Cammisa Schools Leno on the Finer Points of the VW Scirocco

YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

Few people are as knowledgeable about automobiles and their unique driving characteristics than Jay Leno, so it’s a rare occurrence when he needs help to “fill in a gap.” In the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, Jay decides it’s high time to learn about the Volkswagen Scirocco. And who better to school Jay than award-winning automotive journalist, YouTube host, and Scirocco aficionado Jason Cammisa?

The question is, what took him so long to take one for a spin? As Jay explains, he was pretty busy building his comedy career in the 1980s and had little interest in most Volkswagens at the time. In fact, he’d just purchased a year-old 1986 Lamborghini Countach for $70,000, which “seemed like crazy money at the time … I was so captivated by that whole Italian thing and Ford Cobras, so Scirocco just seemed like a regular car.”

Volkswagen VW Scirroco Jay Leno Jason Cammisa front three quarter
YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

Cammisa admits that it is—and isn’t. The knowledgeable and hilarious host of three Hagerty YouTube seriesIcons, Know It All, and Revelations, where he has racked up more than 450 million views—has owned his 1987 Scirocco 16-valve since 1997. He went to high school in Germany and was a fan of German cars, but he knew nothing about Sciroccos. He wanted a Golf. But when his father “kind of reneged” on a promise to buy him a car in college, he used his dad’s credit card—designated for emergencies—to buy this second-gen Scirocco for $1500 (in the U.S.).

Somehow, he survived his father’s wrath and never let go of the car.

Volkswagen VW Scirroco Jay Leno Jason Cammisa side
YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

“I’ve driven literally thousands of cars for work, basically everything in production for the last 30 years, and this is still the one that makes me laugh the most,” he says, “which is weird because it shouldn’t. It’s a common car for common people.”

“And you were pretty common, as I remember,” Jay says.

“I still am,” Jason admits. “Trash, complete trash.”

“To me, Volkswagen was always nice, and there was a cute aspect to the Bug and the hippie van and all that kind of stuff,” Jay says. “And then the next gen, the Rabbit, didn’t do much for me. And I didn’t pay much attention to the Golf. The Scirocco just seemed like another version, but it’s not. This is much more sophisticated.”

Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro and bodied by Karmann, this Scirocco began its life with a 1.8-liter, 123-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a manual five-speed transmission. It still has that gearbox, but it is now powered by a 2.0-liter with European cams and intake, which boosted horsepower to 170.

Volkswagen VW Scirroco Jay Leno Jason Cammisa Karmann detail
YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

“This is a Mark II Scirocco, but it’s the same exact platform underneath,” Jason says. “And the Scirocco was a first-gen GTI—the original Golf GTI with a lower roof.”

Jason dives even deeper into the car’s styling and lineage. “Look at the rear window … this looks to me like a BMW Hofmeister kink,” he says, then continues to explain some of the car’s finer points. When Jason is finished, Jay says, “More information than I wanted to know, but that’s OK.”

Cammisa is undeterred. “This was the last of the A-1 chassis, so it got all the things the original GTI never got, like power steering, four-wheel discs, 16 valves …”

Jay is clearly trying to figure out exactly why this car is priceless to Cammisa.

“You bought it when you didn’t know what it was, and then you fell in love with it. So it’s like imprinting on a goose. The first thing you see when you open your eyes, that’s your parents. If you were driven home in a ’71 Pinto, would that have … ?”

“Nooooo,” Jason says, emphatically. There’s more to it than that. The thing “weighs 2356 (pounds) and has enough power to have fun. It loves to be sideways.”

Volkswagen VW Scirroco Jay Leno Jason Cammisa front
YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

Cammisa even shipped it to Germany and cut it loose on the Autobahn. Top speed: 135 mph, “which is horrifying. Don’t do it.”

The car is also a rare sight on the West Coast, Jason says.

“In 15 years of living in California, I’ve seen two Scirocco 16-valves on the road. You just don’t see them. They were fast and cheap, and they snap oversteer. Fast, cheap, and sideways means tree. So they’re all gone. It’s been a challenge to keep this one [on the road].”

Volkswagen VW Scirroco Jay Leno Jason Cammisa rear three quarter
YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

Jay asks, “Is this a car you’re keeping your whole life?”

“This is it,” Jason says. “No. 1. Bury me in it.”

Offered the chance to find out if the Sirocco is everything that Cammissa says it is, Jay slides behind the wheel and turns the key. Did he enjoy driving it? Check out the last half of the show to see the verdict, but you can be sure that Jay’s knowledge gap has been properly filled.

 

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Comments

    I wonder if that used to be my car. I bought a new 87 16V with my re-enlistment bonus in Waldorf, MD and registered it in New York. In 88 I traded it for an 86 Corvette at the Toy Store in Largo, FL when I was stationed in Jacksonville. Jason mentioned he bought it in Florida and my car was the same spec as this one.

    Oh my goodness, this story is so me, but I’m not a auto journalist and gladly traded my 1988 Scirocco 16v for a more reliable (simpler), more comfortable (and much slower) 1983 Audi Coupe back in the early 1990s.

    Jason has great taste – removing the HUGE USA-spec bumpers. Too bad he doesn’t have the power windows option, but he does have the leather and sunroof.

    Does an A2 Golf GTI handle better? Yes – it had telepathic handling with no snap oversteering. The GTI also had better power steering “feel.” The Golf had better HVAC by a mile – best A/C and heater (in Minnesota). The only better heater was my old Volvo 240 Turbo.

    But I still miss my Scirocco!

    And that body style made it really popular with anyone who didn’t know what a GTI was.

    I missed commenting on the Euro headlights on Camissa’s Scirocco – those headlights were WAY out of my budget when I owned mine, but are awesome to see in the USA.

    Lastly, headroom with the sunroof option is non-existent, for those who don’t know. The tilt seats help a lot to alleviate it, but then you are stuck in the classic “Italian” driving position of laying back with your knees crunched but yet cannot reach the steering wheel.

    I Always felt they should have continued to offer this car with the later GTI drivetrain.

    The GTI just was too tall and never really sporty looking in a sports car kind of way. Yes practical but they still could have offered this body style and an option.

    My old boss had several of these and he loved them.

    Audi was ok but more expensive to buy and no better to work on. If anything more expensive to repair in a number of cases. A thermostat can be quite expensive in some.

    What are your thoughts on either the Corrado or the Europe-only new-Scirocco?

    The Corrado had the A2 Golf’s suspension – never driven one. I guess the Corrado VR6 SLC is the pinnacle, heavy engine (weight distribution be damned?).

    I had a mk4 GTI with the 24v VR6 / six-speed, and it was absolutely horrible – no VWs for me after that one. Yuck.

    It would have been interesting if it were here.

    Also I would have liked to see VW put out about 300 HP with the 4 cylinder.

    I had 300 HP in a turbo LNF 2.0 in an HHR SS 23 pounds of boost and no issues over 10 years. I loved the engine it just needed a good home, only the Solstice and Sky got the most of that one. 340 FT LBS.

    Corrado was a good engine needing a different platform. Too much nose weight.

    I never was a fan of FWD and more power. The weight transfer unloads the wheels and makes launching difficult. Then if you spin the tires in a turn you lose steering.

    That V6 in a nice RWD might have been fun.

    The worse application was the FWD V8 cars. I loved Pontiac but the GXP V8 GP was the worst thing ever built.

    Jay should find someone with a GLHS and take that for a ride. 175 HP (stock) and even lighter. Unrefined? Yes. The ultimate in unrefined, but personality in spades.

    Only the first series until 1981 were styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro. VW rejected his attempt at a second version and that went to Isuzu for their Impulse (looks similar).
    Also the Scirocco was not the last of the A-1 chassis; that would be the Cabriolet (Rabbit convertible) which sold until 1993.

    I owned an early version of the Scirocco. Quite frankly it was the absolute worst car I have ever owned. Build quality and materials were horrid. I couldn’t replace enough parts quick enough to keep the car on the road. I had owned three VW’s prior to the Scirocco, once sold I have never owned a VW again.

    My wife has owned a Mk1 and Mk2. An image of her Mk2 appeared in Top Gear magazine. They were really a lot of fun to drive. We live in New York and both were driven in the snow and salt. Perhaps they were made into Porsche hardware.

    “Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro”…..NO…..Any Scirocco enthusiast knows only the MK1 was styled by Giugiaro. This model was an in house design by VW. I love the Scirocco 16V but much prefer the timeless styling of the MK1

    Spring Break 1976 – Four Guys, 3 SCUBA tanks, Campings gear, etc. all crammed into and onto (roof box) a 1975 Scirocco. We drove from college in Portland, Maine to Big Pine Key, Florida. What an absolute blast…for so many reasons. The Scirocco performed perfectly and looked good enough to entice. With just enough money for the drive home, we even slept in the car. So roomy…. not.

    I love the design and handling of the original, especially when they got fuel injection and recaro seats.
    Reliability? not so much.

    Great article/video, there is always so much to learn about the exceptional universe of cars and drivers.
    I learned 2 things reading and watching this: 1) Jay Leno (and I love watching Jay Leno’s Garage) is unequivocally (and not in a bad way) a total car elitist. “$70,000 seemed like crazy money at the time (1987)” says Jay about the Lamborghini he purchased back then. Really? Really Jay? That’s twice what I can afford for any car purchase right now in 2024😜; and I also learned that 2) Jason Cammisa is a total (and again, not in a bad way) car geek, like really really really geeky. “Look at the rear window … this looks to me like a BMW Hofmeister kink,” and “This was the last of the A-1 chassis, so it got all the things the original GTI never got, like power steering, four-wheel discs, 16 valves …”. Wow. Who knew?
    Anyways, it’s always great to see two dyed in-the-wool car guys who have so much in common (like both their names start with J) talking “car stuff”. I would eagerly anticipate you doing an upcoming article with Larry and Elon, another two great car guys with so much in common…if you take the first letter of Larry’s last name and turn it upside down you get an M😅; and Larry might be starting to come around to EV’s, and Elon…well, y’know😉.
    Keep up the great work J.P. and the rest of you all at Hagerty. You make my day.

    My cracker in the soup is the 1975 Scirocco I owned. Put 300,000 miles on it with only normal maintenance and a valve job. The guides had worn and it was using oil, so I pulled it down at about 100,000k. I “ported” the head, had my machinist do the guides and grind the valves and seats, and put the head back on the car with a header. Ran really well!

    Oh, and an electronic points eliminator, aftermarket exhaust, a couple of sets of brake pads, and two timing belts as preventive maintenance.

    Original clutch at 300K!

    I still drive my ’84 Rabbit GTI, but replaced the 90HP SOHC 1.8L engine with the 2L 16V from an ’89 GTI plus cams, had the close-ratio 5-speed upgraded with a Quaife 6-speed conversion with torque-sensing differential, and, just for kicks, added nitrous injection. Smokes both front wheels before passing V-8 Mustangs. Handles better than my NA Miata too. Never got the Scirocco, which was heavier and had a smaller interior.

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