In the summer of 1992, about a year after I had acquired last week’s Audi Coupe, we decided to replace Audi 4000 that had been passed along to us by my father-in-law. By this time, I was on a roll with Audi and I was attracted to the Avant station wagons. One Saturday morning I spotted a 1989 200 Avant turbo quattro in the Washington Post classifieds. I drove to the dealer and spotted the pearlescent white wagon with matching BBS wheels. Only three years earlier the 200 Avant had stickered for $40,000 but thanks to the bad publicity associated with alleged unintended acceleration of automatic transmission Audis over the past several years this 57,000 mile five-speed manual 200 Avant could be had for $15,000.
The Audi 200 Avant came fully loaded with leather everywhere, a wood grain dash and all the electronic goodies available at the time.
It would have been irresponsible for me to let such a creature fall into uncaring hands. I resolved to become its caretaker.
While the purchase from the dealer was straightforward, it took much longer than it should have on that Saturday to complete the paperwork and prep the car. My son Josh, nine months old at the time, was particularly incensed by this delay and verbally made his feelings known to all. Eventually we prevailed and drove the Avant home. As for the Audi 4000, I passed it along to my brother Jon who passed it along to my brother Patrick who then passed it along to my nephew Tony.
The Audi 100/200/5000 series cars were first introduced in 1968 and were first sold in the United States in 1970. Between 1968 and 1994 there were four generations of these cars. The model designation was changed from 100 to 5000 in the United States beginning in 1977 and then changed back to 100/200 in 1988 in response to the unintended acceleration scandal. My 1989 model was part of the third generation of the series (C3) which would ultimately provide both the high point and low point of Audi’s United States history up until the present VW/Audi diesel emission scandal. The high point – the car was universally acclaimed including being named to Car and Driver’s Ten Best list from 1984 to 1988. The low point was the collapse of Audi sales in the United States from 74,000 cars in 1985 to 12,000 cars in 1991.
The C3 Audi 100/200 cars were produced from 1982 through 1991. The 100s and 200s were largely the same, but the 200s used a turbo-charged version of the 2.2 liter inline five-cylinder engine. My 1989 200 produced 162 horsepower. With the manual shift it moved along quite nicely, thank you and like all German cars it cruised without effort at high speed.
While the 100 and 200 models were visually similar, the 200 had a slightly sleeker front end, turbo performance and all the luxury goodies. The 200 Avant was a rare beast. Of the one million C3s manufactured less than 6% were 200 Avants.
The Audi’s quattro system was my first all-wheel-drive. The default power split was 50/50 front to rear but it could favor the most connected end of the car with up to 75 percent of the available torque as needed. Naturally it was terrific in the snow, but the feel of the system on rainy pavement and even on dry roads was what really sold it. Before the advent of electronic stability everything, the quattro system kept me safely planted in a way no other car had before and made my Avant suburban kid hauler a real alternative to the BMW 5 series and other mid-sized performance sedans of the era.
I discovered that everything was more satisfying tooling around in the Avant. We added a second son, Peter, in 1994 and the car stood out from the pack when we would pick up our little ones from preschool. It was a great bike hauler as well. I remember the Other Michael and I taking it to a mountain bike race and smugly thinking we had the ultimate race support vehicle. This proved to be temporary solace as, when the race began, we were reminded that most of the other racers were ten to fifteen years younger than we were. Nonetheless, the Other Michael liked the feel of quattro driving experience and would go on to acquire a few quattros for himself over the years.
The Avant was technically my wife Debbie’s car. Now Debbie is a paradox in many ways. She is scared of going fast on a bicycle but was an early triathlete. Frightened of heights, she suspends that fear every winter for ski season so she can ride the chair lift. Cautious by nature, you can’t get her off the double black diamond trails on a good mogul day. She’s equally inconsistent in her approach to cars. She can be so indifferent to driving that early in our marriage before we had children she once went six months without driving and didn’t notice until I pointed it out to her. On the other hand, her funky aesthetics give her a genuine appreciation of the cars we’ve owned as well as those I’ve only so far admired. I guess her approach to cars is analogous to Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World – She doesn’t always drive cars, but when she does she drives something interesting and fun. The Avant definitely fit the bill and she logged many miles in the cockpit.
In the area of repairs and maintenance the 200 Avant was remarkably similar to our Audi Coupe. David at AutoWerke kept the Avant rolling. Like the Coupe, we put 125,000 miles on it although we managed to do so in ten years rather than the eleven years it took for the Coupe. Also like the Coupe total repair costs over the period almost exactly equaled our purchase price for the vehicle. Many electronic switches were replaced. Shocks and suspension bushings were replaced twice and each time the sensation of driving a new car was restored. Like the Coupe the Avant ran as well on the day we sold it as the day we purchased it a decade earlier.
As the years passed baby and booster seats in the second row gave way to soccer balls in the back. We visited pumpkin patches and amusement parks. Skis and snowboards were loaded on winter weekends and in the summers there were bikes on the roof. The Avant proved its worth allowing us to pack anything and everything. The leather interior held up, but not without some permanent signs of the many hours our boys logged in the second row.
By 2002 when we sold the Avant it was enough of a rarity that I knew it would make a good ebay listing. It generated a lot of interest and was sold to an appreciative Audi enthusiast (ebay name – type44quattro) who could provide the next generation of stewardship.