1988 Audi 90 quattro

The B3 was a much needed update to the very old small Audi chassis in the late 1980s. Although the addition of the 4000 quattro was only a few model years old and the Type 85 B2 had undergone a pretty comprehensive update in 1985, the reality was that it was a chassis which had been designed in the mid 1970s and was antiquated compared to the BMW E30 and Mercedes-Benz W201 chassis, both of which it was out of sync with in terms of launch. While both of those cars were in mid-life in 1986, Audi launched its new B3 platform with a heavily revised, updated and aerodynamic replacement for the popular 80 and 90. This was interesting, as the B2 would continue alongside in production for several years – notably in Coupe form – until the new 2-door was prepared.

The U.S. market’s offerings also didn’t mesh with Europe either in nomenclature or trim scale. The 4000 quattro had only come in one form – 4000S in 1984 and 1985, and 4000CS in 1986 and 1987. They were relatively loaded and all powered by the venerable JT inline-5. However, Europeans had enjoyed several different configurations; the basic 80 and more upscale 90, with many different options. Audi would continue the 4000CS in 1987, but in 1988 the new models rolled out, with two options like the Europeans had. As in the Fatherland, a prospective buyer could get the basic 80 quattro or opt for the more luxurious, upscale 90 quattro. Many of the design elements of the U.S. spec 4000s carried over into the 80 – such as the rear urethane flush spoiler and even the standard Ronal R8 alloys. But the 90 came with nicer bits, such body color bumper covers with integrated fog lights, wood trim inside, a more pronounced rear spoiler and BBS alloy wheels. You could also opt, for the first time in the small chassis, for the signature Audi color of Pearlescent White Metallic paint at an addition charge and power seats on the 90 quattro.

Mechanically, the 80 and 90 quattros were twins until 1990, and many of the options – ski sack, sport seats, heated seats, onboard computer – were shared between the two, but the 90 always felt a bit more upscale than the 80. Power came from the NG 2.3 inline-5, generating 130 horsepower and 140 lb.ft of torque; modest, given the near 3,000 lb. curb weight of the B3 – a result of the many luxuries and new protective technologies Audi introduced in the 90. The 80 and 90 beat the 200 to the market in 1988, meaning they were the first to debut the new second generation of all-wheel drive quattro to the U.S. market. It featured a driver-actuated lockable rear differential that automatically deactived at 15 m.p.h., but the center differential was now an automatic Torsen unit. The B3 also brought anti-lock brakes to the small chassis, as well as body galvanization. It was really a huge step up from the antiquated (if much loved) B2, overall:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 Audi 90 quattro on eBay


Year: 1988
Model: 90 quattro
Engine: 2.3 liter inline-5
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 215,400 mi
Price: No Reserve Auction

1988 (B3) Audi 90 Quattro
Tornado Red Exterior
Leather Interior
Wood Trim
215,400 Miles
2. 3E 2.3-Liter 5-Cyliner Inline Engine (10 Valve)
5-Speed Manual Transmission
Center Locking Differential
All Power Options Work
On-Board Computer
Heated Seats
Power Seats
Sony Stereo
Clear Indicator Lenses
14-Inch BBS Basket Weave Wheels
Ohtsu FP0612 A/S Tires
Colorado Car
Clean Carfax

Background

If you are like me, you think that modern cars are bloated, overcomplicated, and from the driver’s perspective–numb. That leaves no alternative than to look to the past and the greatness of car design that was the late 1980s. The 1986 to 1991 Audi 90 Quattro, known as the B3 in Audi-speak, was an excellent example from this period. The Audi 90 was a high-end evolution of the successful Audi 4000, but with a more aerodynamic exterior and a host of luxury amenities inside. It was also given a fully galvanized zinc body coating, similar Porsche’s treatment, to aid in corrosion prevention. Compared to a modern car, the B3 Audi 90 is simple, light, and communicative. Quattro all-wheel drive combined with a center-locking differential make it virtually unstoppable in the snow. They were so good that most were driven into the ground. As a result, there aren’t many clean B3 Audi’s left. The ones that do remain are a bargain compared to a similar vintage BMW E30 (I know, I have one). Finding an example as well preserved as this one is rare.

Summary

This B3 Audi 90 came to us via a German car enthusiast who split his time between Telluride and Hawaii. He had owned the car since the summer of 2001, driving it only 20,000 miles during that time period. Tornado Red over black leather are an eye catching color combination that, thanks to living indoors for the last fifteen years, presents fantastically and belies its age and mileage. Amazingly, all interior power functions work including the seat motors, heated seats, on board computer, window regulators, door locks, and even the power sunroof–although I wouldn’t tempt fate with that one. It has the early B3 2.3E 10-valve engine, but it runs great and pulls strong. It was dead even with my 1989 E30 BMW 325iX and even held its own against a 1987 BMW 325iS I have. Inside it is a much more modern car than both E30’s. In preparation for sale, we went through it and addressed the following items:

Coolant Flush
Oil and Filter Change
Gearbox Oils
Starter
Voltage Regulator
Windshield
Drilled and Slotted Front Rotors and Pads
Cleaned Interior Fan
Left Front Outer Tie Rod
Alignment
Transmission Shaft Seal
Differential Seals
Valve Cover Gasket
Fuel Lines
Vacuum Lines
Waffle Boot
Center Diff Actuator
Exhaust Flex Disc Coupling
Third Brake Light Bulbs

Exterior

As I said above, it’s pretty clear this car has lived indoors for the last decade and a half. The Tornado Red paint certainly bares some scares of age, but it is still very presentable. A blue and yellow pinstripe with the letter “Q” hidden on the rear quarter panels is a nice highlight. There are no areas of lifted clear coat, rust, or glaring defects. The front air dam does show some slight pitting, but it is minimal considering the car’s age and miles. All panels are original and the Carfax is clean. There is no rust. All body trim is present and intact but there are a few scuffs on the front bumper cover. The lower black strip on the doorsills shows slight discoloration, but I am being critical in saying that. The windshield was replaced as noted in the list above; it is free of cracks and pitting. The side and rear window glass are also in excellent shape. My favorite detail of the car is the word Quattro written in the rear window above the third brake light. The headlight lenses are clear; the front indicators have been replaced with clear Euro lenses. The fog lights are intact, but the driver’s side lens is cracked. The basket weave wheels are straight and the center caps are present. Their only imperfection is very minor curb rash.

Interior

Like the exterior, the interior has been spared the UV exposure that most Audi’s of this vintage have. There are no odors and it has never been smoked in. The carpets are clean and have been protected by carpeted floor mats. The seat leather is in good shape; all seams are intact and there is no excessive bolster wear. The only imperfection is a slash on the driver’s seat bolster that someone, annoyingly, covered with tape. All power seat functions and seat heaters work. The rear seat has a center armrest with ski pass-through. The dashboard is crack-free and the wood trim is intact, although there is a crack on the piece above the glove box. The dashboard is littered with no less than seven vents, three in the center and two at each corner–I love vents! All gauges and lights in the instrument cluster work, as does the on-board computer, which shows 23.5 miles per gallon (better than my 1989 BMW 325iX gets). The anti lock and center differential buttons work (after I replaced an actuator on the latter). The stereo is an aftermarket Sony unit that sounds great and matches the factory amber illumination. The heat blows warm and the air condition blows cold. The wooden shifter is a cool touch, but it does show some wear on the top. All power windows and door locks work, but the center locking only works from the passenger door lock. The sunroof opens and closes on command. The door cards are in good shape, but the driver’s pull handing is missing a trim piece.

Mechanical

I listed the items we addressed in preparation for sale in the Summary paragraph. The result is a very well sorted B3 Audi 90 that I wouldn’t hesitate to drive across country. I have receipts for all of the maintenance that we performed and listed in the Summary paragraph. Earlier in its life, the Carfax shows regular servicing at Shoreline Automotive and Wrights German Automotive before the car went to the Western Slope. The engine fires on command, idles smoothly, and pulls strong to redline. The clutch take up is correct and it shifts smoothly. The all-wheel drive system works, as does the center-locking differential. There are no driveline or wheel bearing vibrations. The brakes are firm and the suspension is compliant. We resealed all of the common leak areas; it does not leak or spot. At present, it is a turn-key car ready to be enjoyed by its new owner.

You know a seller is serious when they do a great summary of the car and recent work, but photography really goes a long way and the images are great. Even more impressive, though, are the cars lurking in the background of the shots! But enough dreaming in the fuzzy distance, what about this example? Well, look – it’s a 28 year old Audi with 215,000 miles, so it’s not going to be perfect. There are plenty of spots that you can point to which show wear, from the delaminating center caps on the BBS wheels to the torn leather on the driver’s seat. The Audi Gamma radio is gone, too, replaced by an aftermarket unit. Under the hood shows plenty of use, as well. But all in all, this is a very tidy driver that looks to have lived a relatively cared for and used past. It is well equipped and outside of the radio, all original. And, frankly, finding an early 90 quattro (or an inline-5 90 quattro at all!) in this condition is quite hard. That’s because the 80 and 90 hit the market in the midst of the 60 Minutes fiasco, making the 1988 model year its only marginally successful one. Audi sold about 3,000 of the twins that year, but never came close to that number again – in total, only 8,297 5-cylinder B3 quattro sedans came here, compared to some 16,653 4000 quattros. The seller’s starting price of $4,400 isn’t hugely outrageous and as a no reserve auction, you could snap this one up for that price exactly if you’re the lone bidder. However, I wouldn’t peg the value much beyond that amount, as you can get into later and sportier B4 quattro for only a tad more (or, sometimes less!) nevermind the flood of B5s. But even if it wasn’t the sportiest or fastest Audi of the period, there is something really special about these early B3s.

-Carter

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3 Comments

  1. Stil a great looking car today. Having owned a 90 and CQ, I really liked these cars. Not too difficult to work on, unique, and made the E30 design look excessively dated.

  2. Great write up. Love seeing these although I am still partial to the 4000CSQ as that was the first Audi I was ever in contact with as an impressionable 9 year old, but I drove an 80 for about a week once in college while my car (Scirocco 16V) was in the shop after an elderly lady backed into the left rear quarter panel. That time spent with the B3 80 is largely why I’ve owned so many Audis, including 3 today ranging from 1985 to 2015. Great cars. Wish I could come up with an excuse for buying this one!

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