COAL: 1980 Audi 4000 – The Boy Embraces His Heritage…

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Having sold my first car the summer after my freshman year in college, it was now time for something different; more mature, perhaps.  I have always had a bit (OK, more than a bit) of a wandering eye as far as potential new cars are concerned, and ardently devoured each issue of the Los Angeles-area publications The Recycler (imagine a weekly print version of Craigslist; placing your ad was free, but the publication cost $1.00), and PhotoBuys, also published by The Recycler and very much like today’s print-version of AutoTrader.  Anyway, it provided hours of cheap enjoyment for a young car nut.  So what did I find in that week’s issue?

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First, there was a Ford Fiesta S.  My buddy and I went to see it, and while we liked the way it drove during the test drive, it was a bit beat so I passed.  And then I stumbled across the car that would become mine, a 1980 Audi 4000 (no suffix) with a four-speed manual transmission.  I recall that it had about 80,000 miles on it and was being offered for about $1,600, an amount I could handle.  It also was “owned and maintained by a Porsche-Audi factory tech”, which I figured could only be a good thing.

So we made the hour-and-a-half drive to La Canada Flintridge. The Audi looked good and drove well, so I bought it on the spot.  The color was Merion Brown (non-metallic, the same shade that is part of Audi’s ’80s and early-’90s factory racing colors), with a Gold/Brown checked-cloth interior in superb condition.  The 13” alloys were the exact items found on early VW Sciroccos, but with center caps bearing Audi’s logo in place of VW’s.

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The drive home was fantastic; having been born in Germany (my dad almost always had an Audi when we lived over there during my first 11-or-so years of life), it was a bit like a homecoming. I had always been (and remain) a huge fan of the rally Audi Quattros, as well as of the whole Audi rally team.  The way the 18-year-old me figured, I now owned a bit of the magic…you know, win on Sunday, sell (a used car) on Monday. The picture at the very top of the page shows my car in the foreground; the silver car you see across the street, a 1984 Audi 4000 Quattro, was always the object of desire at the time.

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The next day I awoke to find that the car wouldn’t start.  Scheisse!  I had to drag my dad outside to look at it with me.  He figured out that the “Porsche-Audi Factory Tech” apparently did not specialize in wiring, having rewired the aftermarket tape deck to the ignition in a way that drained the battery very quickly.  So he (as a German-trained Electronics Engineer) rewired it, all the while muttering in German under his breath. We recharged the battery, and that was that.

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It was great driving back up the 101 from the San Fernando Valley to San Luis Obispo, where I was starting my second year of college: Three hours on 185 miles of good freeway roads, with a short detour through the pass above Santa Barbara and through the Santa Ynez Valley behind Solvang/Buellton, cemented my feelings for the car.  It went and handled great, and was quiet and very comfortable.

The 4000 in 1980 (its first year) came with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. In California tune, it made 76 hp at 5,500 rpm, with 83 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. With only 2,305 lbs to lug around, that wasn’t terrible, at least for the time.  Gas mileage was in the upper 20s.  Base price new back in 1980 was $7,685–quite a lot of money compared with the domestic offerings. (Data from a contemporary Road and Track road test).  Nevertheless, Audi managed to sell over 14,000 during its first year here.

The Audi’s four doors, clean uncluttered styling and very roomy and vertically deep trunk (thanks to its fuel tank being positioned upright behind the rear seat–no pass-through or folding seats possible), all made for a nice ride that looked good and felt very solid.  This car (unlike the later ones) also had the pop-out front vent windows–which were a godsend, since the car didn’t have A/C.  Those vent windows were just like those in a VW Bug or Bus: You could aim them directly at yourself, and the mechanism was stout enough to keep them from slamming shut in the slipstream.  Audis of that era still came with various (and obviously) VW parts.  The vent-window knob mechanism was shared with the air-cooled VWs, as were the interior door-latches and a few other bits and pieces.  These Audis are also well known for failure of their exterior door handle mechanisms, although mine was unafflicted.

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Over the fall semester I took the car on road trips to San Francisco and Oakland (Voice Farm was playing at the Omni, and not to be missed!), driving back to LA and Orange County every few weeks to visit the folks and my friends.  All was great–until Thanksgiving.  On the Friday evening after Thanksgiving Day I was driving back, and since I was scheduled to work Saturday, I decided to save some time by taking a shortcut through the pass. The car started cutting out while I was driving the mountain road.  I nursed it to a Buellton gas station, but it would not start. It was 9 PM. On the Friday. After. Thanksgiving.  NOTHING was open. No cell phones. Sixty miles from destination, with a broken German car. Super.

I pushed the car into a parking spot, walked to a motel,where I used my parents “only use this for emergencies” credit card and spent the night.  The next morning I took a Greyhound the rest of the way.  On Sunday, my boss and I took his Mazda B-2000 pickup ($5,795!–remember those commercials?) and a tow dolly, and hauled the car north.  Metric Motors, in San Luis Obispo, diagnosed it as needing a new distributor: A looped wire inside the rotating assembly had been chafing against the housing, causing momentary disruptions in power as it rotated until eventually it wore all the way through. We ordered the part, the tech installed it and two days later, all was well again.

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Later in the school year, (and with my Dad’s help) I installed a very nice Panasonic head unit, from an early Hyundai Excel, that I’m pretty sure was stolen (the guy had stacks of them in his garage). I had no idea Hyundais came with good stereos, but considering its $50 cost, this one was great.  I drove the car the rest of the school year, and while I really enjoyed it, I finally sold it to a foreign exchange student; you see, during that college summer of 1989, my wandering eye locked onto two new targets in very quick succession…