Whenever Ed Hawkins parks his Corrado VR6 and walks away, he can’t help but take long, lingering looks over his shoulder.
“It’s like when you see a girl and you know you’re in love,” he says, as a biting December wind whips across the flat west Norfolk farmland that surrounds his home.
“Every time I get out of it I have to look back at it, and even when I go down to the garage to get something I find myself standing and admiring it.
“I think the design of them is spot on, especially for a car of that age. It looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still, with the flared arches, sharp bodylines and really low bonnet at the front.
“You don’t see many cars that look like that, and if you do it’s bound to be an exotic one – not a Volkswagen.”
They don’t know what it is
Out of production since 1995, it’s no surprise that Ed’s moonlight blue Corrado – so dark it looks black in most lights – leaves many people scratching their heads.
“They don’t know what it is,” he says. “The amount of people who see it and say ‘nice Scirocco’…”
It’s almost certainly not a mistake Ed himself would have made as a youngster, he and his brother Olly spending hours car-spotting on road trips with their parents.
“Cars have been a huge part of my life for a long time,” he explains. “I can vividly remember playing a game with my brother, who’s four years older than me, every time we went out on a car journey: name every single car coming towards you. That went on for years.”
His fascination with cars only grew throughout his teens, his desires fuelled by the high-end motors for sale at a used car dealership owned by the father of a school friend in his native Manchester.
“Occasionally an original Renault Alpine would turn up on the drive, or an old Bentley – we were in awe,” he says, remembering weekends spent watching Mansell, Senna and co battle for F1 supremacy.
The pair of them washed cars for pocket money, including a T-bar MR2 and a Porsche 911 (993).
“I distinctly remember having my first trip out in that and it was absolutely brilliant,” he says.
Beetle that changed everything
But it was a ride in a white ‘70s VW Beetle owned by a friend of his brother that changed everything.
“I remember the journey was an event,” says Ed. “It was a raggedy thing, but it got there and it looked amazing. In the back seat was a portable tape player wired up to a 12-volt battery. My love for Volkswagens has sort of stemmed from that first interaction, and through a close group of friends with a lot of people interested in VWs.”
It certainly didn’t come from his parents, who drove Citroens and Saabs, and were rarely seen with a spanner in their hands.
Not so Ed and Olly, who were “forever causing mayhem” by taking apart mountain bikes, modifying them and putting them back together.
This love for fixing things would later come in extremely handy, as anyone who’s ever owned an ageing VW will know.
The family moved to Norfolk in the mid 1990s – “I was called ‘new kid’ in school for two years” – and Olly was old enough to buy his first car.
“He got a Ford Fiesta Mk 1,” says Ed, who was aghast at his brother’s choice.
“I was ‘I’m not going to be a sell out like him, I’m never driving a Ford, this is it not happening, why have you got that?’ Olly said ‘look, it’s a car, I’ve got a car, I can drive’, but I’m like ‘no’.”
A VW or nothing
For Ed, it had to be a VW or nothing and, aged 17, he set his sights on a Beetle to learn to drive in.
“I thought ‘I can work on it, they’re fairly simple, I’ll be able to maintain it – that’s the car for me, and the hunt started,” he says, eventually spotting a 1972 maroon Bug on a garage forecourt on a trip to the Norfolk coast.
Ed could afford the £750 asking price thanks to cash earned from a busy weekend schedule that saw him cleaning customers’ car windscreens at a local hotel before working in the kitchen, and also helping out in a bike shop in King’s Lynn.
“I remember taking down some details about it and I wrote down maroon – or what I thought was maroon – but was actually the word Maureen, because I couldn’t spell maroon,’ he laughs. “Ever since that day that car was referred to as Maureen.
“I then proceeded to try to enjoy life driving around in a 1972 car with a year’s MoT. It became clear at the next MoT there were some underlying issues – the heater channels, A pillar, rear bumper supports, and rear valance had gone.
“I went to see a local garage and, amazingly, he had a load of new old stock VW panels in his loft that he’d had for 30 years. I bought all these panels, still with the VW Germany sticker on them, took the car to a welder and he sorted it for the MoT.”
Ed then headed off to university in Bournemouth to study product design visualisation, leaving the Beetle, now a patchwork of primed panels, parked out of the way at home behind a tree.
Saving for a respray
“My assumption was that, structurally, it was now sound and I had these aspirations of using my student loan to pay for a respray,” he says. “It became clear I couldn’t do that, but I had my third year in industry and got a job close to home and saved up for a respray.”
The car was sprayed gunmetal grey with metal flake – no longer maroon, but still very much Maureen – and finally made the five-hour trip to Bournemouth.
“All my friends who I’d been talking to about this Beetle for years were like ‘it actually does exist!’,” he says.
“It was a fun drive. In any car of that age you had to drive with an anticipation of what was going to happen. Every junction I went up to I knew it would stall, so I adopted this method of putting my toe on the accelerator to keep the revs up and using my heel to brake at the same time.”
Ed also developed a keen sense of hearing, listening for the inevitable clunks and thumps that spell trouble.
“I can remember no end of incidents in that car,” he says. “On one drive down to uni I heard this really weird noise so I pulled over in Baldock.
“The air filter had fallen off the top of the carb. One of the rubber oil feed tubes had ripped, so I walked into Baldock town centre, which is fairly small, found a garage that had a bit of fuel hose, and got back up and running.
“Another time at uni, I had driven back from a mate’s late at night and got to some traffic lights, turned my music down, and heard this really weird noise. I pulled into a side street and the exhaust was hanging on by one bolt out of three and dragging on the floor. I didn’t have my toolbox, so I ended up fixing it with a bit of speaker wire to get it back home.”
After graduating, Ed drove Maureen to his girlfriend, now-wife, Leah’s father’s farmhouse, and set to work in the barn checking out the car’s structural integrity.
Stripping the Beetle down revealed a number of issues, not least the floor pan and heater channels being welded together.
“I spent two weeks with a grinder, grinding it apart,” he says. “I finally got the body separate from the floor pan, which was just a mess.”
Ed refurbished the gearbox and running gear, then arranged with Olly – who had moved back to the north west – to have the car, in its two halves, trailered up to Manchester where he knew a man who restored Beetles.
“I had taken time off work to help him do the work, to cheapen the cost,” he explains. “I thought it would take two or three weeks max, but it ended up taking six or seven weeks because this guy was a bit of a stoner and wouldn’t start work until about 2pm!”
The work was finished and the car MoTd just before Christmas, leaving Ed with a cold journey home in a car with no heater.
“I’d only taken bits with me that were required for the car to be running, so the heat exchangers were here in the barn,” he says. “I had to drive back from Manchester, no carpet, just a driver’s seat, no heat exchangers, in probably -5C.
“I put three pairs of socks on, but the draught coming in was freezing. I got back here and it took me a good four hours to heat up.”
Ed ran the car until about 2006, when he moved to Ely and needed something more reliable to get to and from work in Bury St Edmunds.
“I loved that car”
“I loved that car, but it had to go,” he says, Maureen finding a new home in Spalding. “It was a very hard day. If I could have I would have kept it and laid it up because it holds a lot of memories. I can remember nearly burning my now wife alive in that car, because the voltage regulator that was under the back seat caught fire and caused all the horsehair in the rear seats to set on fire.”
Ed used his mum’s Toyota Paseo (“not really my thing”) while looking for something more suited to the commute than a Beetle, and something a little bit different.
“For me, a car has to be as unique as it can be. It’s a bit of a statement, what you drive,” he says, remembering a time at university when a friend of a friend parked a silver Corrado outside their house.
“I’d written my dissertation on the design of the VW Beetle, but I’d never known too much about the Corrado.
“That is pretty cool”
“I thought ‘what’s that’? I did a load of research and thought ‘that is pretty cool, the lines, how it sits’, the design of it to me was incredibly desirable, so much more so than a Golf.”
So it was to the Corrado he turned in 2007, paying £1,000 for a 1990 1.8 16v with faded red paint and 140,000 miles on the clock.
“It was more pink than red, but a friend polished it all up and it looked nice,” says Ed, spending hours on the-corrado.net to learn more about his new car.
Launched in 1988, the front wheel drive Corrado had stand out driving characteristics to go with its seductive looks.
But, after a trip to a VW tuning garage, Ed came away with a list of issues covering two sides of A4 paper, along with a scary cost estimate.
“I thought ‘what have I bought?’ But it still had an MoT, and it gave me a picking list of things I could do at my own pace,” he says, first replacing the valve stem seals.
A dramatic end
The rest of the work was never completed, however, with the car meeting a dramatic end on a Norfolk country road in August 2008.
“I hit what I think was a patch of standing water and ended up on a cricket pitch having rolled the car five or six times,” he remembers.
“The car ended up on the drivers side door and I couldn’t get out. I could smell petrol, but fortunately some people were playing cricket at the time that I had done some kind of gymnastics move into the field.
“They came running over, ripped the sun roof off and I climbed out. The car (pictured) was completely destroyed, leaving a path of destruction through this field and me waiting to be collected.”
Remarkably, Ed suffered only a slight cut to his wrist, and Leah picked him up and nursed his bruised ego.
He bought the salvage back from the insurance company for £200, stripped it of useful parts, and started looking for another Corrado.
After buying a 1990 Atlas grey, 1.8 16v, again for £1,000, he added a yellow example for £500, bought from eBay despite a “dodgy front bumper, weird aftermarket headlights and a problem with the head gasket”.
“The auction ended at some ludicrous time like 6.30am, and we were away at the time, so I set an alarm and got up early,” he says. “The missus was fuming. ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ‘I’m buying this car’. ‘Why do you need another car?’ ‘Because it’s cheap and I know I can fix it’.”
After repairing the head gasket, he sold it on for £1,500…
The grey car was sold when Ed got a job in Cambridge and, again, needed a more suitable commuter car – this time a VW Bora diesel.
“I sold it to a mate called Turkey, who used to be a bit of a vandal and ragged every car he owned,” he says. “Within six months it had thrown a rod. He sold it to another guy who took the engine out, and I lost contact with it.”
Corrados took a back seat while he moved on to a BMW 320d and a then series of company cars, from a new-shape Scirocco through the ranks of BMW from 318d to his current 530e.
Time passed and, approaching the age of 40, Ed thought: “What am I doing here? A big part of my life has been cars, and working on them, and I want one to work on again.”
On a mission
So a decade after selling the grey car, he got back in touch with Turkey in a bid to track it down.
“I thought if I could buy it back after 10 years it would be quite a nice story,” says Ed, who located the current owner and sent him a message via Facebook.
The car was in King’s Lynn, parked next to a butcher, but it hadn’t turned a wheel since its breakdown, had no engine, and Ed’s offer of £300 was turned down.
“It was in a sorry state, kept outside for 10 years, but he said the headlights alone were worth £200 apiece,” he says, abandoning his dream. “It was just too much work.”
Six months on and the itch was still there. Ed started looking again, finding the 1994 VR6 that crouches nearby on Gumtree for £3,000.
“It was out of my budget, but I thought I’d go and look at it to see what that end of the market is like,” he says.
“It looked OK, but the engine looked nasty and it had some bodywork issues. I’d never driven a VR6, so I took it for a drive and was like ‘this sounds amazing, I need to buy this car’.”
After bargaining down to £2,500, Ed got the car home in September 2018 with 10 months left on the MoT.
In need of attention
After a couple of 100-mile round trips to work, Ed noticed an annoying ticking from the engine, then a huge cloud of smoke under hard acceleration, then a spongy feel from the brakes, which was fixed before the car failed an MoT on emissions (narrowly passing after an engine flush).
It was clear that, after 165,000 miles, this car needed some attention…
Quite how much would only become clear once Ed got it inside a home-built timber garage, and started pulling the Corrado apart once the March 2020 lockdown gave him time to tinker.
“I thought I’d take a few bits off and see where we get to,” he says, getting in far deeper, for far longer, than he ever imagined.
He knew that the emissions problem could either be the piston rings or valve stem seals, while the timing chains and guides were overdue for a change – usually an engine out job and 36 hours of garage labour.
“That could have been more than I paid for the car, so I had no choice but to do it myself,” he says. “I didn’t have room for an engine crane, so with some help from the Corrado Club of Great Britain I found an article on the web archive on how to change the chains with the engine in situ.
Pouring with sweat
“I took the gearbox out on the hottest day of the year by myself. It was pretty heavy and I can remember coming out of that garage pouring with sweat.”
After fitting the new chains, he waited two months for the re-machined head to come back and put it all back together, only to find water leaking out because of a faulty head gasket.
“I asked a guy from the local garage to come down to help, told him I’d lost my will to live on this, and he gave me a few pointers,” says Ed, who turned 40 during his toils.
“He said while you’ve got the head off you might as well do the piston rings, because it was burning a lot of oil. I’ve never really done any bottom end work, but he said ‘it’s a piece of piss, don’t worry about it’.”
Unfortunately, after fitting the first ring, which was “tricky”, the second one snapped, resulting in a six-week wait for a replacement to arrive from Lithuania as none could be found in the UK.
There was another false start when it was finally time to fire the car up, faulty wiring on the immobiliser the latest hitch.
“The battery was at 11.8v, which would normally start a car, but not a Corrado,” says Ed, who refurbished all the wiring, and replaced the alternator and starter motor before trying again with a freshly-charged battery.
“It sounded amazing”
“It was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” he adds. “I fired it up and it was on the button straight away, and it sounded amazing.”
When the next MoT came around, Ed stood in the emissions testing bay while his car was plugged in to the computer.
“Before, the emissions were .35, but now there was no reading at all – .00,” he says. “He left it on there for 10 minutes and it read .02, better than most modern engines. There are not many ‘not new’ parts on that engine.”
Having spent all summer and autumn working on the car, it was December before it was ready to roll.
“I really wanted the summer to drive it, but I’ll do a few runs when it’s dry to get the new rings seated properly, then probably park it up and tinker again,” he says, with another lockdown affording plenty of time.
“I would like to have a little bit of paint done, the suspension is far too low so needs new coilovers, and I’d quite like to hunt out some of the rarer parts like some Corrado Recaros, which were a £1,800 extra. They do appear, but at about £2,000 second hand, so it’s tricky.”
Ed has already added period after-market parts, like the RH ZW1 alloys and BBS steering wheel.
After a whopping 17 previous owners, this well-travelled VR6 has finally found a longer-term home.
“It’s been moved on a lot of times, and I’m probably the first person to give it some love and attention,” he says.
“It’s never going to be a show pony, because the quality of the outside isn’t where it needs to be and I don’t really want to get it to that level. It wants to be a usable car.”
Corrados are an increasingly rare sight on the UK’s roads, with only 727 VR6s on the road at the last count, down from 1,600 a decade ago.
“I used to get a lot of head turns in my Beetle chugging along, but you get just as many in the Corrado because you just don’t see them,” he says.
In one corner of west Norfolk, Ed is helping to keep the breed alive.
Photographs by Simon Finlay.