Impressions of the GLS and the outstanding GLi
Since J.W. road-tested the Volkswagen Scirocco 1600TS in the July, 1976 issue of Motor Sport, the model has been replaced by the more tastefully and luxuriously-appointed Scirocco GLS, available solely on the UK market. Recently I was able to renew acquaintance with the nimble and delightful coupe range, firstly with a straightforward manual gearbox GLS (an automatic ‘box costs an extra £295) and a unique—at least in Britain—GLi, a GLS-trim Scirocco fitted with the 110 b.h.p. fuel-injection engine from the GTi. The GLi, left-hand-drive like the standard-production GTi, had been the personal transport of VW GB Managing Director Michael Heelas, until the PR Department —newly headed by Tony Hill—had whisked it from under his nose to let the Press have a taste of what might be if marketing strategists allow it. If I was Mr. Heelas I would be very upset indeed at being thus relieved of my pride and joy, for that GLi is a pure gem of a car.
The GLS came first, an extremely smart, cobalt metallic blue example with only 750 miles on the odometer and a truly first class standard of finish both inside and out. A much more sumptuous aura in the cockpit is its biggest advantage over the TS—it’s amazing what effect a change in materials has. Instead of the harsh and almost spartan plaid upholstery of the TS, the GLS has beautiful corded velour upholstery, thick-pile carpets and carpet trim on the inside door trims. A more attractive, leather-bound, three-spoke, thick-rimmed steering wheel is nicer to the eye and hands. Other new features include bronze-tinted windows and an improved— and certainly effective—fresh-air ventilation system with a quiet-running three-speed blower. The “plus two” folding rear seat remains hard and cramped.
There have been no mechanical changes to this Guigario-designed, Karmann-assembled, front-wheel-drive two-plus-two: power continues to come from a transversely-mounted, 1,588 c.c., 79.5 mm. x 80 mm., four-cylinder, single overhead camshaft engine, which delivers 85 b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m., 92 lb. ft. torque at 3,800 r.p.m., has an 8.2-to-1 compression ratio and will happily consume two-star fuel at a modest rate through its downdraught twin-choke carburetter. Britain is now the only market to offer this engine: others choose from 70 b.h.p. or 110 b.h.p. Alloy wheels are standard wear outboard of strut and wishbone front suspension, the unique torsion beam rear axle and disc/drum brakes.
The test car’s engine belied its small mileage, a very crisp and willing unit, bereft of the flat-spots which plagued J.W.’s TS and various Audi 80s I have driven over the last few years. A metallic hiss emanated from the induction side at low speeds, reminiscent of my first four-wheeled vehicle, an A35 van with the air-cleaner removed from the SU of its 1,100 c.c. engine (a fun vehicle!). It became a little bit buzzy from 5,000 r.p.m. up into the cross-hatched 6,300 to 6,700 r.p.m. mark on its tachometer and there was a boom on the over-run as 4,500 r.p.m., but generally the Scirocco is an exceptionally quiet car for its size. Tyre, wind, suspension and cruising-speed engine noise is all well insulated or avoided, though there is a slight whooshing sound from the tail area, in common with most hatchback, two-box system cars.
An unusual handbook recommendation is not to drive at less than 1,500 r.p.m., strange, because flexibility is such that it will happily poodle along in traffic in the gears at tickover speed and set off from rest in third gear if one is cruel enough. Engagement of 3rd gear from rest is unlikely to be by accident, for the change to the four-speed gearbox is exceptionally positive, with a sweetness unmarred by its touch of notchiness.
The Scirocco’s chassis behaviour isn’t exceptional in any specific direction, but considered as a whole it is delightful—with the exception of the brakes, which on the new GLS were very soft, spongy and with a long pedal travel. It does not communicate to the driver with razor sharp precision, but it does have very high standards of roadholding, balanced handling, safe behaviour and a ride which, while kept firmly controlled by good damping, is most comfortable, especially when allied to the high-back bucket seats, which really are exceptional. There are no really violent front-wheel-drive sensations: the 175/70 SR 13 Continental radials spin easily in the wet if the driver is lead-footed and the wheel tugs under violent acceleration from a standstill if lock is applied.
The GLS impressed as a pleasant, comfortable, quick and stylish car, but it paled at the side of the GLi, one of the most memorable and delightful cars of my testing year. Its so-sweet, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel-injected engine almost seemed to sing to itself as it screamed to an indicated 36 m.p.h. in 1st, 64 m.p.h. in 2nd and 95 m.p.h. in 3rd at 6,700 r.p.m. This felt much more like my idea of a baby Porsche than the 924 (and the switch gear is identical!), so much more lively and smooth and with a crispness and sewing-machine sweetness of power delivery throughout the range that it could have been a small, water-cooled offspring of the famous flat-six. The engine was identical to that fitted to the Golf GTi tested by J.W. in the March 1977 issue (except that this one was developing its proper power), giving 110 b.h.p. at 6,100 r.p.m. and 101 lb. ft. torque at 5,000 r.p.m., the peak of a very flat torque curve. A small number of left-hand-drive fuel-injected Scirocco GT-is have been imported, though these are a bit more spartan than this GLi.
Like the GLS, the GLi started from hot or cold instantly and ran cleanly immediately, but it took a little while to warm up to its 1,000 r.p.m. tickover speed, below which the normally silky engine set the facia vibrating. Once the oil had warmed up—a detail shown on a gauge in the centre console fitted peculiarly in preference to a pressure gauge —it was ready to show the full extent of its flexibility. On the one hand it could be accelerated at full-throttle without a hiccup from below tickover speed in top gear and pick up rapidly from any speed or r.p.m. whatever the gear. On the other hand, once pressed above 3,500 r.p.m. the tachometer needle would dart demoniacally round the scale as the ideally-spaced ratios were swapped around via the easy gearchange. This is one high-performance car on which a four-speed gearbox is entirely adequate; even in 4th at maximum speed (round about 115 m.p.h.) the engine felt and sounded unfussed. 0-60 m.p.h, appeared in little more than 8 1/2 sec., which is well down into Dolomite Sprint area, yet this performance from the 1.6-litre, eight-valve engine was produced more quietly, more smoothly than by the British 2-litre, 16-valve engine.
Because the injection system cut down induction noise, the rapid GLi was even quieter than the GLS and it was this quietness and smoothness of operation allied to such flexible performance, comfort and agility that made this car so rewarding.
It was the nearest thing imaginable to a combination in a small, agile package of the different attributes of Porsche, Mercedes, Jaguar and BMW.
Naturally, the extra power created more torque reaction through the steering, which needed some help with centring against the pull through the wheels. Traction was good, but a full power application out of a tight corner provoked a touch of judder and tyre squeal. Adhesion on its Michelins was so good that there were occasions when I thought this sophisticated, fun-car-cum-comfortable, quiet baby limousine would tip itself on to two wheels rather than slide at the limit.
It did have its Achilles heels, however: the obvious one of left-hand-drive, which didn’t really bother me, and the brakes, yet again, which were soft and could be made to fade all too easily.
Sadly, the GLi, which is available in most l.h.d. countries, cannot be purchased in Britain at any price-yet—although the mechanically identical l.h:d. GTi is available to special order for £4,638. Right-hand-drive fuel-injection Sciroccos—albeit detoxed and emasculated—are available in Japan and Australia, so the conversion is not a physical impossibility and there is hope for us yet. The GLS can be bought for £4,231, however, which is good value for such smoothness, quality, comfort and hatchback versatility.—C.R.