Like yesterday’s GTI, the similarly Giugiaro-styled Audi Coupe GT added a touch of upscale Italian design to relatively pedestrian underpinnings. However, there was more of the rally-bred all-wheel drive Quattro DNA in the Coupe GT than its corporate cousin. Nearly everything apart from the door handles in the B2 was overbuilt; massive driveshafts, bigger brakes and heavier duty suspension, and a robust engine meant that in any form these entry level Audis have stood the test of time pretty well. While in Europe there were several different variants of the Coupe in 4 or 5 cylinder and with all-wheel drive, in the U.S. we only got one at any time. Starting with a 2.1 inline-5, the front-drive only GTs worked their way up to the last of the run 2.3 NG motored cars. With 4-wheel disc brakes, special exterior and interior treatments, a unique digital dashboard and 130 horsepower, these lighter “Special Build” GTs were a performance match for U.S. spec Quattros, and are almost as rare. This black example sports some modifications but looks quite clean overall:
Why would anyone even contemplate paying nearly $80,000 for a 26 year old, complicated and turbocharged Audi wagon? Because of the badge that adorns the front – the magical ‘Renn’ added to the S2 badge, along with the legendary name Porsche scripted below. That meant that this relatively unassuming Audi 80 quattro Avant had been produced in Zuffenhausen on the 959 production line rather than Ingolstadt or Neckarsulm and had added a healthy dose of even more “Sport” to the small chassis. Ostensibly, though the Sport Quattro was the first RS vehicle, the RS2 was the first to wear the badge which has become synonymous with Audi’s speed department. For many Audi aficionados, though the RS vehicles have become much faster and more luxurious, just like the with W124 500E and the E30 M3 Audi has never made a car better in its overall execution than the original. Not that it was slow by any means; Porsche’s massaging of the ADU inline-5 resulted in 311 horsepower – even more than the Sport Quattro had from essentially a very similar motor.
So despite being much heavier than the Sport had been, the RS2 wasn’t much slower; sub-5 seconds to 60 and a top speed north of 160 mph. Along the way, it was capable of bullying everything outside of a supercar; yet this car also established the move from Audi’s 2-door halo vehicle to a long line of fast five doors. Porsche also upgraded the brakes and wheels with Brembo units and 17″ ‘Cup 1’ wheels creating a signature look, and tacked on 911 mirrors for good measure. So, too, was the color signature; original called RS Blue rather than the color name it’s often mistaken for – the later Nogaro – bright blue is still the go-to shade for Audi’s fastest and was just announced on the launch of the new RS6 Avant. Even within its fast contemporaries, this car was legendary, and the upgrades to the motors and wheels spawned an entire generation of enthusiasts to turn up their inline-5s stateside. Now that these cars are legal for importation, a steady stream have been coming up for sale:
We’re pretty used to the formula here: take a limited edition or special production 911, slap a neat color on it, and watch the price rise. Even brand new cars – ones that you can roll down to the dealership and order up yourself – are demanding a strong premium in the used marketplace. Insanity? A ‘bubble’? Bad economics? It doesn’t matter what the cause is, it’s the way life is for the foreseeable future.
But there’s a really compelling alternative, I think – for about the same money as most of the modern Porsche range, you can jump into near supercar-level performance and exotic looks with the Audi R8. The ‘regular’ V10 cranked out 540 horsepower, and hooked to the S-Tronic 7-speed gearbox is good for 3.5 second blasts to 60. And that speed is linked to all-four wheels with a gorgeous body and interior full of the most modern electronics. Sure, this isn’t a ‘Plus’ model, but there are a few reasons to like this one, and it should be pretty obvious.
In just a few years, Audi went from only one S model with very limited production imported in the C4 S6 to three models. Top of the range was the S8, but it shared its running gear and sonorous V8 in a slightly detuned state with the new C5 S6. For Audi enthusiasts, though, big news came with the launch of the new S4.
It was unrelated to the first S4 because of Audi’s renaming strategy in 1995. That meant that the new S4 was based on the small chassis B5, and U.S. enthusiasts finally got a taste of Audi’s M3 competitor. Performance came in the form of a new 2.7 twin-turbocharged V6 30V and was mated to either a 5-speed Tiptronic transmission like its bigger siblings or a 6-speed manual. Like other B5s, the S4 made use of the 4th generation of quattro technology driving all four wheels. This utilized a Torsen center differential with open front and rear differentials, both of which employed the ABS sensors to electronically ‘lock up’ the slipping wheels when a speed differentiation was detected. Like other S models, some light revisions to the bodywork and more pronounced exhaust were present, along with polished mirrors and 17″ Avus-design wheels. Most notable was the large front bumper cover with 6 gaping grill covers which hid the twin intercoolers for the motor. With 250 horsepower and 295 lb.ft of torque, you had an all-weather 155 mph warrior. And, it was available as an Avant:
Predictably, as it did with Mercedes-Benz Pagodas, Porsche 930s, 80s BMW M products and the original GTI, the quick rising of selling prices for the Audi Quattro has continued to bring good examples to market. Where we used to wait seasons between seeing any at all, today you seem to be able to view at least one pretty good one on the market at any given time.
There are those that say you can’t really compare the Quattro to the M3, or even the 911 – though the pricing was quite similar. But isn’t that the point? In period, the other car you could have bought for the same money as a Quattro was a basic 911. And the market spoke: in 1983, Audi sold some 240 Quattros in the U.S.. Porsche, on the other hand, traded 5,707 911SCs between the Coupe, Targa and new Cabriolet models. There was basically no market overlap with the other two major contenders – the 944 Turbo and the M3. Both those cars, and the 911, were finished to a higher level of quality with better components, arguably, but the real difference was the type of owner who bought the Quattro versus the 911. These cars were built to be used and abused, and many were.
Today’s example wears LA3A Mars Red that was shared with the A1 and early A2 chassis Volkswagen GTI and GLIs (along with a few others), but is less frequent to see on the Quattro than the color that replaced it in 1984 – LY3D Tornado Red. It appears to defy the odds and be a survivor worthy of a closer look:
The success of the Audi A4 really opened the U.S. market to a whole lineup of cars we might otherwise not have been privy to. Undoubtedly the best way to consider that is by looking at the C5 A6 lineup. But first you need to remember that prior to its 1998 launch, the C4 reigned in 1996 at the top of the Audi sales ladder for the U.S.. However, the number of configurations you could get was shockingly small. You had the choice between front-wheel drive and quattro, and again between sedan and Avant. That’s it. Following the drop of the 2.2 liter turbocharged S6 for our market in 1995 and the 5-speed manual from the A6 lineup for 1996, your only “choice” if you wanted a mid-sized Audi was to begrudgingly select the rather stale 2.8 liter V6 rated at 172 horsepower and mated solely to a 4-speed automatic. It was competent, but boring. Actually, that sentence sums up the end of the C4 run here pretty well – and the market recognized that, snapping up only around 10,000 of the models each year.
Turn your attention to the C5 lineup and you suddenly see the array of options opened by sales success. First to launch was the heavily revised sedan for 1998. Now with the 30 valve V6, horsepower was up to a more respectable 200 and the transmission gained a gear, though it was still automatic-only. The Avant carried over from the C4 lineup unchanged for ’98, but the new sedan was enough to double sales of the A6. ’99 launched the new Avant and with it, again a surge in sales by 50%. That allowed Audi to bring over some more exciting options – the 2.7T, the Allroad, the S6 Avant, and this car – the 4.2 quattro:
Back to big Audis! The early 1990s were, as I’ve described in previous posts, a period of change for the Ingolstadt firm as they closed down production on the Type 44 to introduce its new replacement, the C4. That led to a dizzying assortment of models from the one chassis. There was the aforementioned 100 and 100 quattro. You could move up to two turbocharged models, too – the 200 Turbo gave you 165 horsepower through the front wheels, and the new-and-only-for-91 in the U.S. was 200 20V quattro. Europe and the rest of the world got even more options; production lasted right up through 2006 in parts of China, where they even made a crazy long-wheel base 4-door convertible version of the Hongqi.
But the top of the heap for the U.S. market was a derivative of the Type 44, the D11 chassis. Of course, that was Audi’s foray into the top-tier luxury market with its new all-aluminum 32 valve double-overhead cam V8. Body revisions to the front and rear along with flared fenders made the V8 quattro seem like a completely different car to the slab-sided 100. V8s had, and have, serious presence. Big news, too, was that for the first time Audi was able to match its all-wheel drive quattro setup with a new 4-speed automatic transmission.
For die-hard Audi faithful, though, for a short while you could still opt to row-your-own with the 240 horsepower 3.6 liter V8 singing to your right foot. These manual V8 quattros are legendary because of their rarity and that they are the only car Audi brought to market with twin Torsen differentials. The combination of a more rearward weight bias, big and instant torque from the V8 and those clever diffs made for one of the best driving experiences in a classic big sedan from Audi, and they’re exceedingly rare to find:
Like the C3 chassis that predated it, the C4 went through numerous changes seemingly every year – giving each individual model year something special for fans to covet. 1994 to 1995 saw some major changes for the C4; the most obvious being the model designation change from S4 (1991-1994) to S6 (1995-1997). European models had some additional drivetrain options that weren’t available in the U.S., and indeed the Avant had previously been available in S4 form, but the 2.2 liter turbocharged inline-5 carried over largely unchanged into 1995 for the US. The big news was the addition of the Avant to the US lineup; at the time, as expensive as an Audi got here. There was also the obvious external refresh; smooth body-colored bumpers and wider side trims eliminated the rubberized black moldings. The hood and lights were lightly re-sculpted too, along with the change (rolling, for some models) from the Fuchs-made 5-spoke alloys to the Speedline-made 6-spoke Avus wheels which would be the signature S-wheel for the next decade.
Gone were two staples of the Audi lineup from the 1980s; Procon 10, the seatbelt pre-tensioning safety system Audi highly marketed in the late 1990s disappeared with little fanfare, but also, perhaps more strikingly, S cars would no longer be branded with ‘quattro’ badges – a change that would carry on nearly until today’s models, where models like the RS7 re-introduced it in the grill. Inside minor changes were introduced; a revised dashboard, shift knob, along with the introduction of the most notable item (once again, rolling) with a 3-spoke sport steering wheel. It was a tremendous amount of minor fiddling that in sum resulted in a slightly different feel for the S6; slightly more polished and grown up, carrying the new design language for Audi that would remain for the next decade.
Audi wasn’t done, though, because in ‘1995.5’ Audi once again altered several items on the then-still-new S6. This included a major switch moving forward – the elimination of driver control of the rear differential, a hallmark of Audis since the introduction of the original Quattro. Audi opted for an ‘electronic differential lock’, which in reality was a system which utilized the ABS system to detect wheelspin and apply the brakes. This major change resulted in some minor interior tweaks, such as moving the cigarette lighter, and there were additional revisions to the radio. The transmission’s traditional weak first gear was also addressed, as well as swapping infrared locking for radio frequency and some other minor trim. All of these changes – some of them running – give the limited production S6s a bit of a bespoke feel. With numbers produced only in the hundreds, these are special and coveted cars that are very capable and highly sought:
The Audi C1 may have introduced the United States to the concept of a large, luxurious…well, Volkswagen…but time hasn’t exactly been kind to its legacy. Every time one comes up for sale, immediately stories will emerge of how one caught on fire, or left someone stranded, or was difficult to maintain, or just plain broke and was left to die. From a generation where cars rarely reached 100,000 miles before their untimely death, the 100 was an interesting addition to the range of German cars available to the public, though not particularly memorable for anything innovative, unique, or superlative. Yet they signaled a new direction for Volkswagen’s range, and would go on to be an important part of establishing Audi’s foothold in the market.
The new B-range and C-range cars ostensibly replaced the NSU offerings like the 1967 TT, and Neckarsulm plant formed the backbone of the new production. Because of their visual similarity to the storied Mercedes-Benz W123, many often believe Audi just copied the Daimler design; however, when the W123 rolled out for production, the C1 was nearly done and due to be replaced with the C2 only two years later. Married with Porsche dealerships, the new Audi products sold remarkably well, especially considering their pricing. At nearly $8,000 in the mid-70s, you weren’t far off the established norm of American luxury cars like the Lincoln Continental. But this car didn’t have the features, or the ‘Murican V8, of those hulks. Still, Audi dealers managed to sell an impressive 146,583 before the new C2 5000 took over in the 1977-1978 model year.
Few of these 100LSs have survived the test of time, because for so long they’ve been considered an also-ran. So it’s nice to see a lovely survivor pop up!
If you pop on to the Audi USA configuration site, it’s easy to shake your head at how expensive it seems the range has gotten. The A3 is the cheapest product you can buy, but at $33,000 without options it’s hard to see how this gussied-up Golf is affordable.
Yet, relative to where Audis used to sticker, that price is downright cheap.
Take this 1987.5 Audi Coupe GT Special Build. At the end of the run, Audi sold approximately 850 of these B2/B3 hybrid Coupes to the U.S. market. While things like the suspension and basic body were unchanged, the Special Build got the NG-code 2.3 inline-5 that was seen in the later Type 44/C3 and B3 chassis cars with 130 horsepower. The gearbox was also unique to the Special Build, having beefed up drive shafts (for some unknown reason, as the existing ones were already overbuilt). The Special Build was also the only front-drive B2 to carry 4-wheel disc brakes – again, shared with the B3 instead. Inside, the Special Build got a special digital dashboard in a slightly different hue than the ’86 Coupe GTs with digital boards had. The interior fabric was updated to the Savoy Velour (also from the B3) instead of the B2’s Kensington Velour – this was signified by a triple stripe instead of a dual stripe. To help distinguish the limited cars, the exteriors featured a “dipped” look; window surrounds were body color as were mirrors and spoiler, and if you opted for Alpine White (L90E) the Ronal R8s were also painted body color. As with most later GTs, the Special Build came relatively loaded with few options, though most don’t seem to have the rear wiper selected for some reason. Sunroof, leather steering wheel, power windows, power defogging mirrors, cassette stereo and power antenna, cruise control and a trip computer were all standard. Only heated seats, a rear wiper, leather interior and an automatic transmission could be optioned.
The price for this “heavily optioned” exclusivity was $20,600, and you’d be hard pressed to leave a dealer for much under $21,000 after delivery charges. Inflation corrected from 1987 dollars to 2020 dollars, that’s about $48,000. A brand new A5 coupe starts at $44,000 today and has many more amenities standard. Is it any surprise that we see so many more luxury vehicles today than what we saw in the 1980s?