(Ed. Note: This was going to start out as a “Top 10″ kind of a story, but there’s so much great archival material out there, it felt like we should run it as a continuing series once a week. Let us know what you think.)
Like many sporty cars that came before it, the Volkswagen Corrado was built with the underpinnings of a more ordinary automobile. The venerable A2 Jetta/Golf provided its chassis and all of its suspension and subframes – with the exception of the VR6 model.
The four-seat, three-door Corrado debuted with two engines available: a 1.8 L, 16-valve, 4-cylinder with 136hp, and a supercharged 1.8 L, 8-valve 4-cylinder, known as the G60, with 160hp.
It’s easy to forget just how exciting the Corrado was when it arrived. Reviews were great, and even now, it’s considered one of the best-driving Volkswagens ever built. This Scirocco replacement was ostensibly the shot in the arm fusty Volkswagen needed to entice an entirely new audience to the brand. It represented style and – gasp – luxury from the brand, and the automotive press embraced it like Julia Roberts muckled onto Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.
The problem was that the Volkswagen Corrado was wildly expensive, especially in supercharged G-Lader G60 form, and even more so in the VR6 flavor. Entry-level trims– when the Corrado hit the scene in the States, two years after its worldwide introduction– would set you back close to $18,000. By the time the Corrado disappeared in the 1994 model year, a fully loaded VR6 ran up to $28,000 in economic doldrum dollars. This is when you could buy a Corvette for $35,000, or the vastly sexier, equally overpriced third-generation Mazda RX-7 for $32,500.
And simultaneously, it was crushingly unreliable. They leaked water inside, they had crappy electrics, second gear synchros were junk, and nobody could rebuild a G-Lader supercharger.
Doubling down on failure, Volkswagen of America was doing anything to get people behind the wheel. In the final year of Corrado sales in the United States, Volkswagen offered the unprecedented “Volkswagen Protection Plus” warranty that covered the Corrado powertrains for the original owner for 10 years or 100,000 miles. It nearly bankrupted the company.
We tend to forget that the late 1980s and the early 1990s were dark, tragic times for Volkswagen of America. In July 1988, the Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, VW plant closed due to sagging sales. On December 21, 1988 – just after the launch of the Corrado – Volkswagen of America CEO James Fuller, and Marketing Director, Lou Marengo, were aboard Pan Am Flight 103 when it was destroyed by a terrorist’s bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland.
By 1993, the brand sold fewer than 50,000 cars here, and it was unclear whether it would continue at all.
The Corrado was a sales disaster. In North America, Volkswagen only delivered 18,648 Corrados between 1989 and 1995, and just under 100,000 worldwide. In the United States, the Corrado was only available between 1990 and 1994.
Consider that the Acura Integra – the Corrado’s biggest competition at the time – sold 262,285 units between 1990 and 1993, and you begin to understand the scale of the Corrado’s floppitude.
Nevertheless, Corrado fans are legion today. We tend to forget that the internet was barely functional when the Corrado launched, and wasn’t really in most households until after the car’s demise, so those fans didn’t have a convenient means of communication then. Today, Corrado club websites are everywhere, with excellent forums and tons of information for DIY mechanics to help improve their cars and sort out issues.
They’re rare today, but if you can find one and look beyond its initial headaches, they’re truly a modern classic.