Sports Beetle from Brazil – VW SP2 (1971 to 1976)

Sports Beetle from Brazil - VW SP2 (1971 to 1976)

VW do Brasil built a sports car with Beetle technology. The coupe looked faster than it was and never officially came to Europe.

Rudolf Leiding, General Director of Volkswagen do Brasil from 1968 to 1970, wanted a sports car and turned to young designers, engineers and Karmann.

© Achim Hartmann
Rudolf Leiding, General Director of Volkswagen do Brasil from 1968 to 1970, wanted a sports car and turned to young designers, engineers and Karmann.

Rudolf Leiding, General Director of Volkswagen do Brasil from 1968 to 1970 and therefore naturally determined in the selection of his company car, wanted a sports car for his wife. Apparently he couldn’t find an adequate car in the existing model range. There was simply a lack of sportiness and exclusivity. So the idea arose to build a VW sports car that should surprise the wife and inspire even more buyers.

Technology from the VW kit, look of a sports car

Leiding commissioned a team of young designers and engineers who stood at their drawing boards in 1970 to develop a 2 + 2-seater coupé. The first 1: 1 clay model was completed in November of the same year. One directive was to vigorously plunder the VW construction kit in order to keep the costs for the model provisionally called Projeto X down. So it is not surprising that the front axle is basically identical to that of the Beetle, that the sports car is based on an only slightly modified Type 3 platform and that its mechanics have largely been adopted. Including four-speed gearbox and engine, which of course is in the rear. On the other hand, the SP completely denies its closeness to the dull relatives. Only the aluminum double headlights adorned other South American Volkswagens in a similar form. However, the interior and body are independent. From the back, the design is reminiscent of an early Porsche 911 with Italian styling elements.

Glass fiber? D rather not

Even an unusual body material was considered: plastic reinforced with fiberglass. However, Volkswagen lacked any experience with its processing and durability in the humid South American climate. So the bodies were ultimately made of steel, 25 pieces a day at peak production times. At Karmann-Ghia do Brasil. Because the South America branch of the Osnabrück-based car manufacturer was integrated into the development early on, as it was already in 1960 as a partner for VW do Brasil with its own press shop, tool and body shop in Brazil, near the large car factories in Bernando do Campo at the gates Sao Paulos drawn.

The SP1 did not go well

The SP1 was presented in two versions at the German industrial fair at the beginning of 1971. The SP1 with 54 hp from 1584 cubic centimeters of displacement turned out to be a flop. His flat boxer, unchanged from the VW Type 3, was too weak for the sporty look, 149 km / h top speed simply too little. The low sales figures soon led to the end of the cheaper SP1. The SP2 achieved at least 65 hp. For this purpose, the displacement was increased to 1678 cm3 by means of an enlarged bore and the compression increased to 7.5: 1 (instead of 7.2: 1). Two Solex 34 PDSIT carburetors replaced the 32 PDSIT version and, together with enlarged inlet valves, completed the factory tuning. But even by 1970s standards, the SP2 remained a very mild sports car. That is why contemporary scoffers like to translate the SP-Kiirzel with “sin potenza”, which most likely equates to “without performance”. In fact, SP stands for Sao Paulo.

The models 1 and 2 cannot only be distinguished by their engine power. The equipment list also shows nuances. The SP2 should be delivered with 14-inch magnesium rims as standard. Whether this actually happened can no longer be determined with certainty – there are some indications that the demanding material did not make it into series production. At least the SP2s tested by auto motor und sport and the American Road and Track in 1973, like the museum models from Karmann and Volkswagen, are equipped with the 14-inch steel rims typical of the SP1.

In fact, the differences were probably limited to ammeters and oil thermometers, headlights with halogen lamps, windshield wiper interval, map reading lamp in the passenger door and pockets in the door panels.

Radio and leather seats as an extra

Details that were only standard with the SP2. The list of surcharges was extremely short: there was only radio and leather seats as an extra. The SP2, made available by the VW Museum, is equipped with a radio. But you don’t really need it, because the Coupé is by no means quiet. He lacks the clear separation of man and machine. Only the engine maintenance hatch, which forms part of the rear trunk floor, tries to provide sound insulation in conjunction with the carpet lying on it, but has no chance. Beetle drivers are familiar with the sound of the blower howling, the valve train rattling and the thundering exhaust, but still a little exotic. The sound carpet seems to be more tightly woven and brings the SP2 closer to real sports cars, away from the Wolfsburg million seller. The nose, on the other hand, is not easily fooled. She recognizes the origin by the odor mixture that escapes from the heater. That mélange of warm air and oil smell that only the heat exchangers of air-cooled VW boxers give off.

If it gets too warm in the SP2, the engine gives off a lot of heat even when the heating is switched off, the temperature can be regulated easily and draft-free with the small opening windows in front of the C-pillar. It doesn’t get cool in the summer, of course, and at the latest now you want the second extra, the leather seats. In the series production, plastic covers were used, which are insufficiently described as breathable and which unnecessarily reduce the quality of the seats.

Good comfort on long journeys

The shape of the furniture, on the other hand, is convincing and, together with the small amount of space, ensures good comfort even on long journeys. However, the available space in the rear is too tight, even for small children, and there are no upholstery there either. A wooden board covered with a carpet tries in vain to imitate the bench and is only suitable as a storage space for a large travel bag. Two seat belts, which hold the suitcase in position in the event of an emergency braking, prove to be a particularly well thought-out detail. Or when driving briskly on the country road, the preferred surface of the flattest series Volkswagen ever produced. The well-stepped gearbox with its short shift travel and the direct steering, which makes the SP2 very manageable and also only requires small steering forces, invite you to drive quickly. The very sporty impression is underlined by the willing, high-revving engine, which fortunately provides good propulsion even at relatively low speeds. Only the very brave should feel their way to the red area of ​​the rev counter, which is at 5,000 rpm. On the one hand because of the heavily used valve train mechanics and on the other hand because of the chassis design. It is essentially the same as that of the first Beetle prototypes, but it still has to take on 65 hp. Anyone who has made friends with the border area, which is very high for a VW, will experience a lot of driving fun on winding roads, but the heated rear-engine novice will find himself in the ditch after a short time.


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