It would be hard to top last week’s Touareg V10 TDI for automotive risk. So I haven’t even tried, although you’ll notice that this week’s Pill does keep it in the family. Yes, it’s a modified but well priced Volkswagen Corrado VR6. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s cheap enough that you couldn’t really expect it to be.
Our Pill’s price tag of a fiver under five grand looks very reasonable considering the febrile nature of large parts of the market for neo-classics at present - it’s £1,000 less than the dealer selling the Austin Ambassador that featured at the start of the month was asking. The Volkswagen’s relatively modest asking is also surprising considering both the fact there doesn’t seem to be anything substantially wrong with it, and also the number of times in the past enthusiastic boosters have predicted the Corrado was sitting on the launchpad.
Back in 2003 a youthful Richard Hammond predicted on Top Gear that the VR6 was set to become a hugely desirable modern classic, in the same episode when he sang the praises of what he reckoned was a similarly undervalued Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 in a fetching shade of Almandine red. (Obviously I completely agree with him on that one.)
But while the Hamster’s crystal ball told true on the Merc - with values having more than quadrupled since the early noughties - the Corrado continues to underperform the wider market. The dealer selling ours claims that “with some light restoration the car would be worth north of £10K”, which is could well become true - but not a whole lot more. Even the tidiest, lowest-mileage limited run VR6 Storm currently in the classifieds - and shot against a value-raising white background - is up for £19,995. Which, in a world where Ford Capris are often being offered for more than £30,000, just seems wrong.
Granted, Corrados have been cheaper in the past, although I don’t remember viable VR6s ever dropping much below the £3,000 mark. And if you’re prepared to consider one of the weedier naturally aspirated four-pot engines, three grand is still a realistic budget for bagging a decent one. Perhaps the truth is that the Corrado has always struggled with pricing. The reason most often cited for the slowness of sales in the first place was the fact the car was just too expensive for what it was, the VR6 combining Golf underpinnings with a price tag that rivalled the BMW 3 Series Coupe. Under 100,000 Corrados produced during a seven-year production run, with about 9,000 of those coming to the UK. And while How Many Left reckons nearly half of those still legally exist, 3,000 are on SORN and only 1,000 are currently taxed.
Volkswagen in the late eighties was a very different company to the corporate behemoth it has subsequently become. In 1987, the year before the Corrado made its debut, VW’s UK range consisted of just five cars - Polo, Golf, Jetta, Passat and Scirocco - with the Jetta being nothing more than a booted Golf. Although it sold in marginal numbers the Scirocco was by far the oldest in the line-up, launched as long ago as 1974, so Volkswagen opted to replace it.
The idea behind the Corrado was a simple one - to take proven Golf mechanical components and combine them with a smart new coupe bodyshell, one that would be contract built by Karmann in Osnabrück. Early Corrados shared their oily bits with the Mk2 Golf they overlapped with, with subframes, suspension arms, brakes and steering rack all common. But the VR6 version arrived later, in 1992, and so took most of its component set from the Mk3 Golf that had been launched the previous year. It would also share its top-spec six-pot engine.
Volkswagen’s narrow-angled V6 survived well into the 20th century, but this was its first application. The idea was simple enough – with just 15 degrees between the cylinder banks the motor was compact enough to fit in barely more space than a four-pot, and could be constructed 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-litre version making 179hp, while European versions had a slightly brawnier 2.9-litre motor making 187hp.
That was an impressively potent number by the standards of 1992, especially in what was essentially a two-door hot hatch. Under the scientific brutality of professional road testing the VR6 proved it could scramble its way from 0-60mph in just 6.4 seconds with its slippery aerodynamics giving a top speed of 150mph. Figures that made it the quickest thing Volkswagen had produced to that point.
Early reviewers also liked the chassis, despite the relative crudity of the Golf’s torsion beam axle. In the days before traction control front-wheel drive made it easier to press harder without worrying about the world suddenly turning 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 VR6 Volkswagens during this era and who reckoned that the Corrado was significantly more agile than the Golf – but that the booted Vento saloon was the tidiest handler of the lot as it understeered less. (It definitely didn’t look as good, though.)
Steep pricing limited demand, but the Corrado VR6 was definitely desirable. It seemed particularly popular with affluent 20-somethings who favoured brogues and tweed jackets, and anybody who stood next to Sloane Square in the mid-nineties would rarely have to wait more than a minute before another six-cylinder Golf or Corrado burbled past. Tim Nice-but-Dim would definitely have aspired to one.
Yet fashion is fickle, and as the Corrado aged so its ownership demographic shifted, many cars ending up with the different tribes of the Volkswagen scene. While relatively few seem to have been given the full Max Power treatment – although I do remember at least one gullwing door conversion – many more were subjected to lower level fettling.
Which is what seems to have happened to our Pill. It has obviously been lowered, and fitted with a set of very nineties BBS alloys which barely emerge from the wheel arches: speed bumps would certainly be a challenge. Pictures show what looks to be rust or damage on the rear nearside arch and there is a small ding on the front wing. It has also lost its front Volkswagen badge and gained pressed metal numberplates – both easily reversible – while the interior’s leather upholstery has acquired the patina of a close-up of Mick Jagger’s face.
The MOT history is more green than red, although with plenty of advisories in the past for tyres, suspension bushes and worn brakes. Crucially there is no mention of structural corrosion, reassuring given the susceptibility of any car of this age to rot. The record also brings up what seems to be a mileage discrepancy, although one that suggests a changed speedometer rather than anything deliberate. Mileage had increased gradually to 174,000 by 2017, and then fell to 136,000 the following year. It’s been creeping up again since then, so the odometer is definitely working, but the 147,000 miles at the time of the last test is potentially 40,000 short of the car’s true tally. Which is a good indication of how tough a VR6 can be.
So does this VR6 look like an investment grade future classic? Realistically no – even if Corrado values do soar it seems unlikely that something with so many miles and a non-standard past will ever be sought by an investor to park in their air conditioned vault. But our Pill does look like a car that, with a little TLC and some more realistic suspension, could be used and enjoyed for a lot longer.
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