Rudolf Leiding was the new man in charge of Volkswagen do Brasil. He was appointed because he knew well all the new production processes, and had previously worked at Auto Union in Ingolstadt (after it was acquired by VW for production capacity from Mercedes), and the company that was licensed for the construction of DKW's at the Brazilian company Vemag.
Leiding accepted the transfer to Brazil under the condition that Nordhoff, the then head of Volkswagen, gave him the guarantee to be able to decide freely on projects. Under this freedom some independent VW developments emerged, using the floorpan/body architecture of the EA97 (a production ready Beetle replacement cancelled at the very last stage by Nordhoff).
All the production tooling was transported from Germany to Brasil in 1967, and was used for example to develop first, the VW 1600 (using the upright engine) as the Zé de Caixão in 1968, the Variant (using the flat type 3 engine) in 1969, and the Karmann TC (type 3 engine) in 1970.
In 1970 the work began on "Project X" and the VW SP2 ultimately emerged almost unchanged. The aim was to develop a sporty car to improve on the Puma, a Brazilian sports coupé based on a Beetle floorpan with a body made of fibreglass.
VW SP2 Prototyp
Rudolf Leiding formed a team of young engineers and designers to build a two-seat sports car. With the guidance of the team, he appointed the engineer Wilhelm Schmiemann. It was Rudolf Leiding in person who drew the first sketches for the new project. During the development he considered the result again and also showed the designs to his wife, to get her opinions, because the car should also appeal to women. In a later interview, Rudolf Leiding was asked the question, about the development of this well-proportioned sports coupe, which went by the name of SP2. Why was this car never offered for sale in Germany?
“Having made the difficult decision to replace the Beetle platform in Germany, it would be very difficult to then introduce a new model from Brasil based on this platform, so ultimately it could not happen. Actually I have designed the SP2 only for my wife so ...(Helga Leiding protested timidly at this point.)…but naturally for you - and the rest of the ladies!”*
Rudolf Leiding went back to Germany in late 1971 to take over the leadership of the VW Group before the start of SP2 series production in Brasil.
Design work for the SP was coordinated by Márcio Piancastelli, who was working under Roberto Araújo, one of the pioneers of Brazilian car designs. Piancastelli had in 1962, accepted the invitation of Luigi Segre, director of Ghia to visit Milan to gain experience. He then returned to Sao Paulo, and whilst under Rudolf Leiding the styling departments of DKW and VW were merged, although "Project X" was continued separately under the direction of Piancastelli. Other stylists were José Vicente Novita Martins, then just 20 years old and George Yamashita Oba, who had the difficult task to convert the drawings into a model. The first sheet metal prototype was made by Italian Giuseppe Accasto by hand, who had been sent as a specialist for such tasks by the Italian company Fissore to Brazil.
The prototype was presented in March 1971 as "Project X" at the German industrial show in Sao Paulo to the public for the first time. The same frontal styling then appeared later on the Brasil TL/Variant/Brasilia and the 412 in Germany.
This prototype was used by Karmann do Brasil as a template for the preparation of the necessary body building tools, because the steel bodywork was manufactured by Karmann and then transferred along the road, for painting and final assembly at the VW plant in São Bernardo do Campo.
Within the three years between the initial sketch and the start of production in June 1972 VW had invested 30 million cruzeiros in the project. At that time this was the equivalent of some 16 million marks. This low cost resulted from the production of the necessary tools and equipment in-house as well as the extensive use of existing components from existing model series vehicles.
(Quote taken from the book (in German only)"Käferprofile"
Thanks to Marc Poulton for translation