The VW Corrado Took Active Rear Spoilers Mainstream in the ’80s

The piece of active aero helped stabilize the hatchback at speed.

The Volkswagen Corrado turns 30 this year, and as a form of celebration, VW is taking a look back at the innovations introduced on the sporty two-door hatch. Just as it is today, the Volkswagen brand of the 1980s was focused on mainstream products, which at the time included mostly compact sedans and hatchbacks. As such, it didn't offer a halo sports car like many of its contemporaries. The Corrado was the closest thing to such a model, and the sharp-looking 2+2 hatch served as a technology showcase for the brand. Among that tech was one of the first active rear spoilers on a production car.

Introduced in 1988 as a replacement for the equally attractive Scirocco, the Corrado was built in Onsabruck, Germany, by longtime VW coachbuilding partner Karmann. According to Volkswagen, the name comes from the Spanish word correr, which means "to sprint." The Corrado was originally available with one of two 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines, one naturally aspirated and one supercharged. The latter was installed in the Corrado G60 and used a scroll-type supercharger to produce 158 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque, a respectable amount for the day that allowed for an estimated top speed of 140 mph.

To help accommodate that high speed, VW fitted the Corrado with a flush-mounted rear wing that automatically deployed above 75 mph (or 45 mph in the U.S.) to increase high-speed stability and reduce rear end lift by 64 percent. Though technically the 1984 Lancia Thema was the first production car to use an electrically retractable rear spoiler, the Corrado was one of the first road cars in the U.S. to offer active aero. Volkswagen claims its system even predates the one on the 964-generation Porsche 911, although Porsche points out that the two cars debuted around the same time and that the Stuttgart-based automaker had been experimenting with active aero on race cars since the 1960s.

In addition to the Corrado's slick "aero blade," the hatch also featured an interior derived from the B3-generation Passat's said to be inspired by Bauhaus modernist design. The Corrado also marked the first use of Computer-Aided Design at the VW brand, as the car's fenders were the first production parts designed using CAD. Meanwhile, the chassis inherited bits from the MkII Golf GTI 16V to imbue the Corrado with handling to match its sporty good looks.

Dr. Carl H. Hahn, chairman of the VW board of directors from 1982-1993, reportedly wanted the Corrado to be "a kind of new Karmann Ghia, only with more power." The car was relatively sprightly in G60 trim, but even more power came later in the Corrado's product cycle when VW installed the 2.9-liter VR6 narrow-angle V-6 engine, which produced up to 188 horsepower and 181 lb-ft.

VW contends that many of the innovations ushered in by the Corrado can be seen in its current product lineup, including the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon, which also features an active rear spoiler. Not many cars can be related in any way to a modern lineup 30 years after launch, so it's pretty cool that the Corrado has such an enduring legacy.

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