Remembering Audi at its peak of being Vorsprung durch Technik.
Audi has a long and storied history, particularly at the beginning and leading up to becoming part of the Volkswagen Group. We recently went over the Greatest Audis To Grace The Roads, but while we were deciding what should go into that list we drew up another list of cars that are important to Audi’s history. Whether it’s because they weren’t road cars, didn’t make production, or weren’t successful for whatever reason, these are the cars we think we should also make sure to remember.
Remember that time before Dieselgate when Volkswagen Auto Group did some cool stuff with diesel engines? Our favorite example was Audi’s unconventional response to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and Mercedes’ ML63 AMG in the form of the Audi Q7 V12 TDI. The Q7 V12 was a large turbocharged diesel-powered SUV that made 490 horsepower. That wasn’t the headline though as, and despite its redline being just 4,500 rpm, it delivered an immense 790 lb-ft of torque and made 0-62 mph in just 5.5 seconds.
Pre-war Audi was part of the Auto Union group that built 4 Grand Prix cars, the Type A, B, C, and D. The first three cars had supercharged V16 engines, but the final car was built to 1938 regulations and with a 550-horsepower V12 that was only a little less prone to oversteer than the smaller engine. Like the Mercedes race cars of the time period, Hitler ensured the Auto Union cars were also well funded. The two cars became known in the press as the Silver Arrows and came to dominate Grand Prix racing leading up to World War II.
Following the war, Auto Union found itself behind the wall separating its headquarters from West Germany and the cars disappeared into Russia. Audi has managed to locate and help restore threeof the cars, including a Type D, and it’s displayed at the Audi Museum in Ingolstadt, Germany to help us remember some of the most successful, rawest, and most exciting race cars from the middle of last century.
Dieselgate isn’t the first scandal to hurt Audi, and in 1986 the CBS TV show 60 minutes nearly ruined Audi in the United States. The allegation was of "unintended sudden acceleration” in the Audi 5000. It turned out to be a case of the pedals being closer together than American drivers were used to, along with an issue with the idle-stabilizer control causing small surges. Drivers would panic at the surge and, instead of hitting the brake, they would hit the accelerator.
While the scandal effectively killed the popularity of the C3 generation 5000 in the US, despite being renamed later as the 100 and 200, it was a groundbreaking car at a technical level. Careful engineering resulted in the Audi 5000 having a drag coefficient of 0.30 that helped make it remarkably fuel efficient and quiet to drive. Even now, 30 years later, most production cars have a drag coefficient between 0.30-40.
The low production 100 Coupe S never made it to the United States. It was built on the 100 sedan model chassis and the lines were designed by Hartmut Warkuss, who went on to be Volkswagen’s design chief from 1993 to 2003. It was ordered by Ludwig Kraus, Audi’s director of development at the time, because he had no children and wanted a 2-door fastback. While you can see Italian influence in the design, it was all from a German pen.
The Audi 50 was another car that didn’t make it to the US, but Europeans will recognize what it became: the Volkswagen Polo. In 1974, the 50 was Germany’s first attempt at getting into the growing European supermini class but was rebadged within the first two months of production as the VW Polo. The two separately badged models sold together for three years, with the VW version having more engine options before the Audi version was retired.
This is one we would absolutely love Audi not to forget as well. The idea of having all the performance of the TT but with more space in the cabin and more versatile cargo area is very attractive. The concept showed up in 2005 and, again, in 2014 but with a more rugged Allroad angle that isn’t so attractive but could be a lot of fun.
Audi’s interest in hybrid drivetrains goes all the way back to the first Duo concept in 1989. The second generation concept showed up in 1991, but it was the third iteration that made it into initial production. The Duo III was based on the A4 Avant and used a 1.9-liter turbo diesel engine coupled to a water-cooled electric motor. While the car was doing highway miles it would recharge the battery and could be changed to run around town on electric power manually using a switch. It could also be plugged in and charged by AC power. Unfortunately, the weight of the lead batteries negated any chance of real world fuel savings and the high price meant only 100 were sold. However, it was the first European hybrid car to go into production.
The DKW Monza was an odd but very cool little car. DKW was part of the Auto Union group and an ancestor of Audi, and the Monza is an ancestor of the Audi TT. It was a parts bin supplied coach built car, with those parts coming from companies including Porsche, Volkswagen Karmen-Ghia and Opel. It was cheap to build and ran on the 980-cc water-cooled 3 cylinder two-stroke engine from the DKW 3=6.
The fiberglass reinforced plastic body-shell weighed just 1,720 lbs. Nobody knows exactly how many were made, but the most educated guess is around 70. What we do know is that under the helmsmanship of German and Swiss drivers it set five world records at the Monza race track during a 72 hour period in 1956 while averaging 87 mph.
We've previously discussed the road going Quattro, but here we want to focus on the Sport Quattro S1 and its success at Pikes Peak. The rallying success of the Sport Quattro S1 is well documented, but we should also remember how it completely dominated the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the mid-to-late 1980s.
In 1984, the female French driver Michelle Mouton ran the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the Quattro to win the open rally category with a record time. She returned the next year with her car making 600 horsepower through a manual transmission to win the event overall, and despite the organizers trying to sabotage her.
The Pikes Peak specialist Bobby Unser then went onto win the event in 1986 with a Sport Quattro E2. Then, in 1987, Audi handed the now racing legend Walter Röhrl a modified Sport Quattro S1 on a new and lighter spaceframe chassis and redesigned suspension. It also had increased aerodynamics and was tuned to generate around 1,000 horsepower through a PDK style transmission. Röhrl went on to dominate the event that year and his time of 10 minutes and 47 seconds, also made him the first person to complete the course in under 11 minutes.