From rotting in central Europe to grabbing stares in Edinburgh, this crisp, retro-look modified VW Mk1 Scirocco has come a long way. Literally…
Feature taken from Fast Car magazine. Words Emma Woodcock Photos Original Persona
Sharp lines and simple shapes. Giorgetto Giugiaro had thrown out the automotive design rulebook. Just years earlier, back in the 1960s, the Italian stylist had traced the suave Maserati Ghibli, voluptuous De Tomaso Mangusta and pretty much every Alfa Romeo you might see at the Goodwood Revival but the new decade brought a dramatic change. Complex curves were out and hard, angular minimalism was in.
Giugiaro was nothing if not committed. Shape after shape shot from his Italdesign studio, the new direction transforming superminis, supercars and everything in between. Manufacturers clamoured to join the revolution, collaborating with the designer to create models which still wow enthusiasts today. Whether it’s the wedge-styling machismo of the DeLorean and Lotus Esprit or the sparse simplicity of the original Fiat Panda, the look is an iconic reminder of an optimistic decade.
Keen to leave behind its dowdy, aircooled image, Volkswagen embraced the revolution even more enthusiastically than its competitors. A new family car arrived first – the 1973 Passat – and used its full width grille, trapezoidal glasshouse and thick, 45 degree rear pillars to shake the saloon car establishment. Back at Wolfsburg headquarters, work was already underway on the upcoming Mk1 Golf – the great-granddaddy of a hatchback legacy which continues to this day – but VW had another ace to play first.
Designed around the Golf but launched a full six months earlier, the Scirocco applies the same Giugiaro virtues to a small coupé package. It’s ten centimetres longer, eight centimetres lower and a touch wider, sharing barely a blink of its metalwork with the hatchback, plus it benefits from four headlights and a stubby, upturned Kamm tail. Forget the Capri: this is the machine a forward-thinking seventies car fan really promised themselves.
Rafal Bakowski has cultivated the Scirocco dream for years. A committed fan of the Volkswagen-Audi group, he’s owned a bundle of Mk1 Golfs – a widebodied Audi A8 with custom wheels and a 1988 Caddy with a wood-stacked interior and the front clip from a US-market VW Jetta. Right now, the Bakowski household also boasts a purple Mk5 Golf GTI on Bentley rims and a clean, mildly modded example of the supercharged Corrado G60 coupé. Cool cars, all of them, but not one of these machines is a Scirocco. That had to change.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to have an early Scirocco,” he remembers, “but they’re super rare in the UK and there are just 15 currently on the road. That’s part of why I chose it. I’ve been a modifier for around 20 years now and I always have something different.” In 2015, the hunt began and – well aware of the model’s rarity on this sceptr’d isle – Rafal scoured his native Poland for the right car.
The search soon paid off with a running, driving 1976 machine. But don’t go thinking that this was a well-maintained classic car. Close inspection revealed that the yellow paint was worn and roughly applied, while rust had eaten away sections of the floorpan. An even bigger transgression sat under the bonnet: the original 1.6 litre inline-four was long gone, replaced by 1781cc EA827 from a Mk2 Golf GTI.
None of this concerned Rafal. “I just ripped everything out,” he shrugs, “and the floor only needed a little welding.” With the metalwork complete, the focus switched to priming and painting the body. The citric shade was banished and Storm Grey applied in its place. A warm, strong middle grey that first appeared on the Mk3 Golf GTI and can still be specified on modern Volkswagens. It gives the Scirocco a mature swagger that brings its style into the 21st century. “It’s the exact colour I wanted,” says Rafal, “so it was a really quick decision!”
Exterior alterations don’t stop there. Eager to add some extra continental cred, Rafal also sourced a set of yellow Scirocco headlights from the French eBay. It took years to track them down. The citrine shade was standard in the French market between the mid-1930s and early 1990s, plus it helps the Volkswagen’s stubby indicators really pop. A front indicator delete ensures that showgoers aren’t looking anywhere else.
And then you spot the wheels. A riot of golf latticework with curling, double cloverleaf central cutouts and a wide polished rim, they’re like nothing you ever see on a road car. There’s a good reason for that: these fourteen-inchers started life on the track. “These are BBS Rennsport racing wheels,” Rafal explains, “and they’re magnesium, not aluminium alloy, so they’re super light. They’re also super rare – they’re often thrown away has-beens after they’ve been used on racing cars – and that’s why I bought them.” Restored by Scottish wheel sensation Mike ‘The Polisher’ Robertson and mounted on a stretched set of 165/55 Nankangs, the eight-inch wide wheels evoke images of fire-spitting DTM racers and gravel-spewing rally stars.
The wheels are framed by shallow arches that drop over the sidewall, thanks to a full air ride conversion by airRIDE-system.pl, who combined Reubens airbags with adjustable MTS Technik hardware. Control comes from boot-mounted canisters, a pair of VIAIR compressors and a remote control. A recent replacement for a set of static coilovers, Rafal couldn’t be much happier with the new air system. “It goes super low,” he grins, “it’ll sit on the wheels and, ultimately, the Scirocco is only stopped when the engine catches on the ground.”
Other mechanical changes are a little harder to spot. An exacting eye might catch the up-and-out sweep of the exhaust pipe from Supersport: a two-inch, straight through system which Rafal bought from Germany, but there’s nothing else to see outside. Pop the bonnet and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the driveline has been left alone – but you’d also be wrong. Rafal has removed the 1.8 litre Mk2 Golf engine and fitted the 1588cc, 109bhp inline-four from a Mk1 Golf GTI. Though it wasn’t fitted to this example from the new, the engine was made available in the Scirocco GLi from 1977 onwards.
Nobody is missing the upgraded interior. Where once stood sober cloth, now the dashboard, seats, centre console and door cards all sear with bright red Italian leather. “It’s all super smooth and you get that new leather, new car smell every time you get inside,” says Rafal, “I chose the colour because it’s a shade you just don’t see in other cars.” The seats have also been swapped for newer items but the Scirocco keeps it in the Volkswagen family – they’re retrimmed Recaros from a Mk3 Golf GTI. A three-spoke MOMO steering wheel with a Porsche centre cap finishes the transformation.
“The Scirocco will likely stay with me forever,” Rafal continues, “a lot of people like it, a lot of people ask about it and it really wasn’t easy to find!” That doesn’t mean the story has to go stagnant, mind. Having strutted its stuff at 2019 CleanFest in Edinburgh, the Scirocco is sliding into 2020 with the promise of even more alterations. The BBS wheels will be swapped for similar but one inch larger E50 magnesium rims, a fresh respray – still in Storm Grey – will keep the body gleaming and the engine may be replaced with a 1.8 litre unit. One thing that won’t change is how the Scirocco style makes Rafal feel. “It makes me smile every time. When I see it, I always have a good day!”
TECH SPEC: 1976 VW SCIROCCO
1976 VW Scirocco painted in Volkswagen Storm Grey, Volkswagen Scirocco ‘Selective Yellow’ French-market headlights, front number plate delete.
Volkswagen Golf GTI 1.6-litre inline four with a 2-inch straight-through exhaust from Supersport Exhausts.
BBS Rennsport E30 split rim cast alloys, 14×8 inch front and rear, restored by Mike ‘The Polisher’ Robertson with polished outer rim, Mapet-Tuning Group air suspension (airRIDE-system.pl) conversion with Reubens airbags and MTS Technik adjustable hardware front and rear, boot-mounted air canisters, twin VIAIR compressors, remote control.
Full retrim in Italian red leather, Volkswagen Mk3 Golf GTI front Recaro bucket seats, MOMO three-spoke steering wheel, wheel centre with Porsche crest.