Great Plains is where she loved to play, smooth as a brand new Boeing.

I don't think I would drive across country in anything else. 

But the Volkswagen Corrado was more than just a piece of my own humble history, it was also a part of Volkswagen's. Prior to 1989, the car company's history was painfully practical. For decades, the company offered its "Types," essentially varied flavors of the same car with few exceptions. 

When Volkswagen finally broke from its mold, it tried to reinvent itself, but it quickly fell back into bad habits. It found itself offering the same varying incarnations of one model, this time the less successful Rabbit: a truck, a convertible, the Fox, the Vanagon. Sure, they looked different, but Volkswagen was playing the same game. Your car might have come with a bed and a stove, but it was still a Volkswagen.

The Corrado was something new. It bridged the gap between what Volkswagen had been since its inception and the dynamic company it would become. While my G60 deserves its place in history, it was Corrado's VR6 SLC that would really change Volkswagen's game and carry the company into the '90s and beyond. 

The subtle changes between the G60 and the VR6, its wider face, its rounded hood, would ultimately find a more profitable place in Volkswagen's new era, its Golfs and Jettas of the 1990s that led to some of the most popular cars on the road today. 

Still, even as Volkswagen has grown into one of the most successful car companies in the world, they still carry around a stigma of practicality and suffer from a lack of diversity. Maybe some of that comes from the way Americans look at European car companies. While we readily distinguish between a Chevrolet and a Cadillac, we can't look at an Eos, a Phaeton, even a Corrado, without seeing a Beetle or a Jetta. 

That's unfortunate, because when Volkswagen isn't offering reliable predictability, they've managed to make some exceptional automotive masterpieces. 

Sure, a stock G60 might not beat a GTI in a street race, but everyones' eyes are gonna be on the Corrado. 25 years later, it's still got street cred. 

Lately, I've been perusing the pages of CraigsList and eBay for another Corrado. For now you can find a reliable one for around $3000 to $5000, or a mint one for $10,000, that is if you can find one.

Don't count on that lasting very long. With luxury and performance cars from the '70s and '80s finding their place in car shows and the history books, the Corrado - its unique features and short-lived production - is easily a future classic. If you find one, snag it. If you have one, don't let it go. I know I wish I had never parted ways with my fast and furious Corrado.


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