If you’re a kid of the 1990s, chances are you’ve got a diecast Volkswagen Corrado collecting dust on a bookshelf somewhere at home; a car which you regard as a unicorn, an artifact you lust over as it reminds you of the days of your tuner youth, modding and street racing Vdubs and Hondas—or wishing that you could live that life.
You read somewhere the car has Porsche-inspired engineering and you got all worked up over the fact that it sort of looks like a DeLorean. You were enthralled. Even then you knew the Corrado was one of those cool cars you had to own one day.
Curiously, the Corrado seems to have been in the news a lot lately in 2017, thanks to one Canadian dealer selling it for a laughable price and then a Regular Car Review. Well, I took one out for a drive. A very yellow one, as you can see.
And I’m here to tell you that if you’re interested in buying a Corrado, don’t dish out ridiculous amounts of money for a VR6, the model the internet seems to have lost its marbles over lately. I say get the rarer, oddball, G60 instead. That’s the one you want—but you better be prepared for the sacrifices too.
(Full disclosure: When a Canadian Jalopnik reader saw we kept posting Corrado articles like mad people, he emailed me to see if I’d be interested in reviewing his Nuggett Yellow 1991 Corrado G60. Afraid the car would break down on the way to Montréal, he filled the car up with a full tank of gas and told me I had to drive up to Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, Québec to drive it.)
Information about the Corrado is elusive, but what I’ve found is that depending on where you lived back then, the car appeared sometime in the late 1980s as a replacement to the Scirocco front-wheel drive sports coupe. In North America, Canada got the car first—hah, suck it Americans—for the 1989 model year. The U.S. followed in 1990.
But the Corrado had a rather short lifespan. Volkswagen pulled the plug on it in 1994 (’95 in Canada) due to poor sales. In the 1990s, the concept of a $40,000 (adjusted for inflation) Volkswagen simply wouldn’t fly, even if the car had serious performance cred—more on that shortly. All in all, only about 18,000 Corrados made it to North America.
During the car’s first production run, the most powerful engine we got was the G60, a 1.8-liter, supercharged four-cylinder that had already seen life in the Golf Rallye and Passat Syncro in Europe.
For those wondering: the “G” refers to the shape of the supercharger (dubbed the “G-Lader,”), which internally is comprised of two spinning spirals that work like this. And 60 is for the supercharger’s 60 mm (2.36 in) diameter inlet.
That engine was so miserably disappointing, complicated, unreliable, and not really all that powerful at 157 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque that VW rushed a mechanical redo for the Corrado in 1993. Out went the shitty, self-imploding G60 and in came the more powerful, narrow-angle VR6 engine co-developed with Porsche we all know and love today. This meant the Corrado is notable for having two very unusual engine choices available to buyers, even if both had... issues.
The Corrado was Germany’s gut punch to the Honda Prelude, Mazda MX-6, and Mitsubishi Eclipse. It’s a type of vehicle that is now virtually extinct, but proliferated 20 years ago from virtually all carmakers, especially the Japanese.
Our own Patrick George summed up the ’90s car market rather well by saying: “We look to the 1990s as a time of modern comforts coupled with impressive performance and experimental technology.” The Corrado, among other cars of its day, represents the pinnacle of these absurdly complex, cool coupes the SUV-crazed auto industry doesn’t have the guts to sell these days.
The G60 is the engine that forced VW to commercialize the VR6. If it weren’t for this miserable failure, we may never have had a Corrado with six cylinders. And that’s precisely why the G60 is so special. It’s super rare and just weird enough for our tastes. Also, the Nugget Yellow paint job you see here was exclusive to the G60 models. Hell yeah.
Getting inside a 26-year old German coupe on a rainy day comes with a mix of excitement, childhood dreams coming to a reality and a bit of fear. Will the car even start? Will it end up driving like shit? Will an electrical component instantly explode the moment I flip a switch?
You sit low in a Corrado. The thin A-pillars and airbag-less steering wheel are a dead giveaway this car is from an era when car companies couldn’t care less if you destroyed your face in their vehicles. The dashboard is black, stark, utilitarian and square. It’s reminiscent of the layout from the old Golfs and Jettas of my childhood. I had forgotten how blocky it actually was.
Fire up the engine at the turn of an ultra-skinny physical key, and the four-pop rumbles to life without hesitation, emitting a tractor-like, almost agricultural note from its aftermarket exhaust—BRRRRR. Subtle misfires are heard. It reeks of gasoline. Oh God.
My first reflex: test out the batshit awesome electronically controlled rear spoiler, which automatically lifts when you reach 50 mph like on a Porsche 911, but can be lifted manually at the press of a button. Corrado spoilers are notorious for blowing fuses. But this one works!
More-or-less confident that my VW won’t let me down at this point, I take a shot at tilting the electric windowless sunroof, you know, for style purposes. The electric toys seem to work fine. I turn on the parking lights, and work my way through the overly complex wiper stalk that lost its precision over the years. After emptying half the windshield washer reservoir, I finally get a handle on how to operate it.
I clutch in, put her into gear with the sloppy, long, imprecise, and tired old shifter that sends zero feedback through the stick. Am I even in gear? I depress the clutch. She starts moving.
Here goes. I’m driving a goddamn Corrado.
This particular example held up surprisingly well throughout the years, with a pristine body and interior showing no signs of rust or excessive wear and tear. The leather seats are still in great shape. Impressive for a car whose odometer reads 319,000 km, roughly 200,000 miles—Jesus Christ.
Remy, the current owner, believes the car has been repainted at some spots, but it’s got a clean title.
Being a G60, the engine has been of course entirely rebuilt, presumably more than once. It currently stands at 80,000 km (50,000 miles). Some slight cosmetic mods were done to the car, relics of the Fast and the Furious/Super Street era the car managed to survive. Luckily, the mostly aesthetic add-ons, such as the “deep dish” XXR wheels, Momo shifter and door sill plates, don’t ruin the car at all.
This Corrado is also slammed to the ground. It rides on a Weitec Ultra GT aftermarket suspension kit, classic tuner shit. There’s also an aftermarket Brullen catback exhaust sitting under there. Being a sports compact car of the 1990s, I’m totally fine with these mods.
On the road, this Corrado is still surprisingly solid and tightly held together. There are some cabin rattles and vibrations, but give it a break, the car’s been driving on Québec roads for 26 years. It also smells like oil. And gas. But it’s all worthwhile. You feel everything the car is doing, the front wheels instantly communicate the slightest bump, crack, or rock. And it still handles and brakes supremely well.
Here I was, driving through a late spring cornfield in the Richelieu region of Québec, rowing through the weird shifter, sometimes not getting the right gear in - BRRRAAA - BOP - BRAAA - spotting that yellow rear wing popping up in my rear-view mirror, afraid to push the car by fear everything will fall apart.
I got flashbacks of my teenage years reading Sport Compact Car magazine, tuning cars on Gran Turismo. I’m reliving the golden age of sports compact cars. I’m loving it. I’m totally high off of the experience.
Or was I just high off all the fumes?
That G60 engine is, to put it simply, terrible. (Sorry, Remy.) The power delivery is weird. I was expecting some sort of sudden power rush from the supercharger, but instead, it doesn’t even feel force-inducted. Was that the goal, to make it feel linear like a naturally aspirated engine? It’s not even that.
Anyway, the best way to get the most out of the thing is to rev it out, then it gets going. Of course, I’m a spoiled brat that drives a lot of modern cars, so this feels slow. Maybe back then it was quick enough, 0 to 60 mph times for the G60 were in the low eights when new.
I’ve heard these engines are extremely sensitive to atmospheric pressure. Forums say the car’s power output will actually vary depending on the weather. Great!
This is actually a comfortable car, with sports bucket seats that hold you firmly in place. It feels more like a grand-tourer actually; it’s loaded with innovative creature comforts for its time, like automatic climate control, an adjustable steering wheel, cruise control, and power windows and locks.
There’s also a digital clock! The rear bench is somewhat cramped being essentially a two-plus-two configuration, but there’s a pseudo-hatch back there with a surprisingly deep trunk, so I guess you can kind of daily it.
The problem with the G60 for daily driving, really, is its pitiful reliability. It’s very bad. Even bad as far as VWs go, which is quite horrendous on a good day.
Reading through the forums and specialist websites I came across maintenance recommendations stating that the supercharger was “highly unreliable” and that it is “easily susceptible to disintegration if not properly maintained.”
Disintegration? How the shit does that happen?
Other trouble spots are vacuum leaks, weak engine mounts, a bad shifter cable linkage, defective electronic components like that rear wing, and a brittle plastic casing for the shifter itself that can break and prevent the car from shifting at all. Ugh.
It’s a money pit, people. Make sure to have an AAA membership when driving this thing. But hey, you’ll look dashing behind its wheel.
But if you’ve got the guts to push this thing, you’ll be happily rewarded because it really is a driver’s car, even with the crappy engine.
The lightweight four-cylinder of the G60 results in a nimble front end with quick reflexes, even for a tired old chassis. Turn in is surprisingly quick. The car is stiff, thanks to the performance springs. It hugs the road and loves to be thrown around, feeling wide and hunkered down, exhibiting absolutely no body roll from the low ride height. There is some tire rub though, because slammed. The VR6 is probably also more nose heavy, being a six-cylinder front-wheel-drive car.
Fun to drive? Damn right it is. The connection between driver and machine is intense, a revelation as to how diluted modern cars have become.
Regardless of the drivetrain, the Corrado’s chassis is properly dialed in. It’s playful at the limit, stable all the time, and it brakes with authority. Feedback through the skinny hydraulically-assisted steering wheel is ample and the car is happiest carving apexes at high speeds.
When it’s running properly, this is where the Corrado lives up to its legend—when you’re behind the wheel and driving in anger on the right road.
There’s no denying the Corrado’s appeal, and that it has all the ingredients to be a future collector’s car. The great thing about the G60 is that they’re running pretty cheap these days, much cheaper than the VR6. A quick search on Craigslist found American examples ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000.
But you’ll need to factor in the rather expensive repair bills. Parts are also hard to find. Many G60 owners swapped their engines for VR6s, so the actual supercharged ones are increasingly rare. And was the VR6 really that much more reliable anyway?
If you can find a G60 in good condition, like Remy’s, I’d say it’s a good catch. Especially a yellow one. Who knows, the fact that they’re so hard to find might cause them to suddenly spike in value in the near future.
If you’re interested, this one is for sale at $8,000 Canadian, firm. I say it’s worth a shot.
It’s true: the Corrado G60 comes with an engine you won’t have much love for. Even Volkswagen was ashamed of it.
But its historical significance isn’t negligible and it’s a time capsule to a period when carmakers actually risked things, a time when the engineers prevailed over board meetings. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
The Corrado deserves its place in history next to other overly complex and unreliable cars we love like the DeLorean, the Citroën SM, and the Subaru SVX. It’s weird, quirky and mysterious in all the right ways.
Since everyone went for the VR6, at the time or with a swap, I say the oddball G60 is worth saving now. Be like our friend Remy. Do the Lord’s work by buying a G60 and keeping it alive. The future of the automobile depends on it.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com