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1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

Part 1: A Quick Look At Vw's Last Sports Car

Oct 1, 2003
Epcp_0310_01_z+1987_corrado_vr6+rear_view Photo 1/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

I don't remember much of what happens in day-to-day life, or rather, I choose not to. In retrospect, however, I do remember every car I've owned, their specifications, modifications and the interaction they had with my family. And though I can recall most of my first house, I remember more what my BMW 2002 looked like parked in its driveway. My wife pointed out how most of our family photos seem to include a piece of a car. As shallow as this may seem, my life's focal points are marked by cars. Over the last 24 years, I've owned more than 11 of them, and that's a lot of memories, both sad and glad.

One of the glads was working on Project GTI 16V. The goal was nothing more than to make it a better car, and over a year's time, I did just that. It made me happy to envision what I'd do next, which part I'd put where, and the roads I'd eventually conquer with it. In the end, Project GTI had morphed from a total piece of shit to a genuine screamer. The goal was realized, the project complete.

Epcp_0310_02_z+vw_corrado+interior Photo 2/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

But, after it had left my garage for greener pastures, it also left a void. I had no automotive goal-I had nothing mechanical to fixate on, no outlet for my car craziness. So I chose to get another project car going. It won't get me the Nobel Prize or my picture in Fortune, but it sure as hell takes the edge off everyday life.

Over the last 12 months, I'd been fixated on two cars-the 964-chassis 911 and the Corrado VR6. A clean 1987-89 911, which represents the zenith of that wonderful model, goes for anywhere from $14k to $20k . A better shifter, G-50 gearbox, stout 3.2-liter Motronic-controlled engine and great ergonomics make the 911 a great buy. The Corrado VR6 was second on this short list. They range from $4k to $9k. I'd been in love with the design since the first spy shots leaked from Germany, and, as for the engine, the narrow-angle six can be very entertaining.

Epcp_0310_01_z+vw_corrado+front Photo 3/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

In the end I chose the Corrado, not so much from the performance perspective (I'm pretty sure the 911 would spank it) but the fact that it's something of a rarity. And while the 911's styling remained virtually unchanged for 30 years, the Corrado was a bold step forward for Volkswagen, invoking the lines of the beloved Scirocco S in a more elegant package. Moreover, the support network for these cars is immense-I'm lucky to have folks like Raffi and Vik Kazanjian of Eurosport, Aaron Neumann at Neuspeed, Dave Anderson at ABD and the crew at Autotech just a quick drive's distance from my office.

Epcp_0310_04_z+vw_corrado+wheels Photo 4/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

I got a great car and proceeded to drive it non-stop for several thousand miles before Vik said it might be a good idea to change the oil and register it...things like that. Now I'm looking for another, a second car to complement this one. Corrado ownership is like a drug: You find yourself always searching for another fix.

The Corrado's first lines were penned back in 1987 under the supervision of Dr. Wolfgang Lincke (former chief engineer of VW passenger car development). Designer Herbert Schaefer and crew were given the task of creating an "image car" for Volkswagen that could replace the much-loved Scirocco S. The Corrado would be built at Karmann in Onsabruck alongside the cabrio and Scirocco S but in much smaller numbers, less than 100 per day. The Corrado was never intended to be volume car but rather a vehicle to contain the best technology from Volkswagen's closet. Ultimately, the body panels proved to be very expensive, as they were largely proprietary bits made specifically for one car.

Epcp_0310_05_z+vw_corrado+seatbelt Photo 5/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

After Volkswagen's top brass signed off the basic design, an engine needed to find its way into the equation. VW had been working on a spiral blower for some 8 years and released a pilot series of 500 supercharged German-spec G40 Polos, at the time its smallest car. The supercharger system was termed G-Lader; the number after the G stood for the spiral blades' width in millimeters. In the spiral supercharger, the engine's intake air passes through a snail-shaped housing, where it was compressed by a fast-turning spiral impeller to about 0.7 bar above atmosphere. This compressor, which itself soaked up as much as 18 hp, was driven by a toothed belt. The device's big advantage was torque, right across the engine's rev range. The original Corrado rode on a suspension comprised largely of A2 underpinnings but with a wheelbase some 3-in. longer and 1-in. lower than the Scirocco S, a car that relied on the old Rabbit suspension.

Epcp_0310_06_z+vw_corrado+steering_wheel Photo 6/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

Another feature unique to the Corrado was the motorized rear wing that would raise automatically at a certain speed. In Europe, the wing became active at higher speeds-around 65 to 70 mph; those in North America would rise at 45 mph. While some thought the device was more of a gimmick, others were certain that it added significantly more downforce at high speed. Given the Corrado's impressive top end and unwavering stability, there's little doubt the additional aerodynamic aid does some good.

German automotive publications were quick to compare the Corrado to Porsche's 924S and the later 944 (which no doubt helped VW's reputation more than Porsche's). The Corrado G60 performed admirably, beating both sports cars to 60 mph and, according to some sources, in top speed (137 mph).

Epcp_0310_08_z+vw_corrado+interior Photo 7/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

The Corrado was introduced in Europe with either a 2-liter 139-bhp 16-valve engine or the more powerful 158-bhp G60 attached to a beefed up eight-valve mill. The internals of the supercharged engine included stronger rods, pistons, thicker wrist pins and oil squirters. The vaunted 2.9-liter VR6 was offered later in later production. The Corrado was in production from 1988 to 1995.

The history of the Corrado in North America is short and sad. Offered for only 4 years in the United States (5 years in Canada; the 1995 model was tagged Corrado Storm), it was misunderstood from the start and can be best characterized as a sales dud. Why a handsome, well-built coupe blessed with superb road manners, good power and great ergonomics bombed remains something of a mystery. Automotive analysts of the time cited several factors leading to the Corrado's demise, the most pressing of which was a high price and the lack of cache in Volkswagen's name (then worth as little as a selling point as at any time since 1939).

Epcp_0310_07_z+vw_corrado+engine Photo 8/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

Another factor was VW's choice of engines. On paper, the 158-bhp four-banger appeared to be well-equipped to compete with the small Japanese coupes, but the reality was it came up short-a turbocharged MR2 that cost the same money (albeit it was much smaller) could walk away from the G60 Corrado. Moreover, the Corrado weighed some 300 lb more than a Jetta GLI, and both cars had near identical acceleration times, at least until higher speeds when the Corrado's better aerodynamics came into play. Why VW chose to supercharge the eight-valve rather than the more powerful 2-liter 16-valve is puzzling. Perhaps it didn't want to outshine the new narrow-angle VR6, an engine waiting in the wings.

Epcp_0310_10_z+vw_corrado+cut_away_view Photo 9/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

A fully equipped Corrado G60 would set you back $19k; a sunroof and ABS was an additional $1,700. Comparatively speaking, it was an expensive piece, but you got a lot for the money. VW's front-drive sedans had already established themselves as excellent handling cars, a trait the Corrado only improved upon. With its wider tires and lower center of gravity, the Corrado could pull 0.83 on the skidpad, a number that rivals many of today's vehicles. Like its predecessors, the Corrado would lift its inside rear tire, but it did not affect handling or its straight-line, high-speed performance, which was outstanding.

Still, the public was not convinced and sales were dismal. It took VW 2 years to rectify the situation. Its answer was to replace the four-cylinder motor with the new VR6, an engine that managed to pack gobs of power in a smallish, transverse configuration. The swap made a huge difference: More than 2 sec. were shaved off 0-to-60-mph times, with power delivered in a smooth, commanding rush. And the VR6 sported an exhaust note befitting a true GT car. Thus was born the Corrado SLC.

Epcp_0310_12_z+vw_corrado+interior_seats Photo 10/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

Other refinements played major parts in making the SLC even better. The G60's transmission was shifted by a cable linkage that was less than precise; after the first few examples were built, the SLC reverted to a rod linkage that was much smoother. Careful configuration of the front suspension-still strut-type, but now called "Plus axle" by VW-and electronic traction control banished torque steer and made steering (already good) even more precise.

Less than a year after the SLC arrived here, VW went to a distributorless ignition system (DIS) and redesigned the interior, adding gauges for battery voltage and oil pressure. The climate controls went from sliders to proper knobs, but, alas, the silly two-piece "mouse-runner" motorized seat belts remained unchanged (Canadians got proper B-pillar restraints). The already extensive list of standard features grew, with every SLC carrying air conditioning, ABS, central locking, an alarm system, tilt steering wheel, heated seats, a heated widow washer bottle and power assist for just about everything. A full leather interior left the SLC with a stellar cabin, the kind of place perfect for cross-country touring, quick city jaunts or canyon carving.

Epcp_0310_13_z+vw_corrado+black_white Photo 11/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

These improvements should have made the SLC a winner, especially when the price increase was minimal. Respected automotive scribes touted the Corrado SLC as "The best handling front-drive cars on the market, and one of the better-handling cars around. Period." An indifferent public failed to take notice and in doing so missed out on one of the great bargains of the 1990s.

Epcp_0310_14_z+vw_corrado+badge Photo 12/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

So, You Want The Perfect Corrado
Back in 1997, european car magazine did a series on "Super-Buys," used cars that in our opinion represented exceptional values. At that time it was a toss-up between the G60 and the VR6. In its favor, the G60 Corrado sported a lighter curb weight, slightly stiffer suspension, and a very tune-able engine-simple mods to the ECU, intake and supercharger pulley would leave the G60 with an easy 200 bhp. Getting that type of performance from a VR6 was considerably more expensive. Perhaps the weakest link in the G60 equation was the supercharger itself. Engineered with extremely tight tolerances, they would fail on a regular basis-turning up the wick just exacerbated the situation. While VW's 10-year support policy meant parts could be obtained through factory sources, that time has passed. You are now at the mercy of private VW parts sources, and G60 bits command a premium.

Moreover, during conversations with several respected tuners, I discovered it's not unusual for G60 Corrados to require a complete engine rebuild to restore performance. A failing G-lader sends pieces of itself through the engine. Several companies have developed systems to replace the G-lader, the most promising of which is a kit by BahnBrenner that substitutes a bullet-proof Lysholm blower for the factory unit. It is a very well-engineered piece, and although it's somewhat expensive, it delivers stellar performance. However, during New Dimensions' annual VW show, VR6 Corrados outnumbered their supercharged brethren 10:1. Kind of tells you something....

Epcp_0310_15_z+vw_corrado+side Photo 13/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

The typical caveat in buying any used car is finding the latest version you can. That holds true to the Corrado, to a point. Later, VR6 models (late 1992 on up) are very well equipped, and provided they have been maintained, can provide many trouble-free miles until requiring a rebuild. Perhaps the only bummer is with the coil pack cars-there were some cracking issues with the electronics. Still, if I had to recommend a Corrado, I'd suggest any VR6 model. Though slightly heavier than the G60, they will ultimately provide a better cost versus enjoyment ratio.

Epcp_0310_16_z+vw_corrado+brake_abs Photo 14/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

10 Things To Look For When Buying A Corrado (In Order Of Importance)
1) Second gear synchros (both models)
2) Water pump (VR6)
3) Timing chain tensioner (VR6)
4) Thermostat housing (VR6)
5) Slave cylinder for clutch (both models)
6) Rear wing (G60)
7) Cracked foglamps (both models)
8) Sunroof (both models)
9) Heater core (factory recall-both models)
10) Ignition switch (factory recall-both models)

As I recently learned, the price of Corrados has fallen. It's possible to get an unmolested VR6 for as low as five grand. G60 cars are even less expensive. Over the next year will appear Project Corrado, utilizing both factory upgrades and the best stuff from the aftermarket. I've already photographed the car with the wife and kids. The Bidrawn clan seems to love its new member and unlike our new Lab puppy, it has not pooped on the rug or eaten an entire box of Legos. I'm looking forward to making the car an upstanding member of Clan Volkswagen. Stay tuned.

Epcp_0310_17_z+vw_corrado+front Photo 15/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado
Epcp_0310_11_z+vw_corrado+corrados Photo 16/16   |   1987 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 - Project Corrado

Volkswagen Corrado G60 Specifications
Base price (1990): $18,675

Type: Inline four-cylinder, overhead cam, mechanical supercharger, iron block, aluminum head
Displacement: 1781cc
Compression ratio: 8.0:1
Horsepower: 158 @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 166 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Fuel injection: Digifant
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Gear ratios: (1) 3.78 (2) 2.11; (3) 1.34; (4) 0.97; (5) 0.80; (FD) 3.43

Wheelbase: 97.3 in.
L/W/H: 159.4 in./65.9 in./51.9 in.
Curb weight: 2,459 lb.
Fuel tank: 14.5 gal.

Suspension, fr: Independent MacPherson struts, lower A-arms, coil springs, negative steering roll radius, 18mm anti-roll bar
Suspension, r: Independent torsion beam axle with track-correcting bushings, shocks and coil springs, 20mm anti-roll bar
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Wheels & tires: 6J x 15-in. light alloy; 185/55VR-15
Brakes, fr/r: 11.0-in. internally vented discs, dual diagonal circuits (optional ABS)/9.0-in solid discs

0-60 mph: 8.0 sec.
Top speed: 140 mph (factory claim)

1992 Volkswagen Corrado Slc Specifications
Base price (1992): $22,870

Type: 15-degree V6, dohc, iron block, aluminum head
Displacement: 2792cc
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Horsepower: 178 @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
Fuel injection: Motronic
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Gear ratios: (1) 3.30; (2) 1.64; (3) 1.31; (4) 1.03; (5) 0.84; (FD) 3.65

Wheelbase: 97.3 in.
L/W/H: 159.4 in./65.9 in./51.9 in.
Curb weight: 2,810 lb.
Fuel tank: 18.5 gal.

Suspension, fr: Independent MacPherson struts, lower A-arms, coil springs, negative steering roll radius, 18mm anti-roll bar
Suspension, r: Independent torsion beam axle with track-correcting bushings, shocks and coil springs, 20mm anti-roll bar
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Wheels & tires: 6x15-in. light alloy; 205/50-15
Brakes, fr/r: 11.0-in. internally vented discs, power assisted three-circuit ABS/9.0-in. solid discs

0-60 mph: 6.8 sec.
Top speed: 140 mph (factory claim)



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