Volkswagen SP2 Sports Coupe: Brazilian Beauty That's Only Skin Deep

With the world's eyes focused on the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, it's worth looking back to a previous Brazilian achievement, this one of the automotive variety: the gorgeous 1972-76 Volkswagen SP2 sports coupe.

Brazilian automakers had the playing field pretty much to themselves in the late 1960s as high import tariffs effectively kept foreign cars out of the country. While beneficial for the domestic manufacturers, Brazilian consumers keenly felt the lack of showroom floor competition, especially in narrower market niches such as sports cars.

Volkswagen do Brasil was one of those domestic carmakers and though they made and marketed several different sporty cars, none were especially inspiring... remember Agent Maxwell Smart's ride, the Karmann Ghia?

Its main competitor was the Puma, a fiberglass-bodied pseudo-exoticar from an independent, Brazilian-owned firm. The Puma was speedy though its perceived power was mainly due to a lightweight fiberglass body making things easy on its engine: the same rear-engined, air-cooled 1,500 cc mill found in VW's Karmann Ghia.

All things considered, Volkswagen do Brasil noted plenty of unsatisfied demand in country's sports car market and in 1969, decided to add yet another option. The so-called “Project X” economized by raiding VW's parts bins to the max while funds were poured into the body and interior.

By the time the SP2 was ready to roll off the lines at VW's São Bernardo do Campo plant, hardly anyone could guess that beneath the sensuously curved sheetmetal lurked the chassis and 1700cc air-cooled flat-four engine of a blocky, uninspiring three-door VW Variant.

The SP2's bloodline became readily apparent, however, as soon as the driver shifted the 4-speed manual into gear. A mere 75 horses were on tap and the SP2's rear-engine, rear-drive layout wasn't the only reason peeling out at a stoplight wasn't an option. Things were so bad, drivers nicknamed the SP2 “Sem Potência” - Portuguese for “Without Power”.

Performance issues aside, the SP2's good looks and sporty aura allowed Volkswagen do Brasil to produce 10,205 cars (all but 670 sold in Brazil) through February of 1976.

By then, the exciting styling was getting old in the tooth and cost estimates for a more-powerful SP3 (prototype shown above) sent VW execs running for cover. The SP2 remains a powerful symbol of Brazil's automotive can-do, however, and surviving examples command prices unimaginable back in the Seventies. (SP2 technical specs & info via, images via Fab Wheels Digest, Avengers In Time, Road & Track, Antigomoveis, Carsablanca, Paulo Keller, VWQ, and Fusca Classic)