Finds like this one, by S. Forrest, really validate the cohort and enrich CC, because as much as we’d like to go for a stroll and see a first-gen Audi 100 sedan sitting before us, it’s an unlikely occurrence. It helps to spread our efforts over a wider area; just how many of these could be left in North America?
Probably not many. They were a commercial success for the company, newly under VW’s wings, but they weren’t especially durable. But despite its obscurity on this side of the Atlantic, it’s a very historically significant car, setting the stage for Audi’s efforts until this day, even if to look at it, one might not come to such a conclusion. Stylistically speaking, this post-facelift ’73 bears the influence of its former Swabian parent, especially when viewed from the rear and the side: conservative, definitely, but also classy.
From the A-pillars back, it’s a shape which could be mistaken for a W114 Mercedes or a Rootes Arrow series car, among others; get far enough away, and there are shades of the ’66 Chrysler B-body but luckily, the emblem makes the view from the front much less generic. As a car developed in secret (by Benz’s head of advanced design, Dr. Ludwig Kraus) such modesty likely played a role in its acceptance for production by reluctant VW management (just what future development did they have in mind, forbidding this car’s development?).
It’s not a look which brags about technical innovation, but with front-wheel drive and inboard front discs, the 100 wasn’t necessarily orthodox. Vorsrpung durch technik was fifteen years away when the C1 was introduced, and when looking at it, understanding the C3’s self-consciously aerodynamic appearance becomes much easier.
But turbos and Quattro would not have been as likely without this car. The OHV four-cylinder engine, adopted from the Audi F103 (Audi 60, 72, 75, Super 90) had 1.9 liters, and produced 91 fuel-injected, de-smogged SAE net horsepower, validating its high-compression concept, helping make the new Audi an accomplished, nimble tourer which (along with the Saab 99) changed perceptions of front-wheel drive.
The 100 was an evolution of the somewhat smaller Audi F103, which was originally the DKW F103 and the last car to carry that name so closely associated with two-stroke engines. When Mercedes obligingly bought/bailed out DKW in 1964, the first order of business was to develop a new four-stroke engine, and rename it as an Audi. This is where the modern Audi lineage started, in 1965. The next order of business was the larger 100.
Outside of Fiat’s small cars, BMC’s flawed creations and a few big Frenchies, front-wheel drive was rarely this widely accepted and of all the cars mentioned, the Audi was the most amenable to traditional sensibilities; it was fresh, but never weird.
The assimilation of NSU and input from Hartmut Warkuss, Claus Luthe and Giugiaro may have redirected successors’ styling efforts to a certain extent, but it was these cars which established the solid technological basis for the water-cooled VWs and Audis we love so much today.
For a nearly unknown entity, it was a truly classy debut, but while Mercedes-inspired panache was the new Audi’s forte, it would take the much larger and more modern 5000 to propel the car to genuine popularity in the US, with many domestic car buyers switching over to the hot new German brand. Of course, we all know how that turned out and spotting an Audi 5000 of any generation is rare enough these days, so the site of this early ’70s curio must have been especially remarkable. Even in Europe, where the C1 has drawn the unfortunate affections of the stance crowd, finding a stock example is a challenge. The owner of this white-on-red example must therefore be credited for taking the slogan on his/hers car’s license plate to heart.