Volkswagen Apollo VIP

Car of the Day #105: 1991 Volkswagen Apollo VIP

Volkswagen Apollo VIP
Volkswagen Apollo VIP • original source unknown

Strange things happen when times are tough. 

"We're going through some tough times," the executives say on TV, using the collective 'we' that implies that whomever is saying that sentence is as affected by the situation as everyone else. 

We know that's horseshit, of course, but what's really happening is that companies are lowering their expectations of their customers’ intelligence.

Smart companies adjust their products, marketing, and based on customer needs — so what’s the problem? Because when ‘shrinkflation’ and de-contenting happens, it’s an opportunity to split the difference on price; the price may be lower, but it also may reflect improved profit margins.

Maybe the lower classes…er…economy segment purchasers don't have so much money, so goods have to be sold for less. Or made more cheaply. Or discontinued.

Those moves are done to protect profit and minimize loss for the parent company, with the resulting products suffering until a better solution can be found (or the car can safely be renamed).

Keen observers of how China’s automotive market evolved will see a familiar trait with this story: ‘Western’ brands dumped inferior products into a market and assumed local customers would take it, rather than leave it. Bad move.

Maybe Chinese automakers have been reading my stories and tweets, and saw this coming more than a decade ago, choosing to forge its own path to four-wheeled independence?1

With no strong Latin American automakers, drivers are instead treated to whatever scraps Western brands sent overseas; the likes of Ford and Volkswagen even did the unthinkable and stirred up a cesspool of mediocrity from a recipe of late-model products.

Ford then took the Orion and heavily modified it to create the Verona two-door sedan, complete with a more upright cabin. (Hey, if automakers can call four door vehicles coupes, I can call two door vehicles sedans.)

Executives at AutoLatina, sensing an opportunity, then took the Verona, slapped on Volkswagen badges and "styling cues" and introduced the Volkswagen Apollo. 

The front engine, front-drive coupe didn't look terrible, at least to my eyes. Something about the Volkswagen roundel imparts a sense of order in a car grille, doesn't it? Behind the badge was a Volkswagen engine, too: a 1.8-litre "AP" 4-cylinder that was an evolution of the Volkswagen EA827 motor, first seen in the 1972 Audi 80 and Volkswagen Dasher, among others.

In lower trim levels, the Apollo was criticized for having few standard features, including a lack of all but the most basic seat adjustments. The Apollo VIP was the opposite, though; fitted with luxuries that now felt out of place because those features hadn't been baked into the core product.

Predictably, this fancypants version went down like a warm cerveja on Copacabana Beach. That said, it still gave keen drivers a stiffer suspension and shorter gear ratios over its Ford cousin. 

The VIP trim level added niceties like BBS-style alloy wheels and smoked tail lights. Upgraded interior trim and features helped make the Apollo sort of like a 2/3 Mercury Cougar, a "personal coupe" like no other.

Alleged Volkswagen 'Pine' styling mockup • original source unknown

I've read, however, that changes to the Ford Verona were supposed to be much more extensive, and introduced with wholly VW styling—and a hatchback derivative — with the resulting new car to be called the Volkswagen Pine (above). 

But who knows for sure? Times were tough.

Because nearly every automotive niche is on Instagram: check out @apollovip91: an actual Volkswagen Apollo VIP owner sharing posts from their day-to-day drives!

Finally, a bonus car for you: the • via carrosegaragem. The enthusiast website Carros e Garagem did a writeup of the Apollo’s BMW-styled cousin, created by dealership group Souza Ramos (now defunct) in order to provide the BMW experience without incurring BMW import fees.

At least it had the spirit of M; SR models weren’t just a bodykit. SR-massaged versions received new wheels and tires; interior features such as leather seats, A/C, and power windows; but backing it all up was an overhauled engine that now produced 105 horsepower, over the donor car’s 92.

In other words, Ford Verona SR models are now incredibly rare, because they were incredibly mid to begin with — and customers could tell the difference.

Do you, dear reader, think we’re easier to fool now? 

Despite believing we have all the information at our fingertips, yeah, I do think customers are easier to fool now. 

(If you’re reading this, Volkswagen, sure, do another Apollo VIP…we dare you.)


  1. Call it kismet…or call it a series of coordinated efforts by the Chinese government spanning more than a decade, including public policy changes, billions of dollars in investments, dozens of new factories…with a cache of rare earth metals just dreaming of being mined, smelted, and manufactured into a Wuling Mini EV's battery pack.


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