1981 Volkswagen Scirocco: Karmann Ghia II

Jayson Coombes

Once upon a time, you could—instead of a bunch of crossovers and maybe three sedans and seven pickup trucks, like today—get all sorts of interesting new stuff. Like lots and lots of sporty, cool imported cars … Alfa Romeo Spider, Datsun 240Z, Porsche 914, Toyota Celica, Volvo 1800S, to name a few. And today’s subject, the Volkswagen Scirocco.

1981 Volkswagen Scirocco front three quarter
Jayson Coombes

The Scirocco, along with the Golf, were the result of a big change in VW in the ’70s. Up until their appearance, VWs were eminently predictable: Round, happy looking rear-engined economy cars, with an air-cooled four. While the Golf effectively replaced the Beetle (though VW never officially called it that until the 1998 New Beetle), the Scirocco replaced the Karmann Ghia.

1981 Karmann Ghia II
Thomas Klockau

And like the Karmann Ghia—a favorite of mine, by the way—it was the basic VW with the same basic underpinnings, just in a snazzier suit. The K-G was a pretty car, and though it looked sporty it had the same engine and horsepower as the Beetle, so it wasn’t exactly a ball of fire.

1981 Karmann Ghia II rear three quarter
Thomas Klockau

But it sure was pretty. And a convertible was available as well, right up through its swan-song year of 1974. The convertibles were relatively rare, however, compared to the coupes. I was very happy to see this mint example at the Maple City Cruise Night in Monmouth, Illinois, last August.

1981 Karmann Ghia II interior
Thomas Klockau

And it was even in the same color combination as our Scirocco today—dark green with saddle tan interior, a favorite combo of mine. There was no Scirocco convertible sadly, but I am not sure how it would have looked if such an animal had been offered, with the fastback styling of the coupe.

1981 VW Scirocco interior
Jayson Coombes

But that’s enough Karmann-Ghia love for today; pardon the digression. At any rate, the Scirocco first appeared fairly early in ’74 in Europe, but it was a ’75 model when it first showed up on American shores. Like the Golf/Rabbit, it was front-wheel drive, a water-cooled engine, and wore very angular, modern styling.

1981 VW Scirocco engine bay
Jayson Coombes

Under the hood was a 1588 cc / 97-cubic-inch four, which by 1980 produced 76 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 84 lb-ft of torque. A little different from a ’75 Caddy with a 500-cu-in V-8. But, of course, it was a much smaller, zippier car. Sciroccos were 155.7 inches long with a 94.5-inch wheelbase.

1981 VW Scirocco interior
Jayson Coombes

As luck would have it, I have a 1980 VW Scirocco brochure, so I was able to identify the color of our featured car as Colibri Green Metallic, with a leatherette interior in Gazelle. Other colors available in ’80 included Mars Red, Brazil Brown Metallic, and Diamond Silver Metallic. You could also get a red interior.

Again referring to my ’80 brochure (I love collecting old car brochures, don’t you?) 0-50 mph took 7.5 seconds and top speed was 103 mph, which probably sounded pretty great in the 55-mph-speed-limited USA of 1981. Factory options included air conditioning, a rear window washer and wiper, five-speed manual (a four-speed manual was standard), three-speed automatic, and a sun roof, as seen on this example.

1981 VW Scirocco roof opening
Jayson Coombes

Our featured car is yet another find by my friend Jayson Coombes. It was on display at the Castle Hills Classic Car Show in Lewisville, Texas, in May 2023. Jayson sent a lot of pictures from that event, and there was a lot of excellent rolling stock (including a beautiful ’64 Buick Skylark Sport Wagon), but I zeroed in on this VW due to its gorgeous color, gorgeous condition, and the fact that I haven’t seen a Scirocco, in any condition, in probably 25 years. The 1981 model year was the last for this generation, but starting in 1982, an all-new Scirocco would take over and fight the good fight into the early ’90s, when the also-fetching Corrado took over.

Where have all the sporty, inexpensive cars gone? I don’t know, but there sure used to be a lot!

1981 VW Scirocco rear three quarter
Jayson Coombes


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    Always wanted a Scirocco, grew up owning 4 different Karmann Ghia, a few years back my younger brother and myself were talking about cars we wish we had back… and the Karmann Ghia was chosen , 2 months later he purchased 1 , 6 hour drive 1 way and hauled it home, 3 months after that he found another one close to home and in nicer condition, great for car shows after some minor detailing, I had the opportunity to purchase a Scirocco 6 month ago but was surprised that the cabin is such a tight fit , I’m 5 ,11 and 180 lbs so I passed on it , the Ghia is far more comfortable

    Yes, headroom especially was an issue in the Scirocco. I was a skinny kid in my mid-teens when they came out. I couldn’t get comfortable even then.

    I always loved that gen Scirocco (not so much the next gen). When I was in high school, VW had print ads with the street version and a racing version. Thinking of that ad still gets my heart going – I may have to dig through my old Car and Driver and R&T mags.

    Had a 69 Karmann-Ghia back in 1980, wish I had kept it. Fun to drive, easy to maintain and just plane cute. The Scirocco like many cars back then were nothing but, Butt Ugly! Just saying.

    Had a 75 scirocco. Cool steering wheel. Wide , low, front wheel drive. Fat tires. And couldn’t go around the block without spinning the main bearings. Which is why like the wooly mammoth you don’t see em around any more. At all. Ever. Never. Amen. Read my blogs at Memphis moped society Facebook. The most horrible things about the most wonderful cars.

    Did your car have AC? Back in the day, all the early Rabbit/Scirocco main bearing failures were on AC-equipped cars. Not sure if it was coincidence or a true pattern, but I’m curious about your car.

    Now karmann ghia. Well there’s a subject I know everything about. Pull up a chair sonny. I guess I’ve owned roughly 7 of those. All found in Arizona in the 70’s. California failures I suspect. Driving back to Iowa when the engines melted outside of wikiup. Great cars. Handmade body by ghia. From the rear on a summer night you can see a 58 Ferrari in those taillights. My neighbor had a 356b Porsche. Side by side the 66 ghia was not only more attractive, but I think more usable. I remember flying across the desert at midnight in a rusted ghia body panels flapping in the slip stream grey primer, blue paint splotches, and a spray painted saw fish from das boot drafting a greyhound at 85 plus . The cop pulls me over and ask” you know fast you were going!” . ” Not really man” . ” 85, if you kill yourself that’s you kid. That bus has 40 people on it. Now get outta here I’m running him down” .and there you go. Sometimes in life the more absurd you appear, the better off you are. Ill always love a karmann ghia

    Love the description. I can just imagine a Karman ghia smoking across the desert at night. Great imagery. I’ve wanted one of these beauties for quite some time. To me they are so fun, so sexy, so petite, so perfect. Yours sound so amazing. Glad you have such cool memories attached.

    Scirocco was a cool car. Buddy’s mom had one. Liked it so much I got a 79 Rabbit. ( Junk btw) . W header and 215/13/60s I had my own GTI
    AND yes. 103 was top speed so long as you had a bit of downslope. 😁

    There were a couple changes from the 1980 to 1981 Scirocco. In the VW of America 1981 brochure, the green Scirocco color is Cedar Green Metallic; my father had a 1978 Audi Fox in Colibri Green Metallic, and it was a considerably darker shade than what’s on this Scirocco. Plus, the 5-speed manual was standard for 1981 (no more 4-speed manual). And there was a factory sunroof option, but the slide-back fabric sunroof on this one is an aftermarket; the optional factory-installed sunroof was a hand-cranked steel panel that slid into the roof, sandwiched between the roof itself and the headliner over the back seat.

    Yes, once upon a time…..
    Today they bring us Phaeton and the VW/Chrysler mini van. The EV foolishness has ruined what was left of VW.

    Thanks for weaving from Brougham to ‘hot hatch’ with this VW. I always appreciate your writing and point of view. I pined for a Scirocco when had my 1980 Rabbit, but alas, money was an object at 19! I agree, the colour combo is stunning, my VW was silver over black. Keep the Brougham beauty, et al, coming!

    I’ve got an 81 Scirocco, fantastic little car! And a true lookback car. Want to a modern 1.8T engine in it someday.

    The first generation Scirocco has zero to do with the the German body builder Karmann and has zero relation to Ghia. Penned in Torino Italy where the most beautiful cars are drawn by what is now called Ital Design who also did the mk 1 Golf. This is why VW groups cars look good. VW group owns Ital Design now. Karmann the German body builder, and Ghia the Italian styling house had zero to do with this car. The second generation Scirocco was done by Karmann.

    Love the body on the siroccos! Had a friend in high school who had a first generation. I almost bought a second GEN but money was too tight back then. Was In Europe a year and a half ago and saw a beautiful car couldn’t figure out what it was, it was a sirocco! I guess they still made them in Europe for a while. It was a beautiful swooping car with a wide rear end.

    Drove a ’76 off the showroom floor, and had carb issues on the way home (the wiper motor also smoked out). That was just the start of 10 months of hell with an engine that would never run right (VW solved most of those issues with the “77 and fuel injection). I gave up and sold it for more than the original purchase price, still under warranty. The German Mark was soaring in value against the dollar (thanks Jimmy C.), and inflation was at full throttle. The car was nimble, fun to drive, but the ’75-76 carbureted / smogged engines were a pain point. VW’s move to water cooled engines left a lot of the beta testing to the first year buyers.

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