A Teenage Dream Realized: Restored 1991 Volkswagen Corrado Now Boasts VR6 Power
Photography by Andrey Smazhilo
It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. Being a fan of Bayerische Motoren Werke, I never considered the cars from Wolfsburg to be as interesting. Although VWs has plenty of followers around the globe, for whatever reason I just never thought about owning one. “Never say never,” they say…
As it was, I found myself looking for a cheap classic car to daily drive last spring, and my friend Boris advised me to go check out something he’d found in the classifieds. A brief road trip later and I was the latest owner of an ’88 Volkswagen Golf GTI 16v.
The small hatchback turned out to be the pocket rocket it was so often described to me as, and though its 139 naturally aspirated horsepower isn’t all that much in absolute terms, the car weighs just over a ton. It’s light, nimble, and truly engaging to drive even under the speed limit. Like so many classic Volkswagens, the GTI is remarkably simple from a technical standpoint, which meant it didn’t require specialized service and was generally something that could be repaired in the garage should you have a basic set of tools and a few willing friends from time to time.
One such evening spent working on my Volkswagen with Boris, it looked like we’d come to a stopping point, a few jobs left to be finished at a later date. He had other plans though, and though he was supposed to go shoot photos of a friend’s recently restored 1991 VW Corrado in the morning, he said he’d rather spend that time finishing up the work on my GTI. So while he stayed under that car, I went out to meet the owner of the Corrado and fill in for Boris. It’s not typical for a Russian guy to have a Spanish name, but Boris told me that everyone calls the car’s owner José. Whoever he was, he said he’d pick me up bright and early in the morning and I rushed home to sneak in a few hours of sleep.
I’m sure most of us can identify a few cars on approaching exhaust notes alone, so I was all ears as I waited for José to arrive. During the rebuild, his car received one of VW’s unique VR6 engines in place of the inline-four that started there (Corrados first shipped with naturally aspirated and supercharged 1.8-liter fours, with the more powerful offset-six-cylinder VR6s coming later), and regardless of exhaust and intake setups they emit a distinct, somehow raspy baritone. Hearing it off in the distance, I stepped outside to watch the approach and was met with the most beautiful shade of blue I think I’ve ever seen. The low-angle morning light didn’t hurt either, and the sun showed off every shade of early morning blue and midnight violet on the spectrum during this golden hour.
José turned out to be an extremely easy-going dude right away, and he was happy to tell the story of his time with this car over coffee and throughout the shoot. He’s been connected to it for a few years now, and it was a car he identified with long before he could drive. Seeing them on the street as a kid, the beautifully odd and coupe-like hatchback designed by Herbert Schäfer left an impression on him and it became his dream car—not a low-slung supercar, but a boxy VW. As many of us did in high school, he started working early and often to save money for his first car, which in his case was a second-generation Golf. José had no real mechanical skills back then, but now he has plenty thanks to that old Volkswagen! After swapping in a “freshly-rebuilt” 2.0-liter, he drove it like that for some time right until the engine blew up…
“When you have a dream and a vision, you can’t stop for obstacles or get bogged down with stuff not worth saving, you just keep working harder and finding new paths. That’s why I disassembled and sold what was left of my old Golf, there was no point rebuilding it all over again, so I started looking for a Corrado instead.” The cars that were up for sale back then didn’t meet his requirements, and since this was his dream car remember, he remained patient until the right one showed its square-jawed face. It didn’t have to be a trailer queen though, as he had plans to modify whatever he eventually landed on.
After several months of searching, he received a call from his friend saying that there might be a Raven Black Corrado for sale, but it hadn’t been driven for more than a year and its owner needed to be talked into selling it. José gave the man a call and paid him a visit soon afterwards. They talked for several hours about classic cars, why they were of better quality, had soul, all that stuff. The owner also determined whether or not José was the right person to pass his car along to, asking him plenty of Corrado-specific questions that only a true fan would know the answers to. Having passed this “test,” José paid a fair price and drove away in his dream car with a box of some hard-to-find parts to boot.
When autumn came, José put his new Corrado in the garage and started disassembling and preparing it for a complete rebuild, which was necessary at that point due to the car’s accumulated age and time spent parked outside. The body needed to be repaired among other things, and it took approximately half of a year for José to find the best painter he could once it was ready for its respray. Plenty of literal blood, sweat, and tears were spilled during the panel repair process, which took another six months to complete, but finally the restoration passed its midpoint, and José received a car that was ready for reassembly, including the engine swap he’d had in mind for quite some time.
Fixing cars to keep them on the road is one thing, but restoring them is a completely different level of involvement. You can always count on a good friend though, and José’s buddies from the Russian Corrado Club helped him out with his build along the way, starting with the interior assembly and ending with the engine swap to a more powerful 2.8-liter VR6. One of them rebuilt the car’s brakes, another solved the overheating problem that these cars tend to develop, and the amount of time that was spent hunting for special Corrado parts—which are extremely hard to find compared to Golf items—simply cannot be counted. The classic wooden steering wheel is still laying in the back seat waiting to accompany the bolstered Recaro seats, just another step in the never-ending process of perfecting this gorgeous Karmann coupe.