Junkyard Classic: 1980 Audi 5000S Diesel – All Signs Point To Turd

Color? Check.  Smelly? Check.  Solid and slow to move? Check.  Alright, yes, the late 70’s and early 80’s were Diesel’s first time to shine in the United States passenger car market and various attempts were made with various degrees of success.  From several Mercedes models to a few domestics to probably the most successful, that being the VW Rabbit, Volvo, Peugeot, and a few others gave it a shot as well, and Audi was not to be left out either with its newly introduced 5000 sedan.

Audi was in the midst of a total makeover over here after the original (C1) 100 and the Audi Fox; in Europe the C2 generation had been introduced in 1976 and the Audi 80 (B2 generation, our 4000) in 1978.  Both models came to the US with the new C2 (100 in Europe) being badged as 5000 over here for the 1978 model year and the 4000 a couple of years later.

Carrying undeniably modern and stately styling, the 5000 was a larger car than the older 100 it replaced and in Europe at least had some big shoes to fill, over here it was more of a do-over operation.  In Europe the C2 100 also effectively replaced the NSU Ro80 after the NSU name ceased to exist as a standalone marque and NSU’s Neckarsulm factory was tasked to produce the C2 (100/5000), which it effectively still does to this day with the current generation Audi A6 and A8 models.

After the first two years in which the 5000 had a fairly ugly set of round headlights with a clear filler panel between and around them (similar but somehow much uglier than on the Mercedes W123) the front was updated with a quartet of rectangular headlights that, while not as attractive as its European one-piece combination headlights, were certainly more attractive than the stopgap measure they replaced.  The family resemblance to the smaller, new 4000 was obvious as with the Coupe that debuted the following year.

The non-diesel version was equipped with a 5-cylinder gasoline engine, eventually there was also a turbocharged gasoline version and a turbocharged diesel version in later model years.  Considered very well driving cars, this generation of 5000 did develop a loyal following and helped set the stage for Audi’s next steps including all-wheel-drive and high performance machinery as well as achieving an extremely high design standard.

While all three cars (5000, 4000, Coupe) would share engine families in various markets over the years in various guises, the first Audi diesel engine to make it to the US was offered in the 5000, a 2.0l 5-cylinder unit producing a decidedly underwhelming 69hp.  Due to the meager power output it was only offered with a 5-speed manual transmission and on top of that wasn’t offered in California as the diesel did not meet that state’s emissions requirements of the time.

While an Audi 5000 weighs well under 3000 pounds due in part to its FWD architecture, I still suspect that driving this car at a mile high elevation would be a severe exercise in patience and the 55mph speed limit in effect must have seemed a blessing in disguise.  As a side note, the only rarer version is likely the 1983-only 5000 turbodiesel, with an engine only offered for one year (but available in all 50 states) and only in the US market.

The diesel’s fuel economy of 27/41 in conjunction with the 19.8 gallon fuel tank let Audi advertise a range of 811 miles.  That’s serious bladder busting stuff right there and likely appealed to some people although the lack of an automatic option for the diesel probably turned even more people away.

This one’s engine was already in a state of disassembly and it didn’t look like it had been worked on in the yard, I suspect it came in this way.  The top end is gone but the bottom was missing as well, just pretty much a bare block with a clear view down through the bores.  Something obviously went wrong in a big way and while Robert Bentley’s shop manuals will tell you that reassembly is the reverse of disassembly, sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way.

While I don’t consider the 5000 of this generation a rare sight at all back then, Audi only sold just over 133,000 of them over six model years.  I assume the reliability reputation of the prior 100 model such as the one we saw in this series last week was partly to blame but in most respects the 5000 was a thoroughly modern offering for the time.  Non-diesel versions were even product-placed in some TV shows and movies; Higgins drove a 1980 one in Magnum P.I. (and actually had several over the subsequent years) and Elliott’s mom in 1982’s E.T. drove a 1980 model as well.

I suspect that the same owner that provided the Audi 100 to this yard also owned this 5000 as well as a husk of VW Rabbit Diesels that were all within a row of each other in this yard.  They all had the aura of cars that had been sitting around for some time and for some reason this particular yard gets a lot of two-sies of very similar older cars at the same time, with this batch of six or seven somewhat related cars merely looking like an expanded collection.

The second car I ever owned happened to also be a 1980 Audi in this exact same brown color (non-metallic btw) but it was the smaller 4000 with a 4cylinder and a 4-speed (hey, that’s weird!).  This 5000 (with a 5cylinder and a 5-speed) is the first time I can recall having seen another Audi of the same year in the same color.  When properly washed and waxed it’s not an ugly color but I can appreciate that it wasn’t particularly popular either.

Most 5000s sold over here were “S” models, supposedly around 90%.  Nowadays the “S” designation denotes Audi’s sportier offerings (S4, S6 etc) but back then the S was merely a trim level, in this case (and particular year) the top one.  This car was originally sold by Bob Hagestad Porsche/Audi in Lakewood which is now (and has been since at least the mid-’80s) Prestige Porsche/Audi at the same location.

Then it looks like it moved to Wyoming and was sold as a used car by Bill Anselmi Olds/GMC/Mercedes in Casper.  Bill Anselmi passed away in the late 1980s and by 1990 the dealership became Anselmi Pontiac/Buick/GMC and eventually became Casper Buick/GMC/Cadillac (as it stands today) so I’m guessing this may have been traded in on either a Mercedes Diesel or perhaps even an Olds with a Diesel sometime in the ’80s.  Or something else entirely of course.

Since there isn’t another dealer sticker on it and virtually every dealer in these parts isn’t shy about affixing such to their cars that may have been it for this one and stayed in the next owner’s fleet for thirty-odd years before coming here.

Taking our little tour inside shows an attractive color combination of butterscotch leather and dark brown and black trim.  That same leather seat pattern was also used for the Audi Quattro, albeit in a more bolstered form and Audi often used diagonal stitching or patterns back then on the seating surfaces.

The dashboard itself is of a similar motif as the older 100 dash, however instead of wood all the way across it now the vents look like they go all the way across.  While they don’t actually go all the way across (some portions are dummied), if you look you will see vastly more adjustable sections than dummy sections, clearly Audi was trying to provide lots of ventilation.  There are two vents right above the center stack, two more right in front of the passenger and then at least another on each corner.  The power window switches are in the center console and HVAC controls in the middle, easily accessible.  The steering wheel is a somewhat odd-looking “safety” design with a thick non-airbag padded section.  This style reminds me of orthopaedic shoes for some reason or another, it’s not one of Audi’s better offerings.

While I can accept that this car only traveled 101,000 miles at a leisurely pace before succumbing, it could just as well be otherwise, as for example the same VDO odometer in the 4000 I owned back in 1988 (so at eight years of age) had developed a maddening inconsistency in operation where it would frequently stop working and some miles later start recording mileage again, so the actual mileage was unknowable.  This was not an isolated or uncommon occurrence in these cars, there is a whole industry devoted to replacing gears and rebuilding VDO odometer and speedometer units.  As an aside, the speedo worked, just not the odo so it wasn’t ever that imperative to fix it.

This is upper class Germany’s idea of stripper instrumentation with a large clock instead of an RPM gauge, and water temp and fuel gauges.  At least there are no painfully obvious blanks but at least they could have put upshift indicators on the speedo but perhaps when you’re moving that slowly, what does it matter.  Perhaps one of the row of indicator lights underneath fulfills that function.

The back seat space is roomy with more of the diagonal leatherwork.  Note the VW holdover door latches as well as the individual ash tray and lighter for each outboard position high up on the window ledge.  Just above are the door lock plungers, vacuum operated, wherein when you push one down, the others after a short pause would suck on down as well and when lifted would follow as well.  Well, in theory at least, any vacuum issues and this “power” aspect went away.  At least it was quiet without the loud thunk afflicting GM’s offerings of the day.

This sort of shows the richness of the brown paint better without any fading or flattening, and the VIN tag (just like the older 100’s) shows Audi’s old full name from this era.  Built in very early 1980 this car was shaking off the excesses of the 1970’s and breaking new ground.  Slowly.  I don’t often see 5000s this old anymore, almost never in the junkyard and never on the street, so finding one and a diesel version at that was satisfying.

I know I was being a little facetious (fecetious?) with the title and this one obviously didn’t seem to go the distance but conceptually this generation of Audis were very attractive (to me).  Since you know that I very much like the mid-80’s Toyota Cressida as well as the Euro Ford Granada, well, this may be the car that had a big influence in that respect as it’s hewn from a very similar aesthetic mindset.  Sure, the next generation would spark a design revolution at Audi and around the world but at its peak this design was deeply impressive as well and while likely not the success that Audi was hoping for in the US, got it closer to its goal.  I’d happily drive a vintage 5000 (just not a naturally aspirated diesel one).

Related Reading:

Vintage Review: Audi 5000 Extended-Use Report by Yohai Rodin

Cohort Sighting: Audi 5000 (100-C2) – The Anti W123 by Paul Niedermeyer