Volkswagen celebrates this year the 40th anniversary of the SP coupe, a car relatively unknown outside Brazil, its country of origin. Built by the company's Brazilian subsidiary in the '70s, the attractive coupe has an interesting story. In 1968 Rudolf Leiding, former CEO of Audi NSU, was appointed director of VW do Brasil, a job he accepted under one condition: to have the permission of building models adapted for the Brazilian market.
In the 1970's auto imports were blocked in South America's largest market, so Leiding thought about building a two-seat sports coupe that he believed would be successful.
Together with 'Karmann-Ghia do Brasil', which at the time was building the already dated Karmann Ghia coupe, Volkswagen Brazil started developing a new coupe, which had to use as many parts as possible from VW's local model range in order to keep costs low.
The team used the platform of the VW 1600, the Brazilian version of the Type 3 (forefather of the Passat ). Engineers took the chassis, axles and the engine, while the steel body was developed from scratch. The SP also used the twin headlights of the 1600. The 54HP 1.6-liter engine that equipped the test prototype car proved itself inappropriate for a sports car so VW decided to offer this unit in a basic version called SP-1.
There were jokes that the SP name stood for "Sem Potência" (Portuguese for "without power"), but it actually came from São Paulo, Brazil's largest city. For the SP-2 version, however, engineers enlarged the displacement of the air-cooled flat-four engine to 1.7 liters. The unit thus developed 65 horsepower at 4,600 rpm and offered the SP-2 a top speed of 156 km/h (97 mph).
While the SP-1 sold in limited numbers, the SP-2 reached 10,000 units from June 1972 to February 1976, with the vast majority of them being sold in Brazil. The car was never officially sold in Europe, but one model found its way to Germany in 1971, when Rudolf Leiding was called back to VW headquarters to be installed as the company's CEO. He brought along an SP-2 as a gift to his wife. Today, European collectors own several SP-2 coupes and one can be seen in VW's museum. A few years ago, there was an attempt to revive the SP-2, but nothing has materialized so far.
By Dan Mihalascu