The Brazilian Volkswagen SP2 you’ve never heard of – the story of construction and failure


It is in the current era of globalization that the American Ford Fusion is indistinguishable from the European Mondeo, and the Russian Nissan X-Trail has “sharpened” into a copy of the American Rogue. And in the middle of the last century, every car market sought to prove its individuality and importance. For this reason, the Brazilian branch of the Volkswagen concern, which has a certain autonomy from the German headquarters, decided to build a sports car using its own resources. And it did. It wasn’t bad at all, but it still had a weak spot…

Brazil is not only carnivals, the statue of Jesus Christ and the coolest footballers. It is also a high crime rate, poverty of favelas and… just crazy protectionism of local car industry. Up to the middle 90th of last century import of cars in Brazil was forbidden at legislative level, and when the prohibition was removed, another trouble awaited the foreign cars – huge import duties, which now exceed half of cars cost. Therefore, car manufacturers have no choice but to build plants in Brazil – no one wants to lose the largest Latin American country as a market.

Volkswagen built its own plant in the late 1950s, putting on stream “Beetles”, “Transporters”, sports coupe Karmann Ghia and a number of local budget models. But time passed and if the cheap and practical Fusca, Typ 3 and Transporter continued to sell in decent numbers, the customers quickly lost interest in the Karman: it looked outdated for its price, did not drive properly, plus local small companies (like Santa Matilde and Puma) had progressed beyond their years. The Volkswagen do Brasil management, led by Rudolf Laiding, decided that “enough is enough,” so they tasked their engineers with building a new inexpensive sports car.


The Brazilian unit was quite independent from the German office, but did not have a big budget. The terms of reference for the new model was formulated as “a modern two-seat sports car built on the existing chassis of the Volkswagen do Brasil. So in 1969 began “Project X” (and we are not talking about a youth film), which, in addition to Laiding, included his wife Helga, chief engineer Zenor Shiman, designer Marzio Piancastelli, as well as designers Jose Vicente Martins and George Oba (with emphasis on the last syllable).

At the end of 1970 the future sports car took the form of a full-scale plaster model, and at the beginning of ’71 was embodied in metal on the chassis of the popular Typ 3. The presentation was held in March at the exhibition in Sao Paulo, and at the time of its debut the car didn’t even have a final name – SP stood for São Paulo. But the short name caught on – especially after the prototype was published on the cover of Auto Esporte magazine, and it was decided to keep the SP name. It was still a year away from serial production…

In June 1972, the SP joined the assembly line, offering a choice of two versions – the basic SP1 equipped with a 1.6 liter 65 hp engine, and the SP2 with a 1.7 liter engine and a power of 75 horses. The engine was located in the basement of the rear trunk. The frankly underpowered SP1 model was abandoned almost immediately – at the beginning of 1973 it was taken off production, only 66 copies were produced. The SP2 was doing better, but only on the background of SP1 – the struggle against external competitors from the Puma and Santa Matilde was lost completely.


With its striking design, thoughtful interior, high build quality and a virtually indestructible air-cooled Volkswagen motor, the SP2 was inferior to its rivals in the most important discipline for a sports car – dynamics. It took the flagship SP2 more than 15 seconds to 60 mph (97 km/h), with a top speed of 160 kilometers per hour. The Puma with the same engine was noticeably faster, mainly because its body, unlike the Volkswagen, was made of fiberglass instead of metal.

The age of the SP was short-lived – in February 1976 the coupe, which at home received the offensive nickname “Sem Potência” (translated as “weak”), was retired. During that time, 10,205 SPs were built, with 670 of them going abroad. Most of the exported cars went to Nigeria (155 units), one copy went to Europe, namely to Portugal. Now the rare Brazilian Volkswagen is rapidly increasing in value and in good standing with collectors.

The SP2 can be admired not only in Brazil or Nigeria – there is one in the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg. Interestingly, during the production of the SP2, there were plans to make a SP3 version, but they considered the 100 horsepower liquid-cooled Volkswagen Passat engine too expensive, so the SP2 was limited to a single prototype. Probably it was a mistake – 25 horsepower definitely would not be superfluous for the SP.

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