It would be hard to top last week’s Touareg V10 TDI for automotive risk. So I didn’t even try, although you’ll notice this week’s pill keeps it in the family. Yes, it’s a modified but cheap Volkswagen Corrado VR6. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s cheap enough that you can’t really expect it.
The price of our five under five thousand dollar pill seems very reasonable given the feverish nature of large parts of the neo-classics market at the moment – it’s £1,000 less than the dealer selling the ‘Austin Ambassador who appeared earlier this month was asking. Volkswagen’s relatively modest demand is also surprising considering both the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any substantial issue, and also the number of times in the past that enthusiastic boosters have predicted the Corrado to be sitting on the launching ramp.
Back in 2003, a young Richard Hammond predicted on Top Gear that the VR6 was on the verge of becoming a hugely desirable modern classic, likewise when he sang the praises of what he considered a Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 all also dumped in an eye-catching shade of almandine red. (Obviously, I completely agree with him on this point.)
But while the Hamster’s crystal ball spoke true about the Merc – with values having more than quadrupled since the first naughties – the Corrado continues to underperform the wider market. The dealer who sells ours claims that ‘in some light restoring the car would be worth north of £10,000’ which may well become true – but not much more. Even the cleanest, lowest mileage limited-run VR6 Storm currently in the classifieds – and shot on a value-boosting white background – is up £19,995. Which, in a world where Ford Capris are often on offer for upwards of £30,000, just doesn’t seem right.
Granted, Corrados have been cheaper in the past, although I don’t recall viable VR6s ever dropping much below the £3000 mark. And if you’re willing to consider one of the worst naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines, three thousand is still a realistic budget to pack in a decent one. Perhaps the truth is that the Corrado has always struggled with prices. The most commonly cited reason for slow sales in the first place was that the car was simply too expensive for what it was, with the VR6 combining Golf underpinnings with a price that rivaled the BMW 3 Series. Cut. Less than 100,000 Corrados were produced during a seven-year production run, around 9,000 of which were in the UK. And while How Many Left estimates almost half of those still legally exist, 3,000 are on SORN and only 1,000 are currently taxed.
In the late 1980s, Volkswagen was a very different company from the juggernaut it has become. In 1987, the year before the Corrado’s debut, VW’s UK range consisted of just five cars – Polo, Golf, Jetta, Passat and Scirocco – the Jetta being nothing more than a booted Golf. Although it sold in marginal numbers, the Scirocco was by far the oldest in the range, launched as early as 1974, so Volkswagen opted to replace it.
The idea behind the Corrado was simple: take proven Golf mechanical components and combine them with a smart new coupé body, which would be built under contract by Karmann in Osnabrück. Early Corrados shared their oily bits with the Mk2 Golf they overlapped with, with all common subframes, suspension arms, brakes and steering rack. But the VR6 version came later, in 1992, and therefore carried over most of its components from the Mk3 Golf which had been launched the previous year. It would also share its top-of-the-line six-cylinder engine.
Volkswagen’s narrow-angle V6 survived until the 20e century, but this was its first application. The idea was quite simple – with only 15 degrees between cylinder banks and the engine was compact enough to fit in little more space than a four-pot, and could have been built with a single cylinder head. Volkswagen made two slightly different versions for the Corrado, both with 12-valve cylinder heads. North American cars got a 2.8-liter version developing 179 hp, while European versions had a slightly more powerful 2.9-liter engine developing 187 hp.
It was an incredibly powerful number by 1992 standards, especially in what was essentially a two-door hot hatch. Under the scientific brutality of professional road testing, the VR6 proved it could smash its way from 0-60mph in just 6.4 seconds with its slippery aerodynamics delivering a top speed of 150mph. Figures that made it the fastest thing Volkswagen had produced so far.
Early reviewers also liked the chassis, despite the relative rawness of the Golf’s torsion beam axle. In the days before traction control, front-wheel drive made it easier to push without worrying about the world suddenly spinning backwards, and the Corrado could be persuaded to play (slightly) on a lifted throttle. For what it’s worth, I had a friend who owned several Volkswagen VR6s at that time who felt the Corrado was significantly more nimble than the Golf – but the booted Vento sedan was the tidier of the lot because it understeered less. (It certainly didn’t look as good, though.)
High prices limited demand, but the Corrado VR6 was definitely desirable. It seemed particularly popular with affluent 20s who preferred oxfords and tweed jackets, and anyone standing next to Sloane Square in the mid-90s rarely had to wait more than a minute for another Golf or Corrado to six-cylinder does not pass. Tim Nice-goal-Dim would certainly have aspired to one.
Yet fashion is fickle, and as the Corrado aged, the demographics of its ownership changed, with many cars ending up with the various tribes of the Volkswagen scene. Although relatively few seem to have received the full Max Power treatment – although I recall at least one gullwing door conversion – many more have been subjected to a lower level of trimming.
That’s what seems to have happened to our pill. It has obviously been lowered, and equipped with a set of very nineties BBS alloys which barely come out of the wheel arches: the speed bumps would certainly be a challenge. Pictures show what appears to be rust or damage on the rear arch and there is a small dent on the front fender. It also lost its Volkswagen badge up front and gained pressed metal license plates – both easily reversible – while the leather upholstery of the interior acquired the patina of a close-up of the face of Mick Jagger.
The MOT’s history is more green than red, although there have been many advisories in the past for worn tires, suspension bushings and brakes. Crucially, there’s no mention of structural corrosion, reassuring given the susceptibility of any car of this age to rot. The filing also hints at what appears to be a mileage discrepancy, though one that suggests a modified speedometer rather than something deliberate. Mileage had gradually increased to 174,000 in 2017, then dropped to 136,000 the following year. It’s been going back since then, so the odometer definitely works, but the 147,000 miles at the time of the last test is potentially 40,000 less than the car’s true count. Which is a good indication of the solidity of a VR6.
So, does this VR6 look like a future investment-grade classic? Actually no – even though Corrado’s values are skyrocketing, it seems unlikely that an investor will ever be looking for something with that many miles and a non-standard past to park in its air-conditioned vault. But our Pill looks like a car that, with a little TLC and more realistic suspension, could be used and enjoyed for much longer.
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