Recently I was reminiscing while looking through old magazine photos and came across the Car and Driver comparison of the Mercedes-Benz 500E, the BMW M5, and the then new Audi S4. I still remember reading that article; the Audi placed last and seemed seriously outclassed in terms of horsepower, acceleration even curb appeal. If you wanted the race car dressed as a sedan, the M5 was the natural choice. If you wanted a muscle car with room for four executives, then the 500E couldn’t be beaten. And on paper, the S4 was really a poor comparison to those cars. C&D did point out that the Audi was technically more advanced than the other two; it was the only turbocharged one, and the all-wheel drive system was already legendary even in 1992. But people that opted to buy the S4 were doing so not for the technology, but for the capability of the understated Audi. Several generations of each model on, these are still the cars that many longingly remember as the height of their respective marque’s build quality and driver involvement – and certainly that’s the case for the Audi. While it was underpowered out of the box compared to its countrymen, the stout drivetrain and engine easily accepted higher levels of boost. It was the first Audi that really got aftermarket support – a group of enthusiasts who still boast that this is the best car that Audi ever made. The workhorses of the ski-set, few have led pampered lives and not many remain in good shape – making it a treat to find a clean one. Despite growing acknowledgement that this car was one of the great sport sedans, prices on even very clean examples of the C4 S4 remain much more affordable than the BMW and Mercedes-Benz competition today:
All posts tagged Quattro
Earlier this week, I wrote up dueling 5-cylinder automatic wagons in the “beige-off” between the 1986 Quantum Wagon and 1987 Audi 5000S Avant. The net result of that write up, effectively, was that if you really want to dive into the ownership pool of one of these wagons, most would prefer the more desirable versions of the car. For the Quantum, that meant the Syncro version, and unsurprisingly for the Audi that meant turbocharging and quattro all-wheel drive. In both cases, that raises the complexity factor a few notches – but there are still examples of these long-lived wagons making their owners happy today. I spent a few years with a 200 Avant, and loved many aspects of it; however, I came away saying there was only one way I’d get into an older Audi Avant again – if it was one of the limited run, 3B 20V equipped 1991 examples. Outwardly, you had to be a sharp eye to spot the differences. Some of them were quite subtle; for example, there were no badges outside of the front and rear rings and a subtle “quattro” grill badge on the ’91 200, unlike the previously badged 10V examples. From the roof down, there were no differences other than that until you got to the fenders, which were subtly but notably flared. The wheels were still BBS mesh wheels as they had been in 1989 and 1990, and though they were still 15″ in diameter, they were now 7.5″ wide instead of 6″. Those larger wheels also hid a new brake system dubbed “UFOs” by enthusiasts; the floating rotor design that was engineered to haul the heavy Audi down from triple digit speeds. And triple digit speeds it was now quite capable of, with a healthy 50 horsepower boost over previous 200s thanks to 10 more valves and electronic fuel injection in the new “3B” 20 valve turbocharged inline-5. Mated only to a manual transmission, less than 200 of these coveted Audis were imported at a time when they were both expensive and Audi was nearly on the outs with the American market:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Audi 200 20V quattro Avant on Craigslist New York
Despite my general love of all-things-Audi, even I have a hard time coming up with good condition examples of the marque from the early 1980s. For U.S. fans, there just isn’t a plethora to choose from. For example, when you search eBay for Mercedes-Benz, Porsche or BMW models and sort by age, you’ll find usually several pages of examples before you get to the 1980s, where inevitably there will be a flood of models. When you switch to Audi, you’ll find three cars – and this is a good week. Fortunately for Audi fans, one of those three cars is the daddy – an original Audi Quattro. Few of these quite expensive turbocharged all-wheel drive Coupes made it to the U.S., and even fewer remain today; as I mentioned in the Coupe Week 1983 Quattro post. There was an excellent example of a low mile Quattro that had been repatriated to Europe, a trend which seems increasingly popular for the model which has more respect in the Fatherland than amongst U.S. enthusiasts. In fact, recently on our Facebook page one of the Quattros I posted prompted an enthusiasts to remark that the boxflared-fenders were reminiscent of the E30 M3 – without any acknowledgement that the Audi came on the scene well before the DTM star. So here’s your opportunity, Audi faithful, to keep one of the better examples of the limited-run Quattro on U.S. shores with this excellent 1983 Mars Red example:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1983 Audi Quattro on eBay
An interesting thing is happening for me with the B5 Audi S4. Even when it launched, I considered the B5 too complicated, too heavy and a bit too boring in the design. Is it a handsome looking car? Sure, but to me it wasn’t quite as special looking as the wider fendered C4 and V8 quattro models had been. Performance was good but not outstanding, and I openly criticized the new S4 as barely being the match for the already out-of-production E36 M3. So when power was upped substantially in the new B6 V8, on paper it was a better car. It seemed less complicated, more of a muscle car that was practical. But recent events in the used B6/7 market – the fear of timing chain guides – have changed the discussion. On top of that, many of the issues that the B5 platform experienced are being worked on by an enthusiastic community with market support. It’s something that hasn’t really previously occurred in the Audi market, but getting these older cars to run better (and without check engine lights constantly ablaze) is suddenly of interest in light of the problems with the later V8s. On top of that, clean examples of the S4 are already starting to dry up, since many dropped in value so quickly or weren’t maintained properly. Has the time of the B5 S4 finally come again?
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 Audi S4 on eBay
This past weekend, thanks in no small part to the atrocious weather pattern that seems to be sitting over my head in New England, I missed an opportunity to head to Warner Lake in New York and do some ice driving. While my participation in these events has generally involved instructing students and having a lot of sideways fun, the Audi events I attend are usually run in conjunction with a ice racing organization. If you think Audi quattros are top dog, then you need to see the heavily modified sprint cars on studs running around the ice. They put anything you could drive on the road to shame. But presuming you actually did want to drive there, older Audis are still pretty attractive options to have an ice racing car. First off, they’re good on the ice – especially the older generation cars with less electronic interference. Secondly, they’re generally pretty cheap and mostly reliable. Along with older Subarus, they seem to make up the brunt of cars that head to the ice. Of course, finding a decent older Audi quattro these days isn’t always easy. One possible solution is to look towards the glut of cheap A4s that litter these shores.
I was recently having a discussion about this with my cousin. We both owned 4000 quattros as our first cars, and both are nostalgic about having one, but coming by a decent one can be difficult and the reality is that they’re pretty slow out of the box. The A4, in comparison, isn’t much quicker out of the gates thanks to a heavier chassis; but unlike the B2 they’re plentiful, parts are easy to come by, and select one with the 1.8T motor and you can turn the wick up quite a bit. Plus, near us there’s an A4 for sale every day of the week for less than $2,000 – most of them in pretty reasonable shape, amazingly. But instead of building an ice race car yourself, maybe it’s easier to just buy one that someone else has already built: