Despite my lifelong enthusiasm for cars, I own just one and it’s been the same one for well over 6 years. The miles are creeping up but as it’s a VW it is wearing well. It is their small coupe – the Scirocco.
Based on the sensible Golf hatchback, it was designed to add glamour to the practicality. So it was interesting to borrow a VW with a similar purpose from a bygone era – the Karmann Ghia. This little coupe did the same thing for the Beetle half a century ago.
So let’s forget about the prosaic nature of driving today’s cars in today’s traffic – and think back to better times.
I’ve always admired Volkswagens but have never driven a Beetle. Silly really, because I always liked them. When I was a teenager at home in Birmingham in the late 1960s, I tried to persuade my Dad to buy a Beetle. Dad was no car enthusiast and he sensibly noticed the Beetle’s many weaknesses – cramped back seat, noise and a tiny boot – rather more than its Herbie charm. He also felt that to buy foreign, when we lived in the car- making Midlands, was unpatriotic. So, despite the Beetle’s reliability, economy and quality, we ended up with a 1968 Ford Escort instead. Not a bad car though – I don’t think he realised a lot of it was made in Germany.I liked the standard Beetle, but really liked the Karmann Ghia coupe. I was also very keen on the plastic Beach Buggies that were built on the Beetle’s indestructible chassis. A lovely californian idea that made no sense at all in Britain.
So here we are 50 years later. And I’m still not getting to drive a Beetle, but it’s coupe sister. There’s no doubt that the Karman Ghia is a pretty car, much more so than the Beetle. Low and curvaceous, the silver paintwork picks up the light on a sunny November drive to Suffolk. It’s a cold day and the air-cooled engine is as much use for heating the interior as lighting candles in the footwells.
This car looks a lot faster than it is. But the flat four in the back sounds like it means it and is responsive. The only problem with applying the throttle is that the pedals are so offset it would almost be better to ask your passenger to do your footwork for you. And that is perfectly possible – as there is no transmission tunnel to separate you both.
The pedals are also hinged at the bottom and very awkward in London traffic. A lovely steering wheel is the only real hint of performance and the steering is itself light and Porsche-like with the engine over the real wheels. In a way this car is a junior 911. Despite the sporty exterior the interior just has the feel of a squashed beetle with no sport car rev counter or bucket seats. But it’s all lovely quality and doesn’t groan like a 50-year-old.
Like the Beetle, the front boot is magnificent. It is just just about large enough for an old-fashioned attached case, and the rear seat makes an ideal shelf for an elf.
Out on the open road though, this really is a pleasant car. The build quality has stood the test of time with few creaks and wind noise is minimal. Even the noise of the engine is lost being so far behind you. It tracks straight and corners quite flat.
‘If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen’. So went the advertising slogan for many years. And it still applies. For example, most classics are a challenge to start on a cold morning. But the air-cooled Beetle doesn’t hesitate for a moment and needs no choke either. Ah, the choke, another reminder of a bygone age before the joys of electronic fuel injection. A back to back comparison with my Scirocco confirms the newer car is superior in all rational ways. Fasters, safer and more efficient though it is, the Scirocco lacks the quirky and individual charm of its elderly predecessor. The Karmann Ghia was a footnote in the Beetle’s huge story. And the same can now be said of the Scirocco, which ceased production in 2016. Buyers have turned away from the sporty style and agility of a coupe and seem to prefer the sideboard-on-wheels charms of the SUV. And of course, VW make them today just as they made the fabulous Camper Van back in the 60s. Plus ca change.
Now the Scirocco is out of production – and likely to be replaced by a small electric SUV, it is likely to gain classic status of its own. Having owned it for long than any other car, I have to admit I’m very fond of it. It’s done over 120,000 miles and never missed a beat. An engine warning light came on 5,000 miles ago which the dealer admitted did not mater too much, but would cost £1000 to fix. Having transferred my allegiance to an independent German car speciaist, he sorted it for £80.
Like the Karman Ghia, it as a pretty shape that is pure and simply executed – just like the original concept in the picture. Unlike the Karman Ghia it is a full four-seater with a useful hatchback. So much so, that it spends most of its time with my son, Jamie and his young family. I borrow it back when needed – and give it a clean to show that it may be lost but it hasn’t been forgotten.
As Jamie’s family grows, he’ll need a bigger car and so the Scirocco may have to go. I will be sorry, but as a Londoner will struggle to justify replacing it with a car just for Luisa and me. And this is when the Classic Car Club will really come into its own.