1972-1976 Volkswagen SP2
While searching images for the Buick Centurion / LeSabre post, I stumbled on this car by accident. I had never heard of an SP2... and now I'd love to have one.
But I'd probably have a better chance of going to Mars than getting one. Only 670 of them left their home in Brazil, and none of them ever came to the United States as new cars.
That racy bodywork included a rear-mounted engine under a hatchback lift gate. Not an easy trick to design, I'm sure. And it's got to be safe... look at all that front crush space. The only styling reservation I might have is that I think a little more time should have been spent on the grille-less front end... though it does grow on one after a while. And just imagine some rallye or fog lights there.
An SP2 is stunning to look at, even 40+ years later. The long hood/short trunklid styling screams Italiano! As well it should, since the SP2's designers included Jose Vicente Martins, Jorge Oba, and Marcio Piancastelli, who studied under the great Luigi Segre at Carrozzeria Ghia. Its cabin appointments were also first class for the time, and the rear engine area shows engineering packaging of sheer genius.
The car that the SP2 reminds me of the most is the Saab Sonett III. The sizes and proportions look similar, they were built at about the same time, and they both scavenged engines from other sources. Neither were huge sales successes either. In fact, CarType says that altogether 11,123 units were built from the SP1 and SP2, and Wikipedia says that of that number, 10,205 of them were SP2s.
For today's history lesson, we learn that Brazil had closed its doors to imports in the 1970s. Their only home-built sports car was the Karmann Ghia, and they weren't making them any more. So in 1969, under Professor Rudolf Leiding, Volkswagon do Brasil designed a car called "Project X," built on the VW Type 3 chassis.
But I think I see a litle homage to the Porsche 911 in the rear quarter areas. I have to wonder if the SP2 designers weren't being a little more than faithful to the parent company to get approval for the SP2. Or does an air-cooled, rear engine design dictate those hind quarters? Either way, there are no complaints from me as the SP2 looks easy on the eyes from any angle.
The first model was called SP1 (SP = São Paulo, Brazil), but with only a 1600 cc engine and 54 hp, it was so underpowered that a 1700 cc, 63 hp engine was slipped in, earning the name SP2 (Carfolio reports the SP2 having 64 hp). Still, neither was potent enough to move the 1,962-lb car around with adequate speed and dispatch.
And both cars were so known for being slow that they
earned the "SP" knockoff Portugese nickname "Sem Potência," which means "Without Power." The SP2 could have been VW's first "Hot Hatchback." But it wasn't.
There was a planned SP3 that would have had a 1.8 cc water-cooled engine. But my speculation is that the car's slow sales (And slow speed) had already doomed it, so more money invested in research and development in the car would have just been throwing good money after bad.
One can only guess about how a SP2 performs. It supposedly has a top speed of 100 mph, with a 120-mph speedometer. It has the stock Beetle front axle, so there's no fresh wizardry there. The wheelbase is 94.5 inches; a 2013 Miata's is 91.7 and a 2013 GTi is 102. Those 185SP14 tires look pretty skinny too.
The dash definitely favored the driver, and it looks like VW put more gauges into that car than it has any other. The passenger had a grab handle, there's a decent glove compartment, and the door panels were recessed, assumably, for more room.
The wraparound cockpit continued to a full console (Rare on any car at the time) with the shifter in the right place, a parking brake lever where it also should be, and it looks like two "heater" control levers are there as well. I say "heater" because anybody that's ridden in an air-cooled Volkswagen on a cold day knows that "heater" is a relative term. As is "defroster."
I said I'd probably have a better chance of going to Mars that getting an SP2. But at least there are scale models of this VW, so maybe I'll find one of them some day.
Also, in early Volkswagon do Brasil illustrations, they hinted at a convertible SP2. I can't find any pictures of a finished one, but this image could show a custom chop job. And if the factory version had looked as good as this car, they missed a whole market of roadster customers.
Here's an SP2 commercial, using the theme song from James Bond's On Her Majesty's Secret Service:
It's a shame that Volkswagen or Porsche did not bring this car to America. I think it would have been a proper replacement for either the Karmann Ghia or the 914. And I'm going to say this... I think the car would have looked great with 5-mph bumpers... they might even be an improvement on the stark, grille-less front end. I also just have to wonder if a 2-litre 914-6 GT engine would fit back there...
One source said that the Volkswagen Museum has a white SP2 on display. But I don't know where that is. Munich? Wolfsburg? Pixley? I'd love to see a VW museum anywhere; an SP2 would just be the icing on the cake. Because one thing's for sure... when this car gets a hold on you, it won't let you go. And obviously, I've fallen for this car.
Stop the presses! There may be a future for the SP2. It seems that the present world has rediscovered the SP2, and a new one has taken shape. Retro designing is nothing new to VW, as witnessed by the New Beetle and Beetle, so why not offer a proper sports car on a retro theme? So maybe its time has come again.
The styling of the prototype SP2 still looks somewhat Porsche to me, but it seems to have moved more toward the 928 than a 911 now. Which, of course, is not a bad thing.
If Volkswagen makes the new SP2, I may go take a look at it. I'm sure I'll never have an original SP2, but a new one may be a fantasy come true.
So maybe Mars isn't so far away.
Image Credits: Our front view of the SP2 is from Multimedia/TV2/archive. The SP2 profile image was found at Wikipedia. The Porsche-ish quarter view came from CarType.com, as did the interior picture. The venerable Volkswagen engine image is from Wikipedia. The custom SP2 Cabriolet image came from VWSP2.com. The SP2 logo here is from StaticFlickr.com. Some technical information came from LeeHedges.com.