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Unicorn Cars: The Volkswagen SP2

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

Forget all about the Mk1 Scirocco or even the Corrado VR6.

THE COOLEST Veedub the world has ever known/seen was barely clocked in most of the world, sadly.

Continuing where we left off with the VW Beetle RSi, our occasional series of ‘Unicorn Cars’ travels due south to, well, South America as it happens. Which also explains why sightings of the (very) lesser-spotted Volkswagen SP2 are notably thin on the ground. With geography playing a not inconsequential role.

That being said, once in a blue moon an SP2 breaks free from its Brazilian market only stranglehold, and plots a course to less sunny climes.

In 2010 one such escapee rocked up here in the UK. Instantly representing a quarter of the total volume of Veedub SP2’s currently registered to drive on British tarmac.

Legend has it that this fourth example benefitted from a new VW Heritage SP2 1641cc engine as recently as 2018.

OK. Stop A Minute. Rewind. What Exactly Is A VW SP2?

Essentially the SP2 is a sports car developed specifically for Brazilian car buyers, and manufactured between 1972 and 1976.

Inspiration courtesy of the Volkswagen 1600 Variant.

As to what the ‘SP’ refers to, opinions are divided. Whilst actual facts are sparse.

One school of thought suggests that it stands for ‘Sao Paulo’. Others believe that it more likely references ‘Special Project, Special Performance, Sport Prototype’ or somewhat vague, ‘SPort-Car’.

In the event, SP might just as well translate as ‘Slightly Pedestrian’ or ‘Snail’s Pace’ when we unearth the truth about the car’s sports intentions.

Which, to be perfectly frank, are as limited as Amanda Holden’s talent.

Think DeLorean DMC-12…

Yeah, way more show than go.

The SP was very much an exercise in style over substance when picking through the tech spec.

Staying on the subject of the ‘SP’ element, and the car was given the nickname, ‘Sem Potencia’. The literal Portuguese translation being, ‘without power’. Cue sniggers at the back.

An unfortunate nickname which came to bear as a result of the 1.7-litre Volkswagen flat-four engine producing a measly 75bhp. Subsequently catapulting the SP2 from 0 - 62mph in approximately 16 seconds.

Or roughly ‘a day’ by modern standards/expectations.

Still, this was a major improvement when compared to the SP1. Yup, the SP2's even less well-known predecessor. The engine of which managed to eke out a earth's axis-spinning 65bhp.

Volkswagen quickly addressed the stark shortfall in power by doing literally nothing. Leading to a markedly brief production run of just 4 years, totalling a fraction north of 11,000 models built.

The inescapable truth was the SP2 was overwhelmingly underpowered for its weight.

VW’s seeming loss was the independent tuner’s gains though, as Veedub modding communities set about turning the SP2 into the actual car that VW should have built from the outset.

In the intervening years individual SP2’s have brandished bored out and stroked engines, higher compression ratios, hotter cams and even in some cases, turbocharging. Performing various engine upgrades which has seen power outputs increase by a staggering 200% or more.

Ultimately - and tragically - what could have otherwise been Brazil’s answer to an affordable Porsche 911 failed because of its compromised performance.

Talking About Porsche, The SP2 Looks Kinda Familiar...

It should do.

That is, if the more eagle-eyed have observed something hauntingly recognizable in terms of the silhouetted side profile. Not to put too fine a point on it, there’s more than an echo of Porsche 924 to the SP2.

And here’s the strange rub.

When the Volkswagen SP2 first entered production, pressure was mounting on the Wolfsburg outfit to release a version of the car for the European market.

Yet curiously Veedub ignored all overtures.

Yet curiouser, VW signed an agreement with Porsche around this very same time to develop a new sports car. Which you guessed it. Went on to become the Porsche 924.

So, To Rarity Value…..

Of the two models - the SP1 and SP2 - examples of both are extremely thin on the ground.

According to certain sources, there are less than 15 on American soil, along with the confirmed 4 here in the UK. Elsewhere, it’s said that some 670 were exported, with 155 destined for Nigeria and just 1 to Portugal of all places.

On the subject of rarity, there was just 88 Volkswagen SP1’s manufactured (although ‘powered’ by an even less salty 65bhp block, it’s not surprising).

All in all, the SP2 remained little-known outside of its native Brazil.

Despite this, the SP2 has become something of a cult classic in air-cooled circles. Nowadays finding themselves highly sought-after automotive commodities when and wherever they are unearthed.

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