Volkswagen Scirocco

There's a pigtail bridge in Warsaw that takes you from the sedately cobbled and palace-lined Royal Route down to the riverside, and it's called Diamond Street. It was and still is used as a rally stage by classic motoring veterans who race up its coil, pivot round on a handbrake turn and then roar back down to the awaiting thunder of applause and cheers. Riding your bike down it, then, is a simple pleasure of wind-in-your-hair speed, bouncy buttock-clenching corners and a revelation in anatomical intimacy between yourself and your chosen ride.

It's a street that demands the driver's attention, so when I saw a perky 80's wedge parked up at the second bend, I was so distracted by it that I braked too hard, skidded, hit the kerb and discovered an even more emotional intimacy between my body and the pavement. While my vision reasserted itself, I wondered how a VW Golf had got so squashed and stretched, until I realised it was a Mk I Scirocco.

You can't really imagine a more perfect place for a car like this. Designed specifically to sports-test the embryonic Golf technologies of 1974, it was a thoroughly German take on the idea of a coupe. Multi-faceted and clean-cut, like the best of diamonds its purity comes with its simplicity. With no need for gauche tasteless extras like air-con or power steering (and with no legroom for rear passengers or boot underneath the hatch), the Scirocco was solely for throwing around twisty city streets, skinny tyres squealing and driver bouncing with fear and glee. The story of how the Golf took all of that, made it more boring, and then went on to revolutionise the motor industry is a story so well documented I won't dull you with it here, but its one that regularly omits the section about its older (by three months) and sexier sister.

What the Golf had in spoonfulls, the Scirocco had by the shovel-load. Hand-forged at Karmen rather than churned out by Volkswagen themselves, the Giugiaro folded-envelope sketch was wind-tunnel perfected into the little city slicker with German precision. Over its lifetime it had Audi engines chucked into it, GTI badges before the Golf did, vented disc brakes; it remained the rolling test platform for almost everything the Golf was to have with such worldly proclaim, but pulled it off with just that little more polish.

So while its yappy little upstart sibling became a religion, the wide and menacing Scirocco was doomed instead to cult status. Squint carefully at the 1978 cult classic film "Dawn of the Dead" and you'll see the four survivors of the zombie nightmare racing round a shopping centre in a silver Scirocco. And that is about as iconic as it ever became, until the idea was overhauled in 1981 and the Mk II was born.

Despite the Mk II being the more recognisable and reknowned, both for its blockier stylings and power characteristics, there were nearly twice as many Mk I's produced, with over half a million growling out of Osnabruck in 7 years. That's 200 a day, and yet now there's estimated to be less than 2000 in the world, according to German vehicle licensing statistics. So where did they go?

If you go by word of mouth, horrendous rust problems (those front wings had no plastic linings like the Golf did) and dismal brakes were major contributers, even though the brakes received far better reviews than contemporary sports coupes like Porsche. The one in Dawn of the Dead had an intimate moment with a concrete pillar inside the shopping mall, while most of the rest were so heavily modified by eager yet inept teenagers that they fell apart from shame. Finally, there was simply no way it could compete with the Golf, whose GTI version was essentially everything a Scirocco had and more. Trapped between the little sister and the bad boy cousin in the form of the Audi 80 Coupe (from the VAG group too), there was nowhere for the Scirocco to go in its current form but six feet under.

Like the zombies that gave the Mk I Scirocco its brief moment of recognition, VW has announced that the platform will be returning from the dead in exactly the same idea. They're poised to release a stretched Golf with Golf engines and Golf running gear, but unlike the Mk I it will be wrapped up in a shell from the current "post-abortion foetus" design school that typifies the VAG group. While the first Scirocco was so delightfully simple it "upgraded" from two windscreen wipers to one, the Mk III will undoubtedly have cup-holders, heated leather seats, sat nav and all the other gadgets that will make a tear down Diamond Street feel like a stroll through a shopping centre. If only contemporary designers had the one thing the new Scirocco craves - braaaiiiiinnsssssss.