In retrospect it was inevitable that I would gravitate to an Audi at some point. Audi AG’s modern era in the United States began with the Audi 100 in 1970 and the Audi Fox in 1973. Being a classic early adopter the Other Michael had three Foxes early on and I was with him in the fall of 1976 when he totaled the first which, to be honest, was arguably not his fault. Despite extensive damage on all sides (and a broken passenger window courtesy of my head) the doors opened and closed perfectly with that solid German car feel.
A couple of years later my father bought a 1978 Audi Fox GTI,
and in 1984 my soon to be father-in-law bought an Audi 4000 that was passed on to my wife in 1989 – our gateway Audi if you will.
But the spiritual influence for my Audi Coupe, the hook if you will, was its sexy sibling – the rallying Audi quattro that revolutionized the World Rally Championship scene in the first half of the 1980’s.
I vividly remember the first Audi quattro I saw. The Other Michael and I were cycling in Vermont. We were resting at the crest of the Appalachian Gap on Vermont’s Route 17 and gazing west when we heard something approaching.
Fast forward to June, 1991. My wife, Debbie, is pregnant with our first son who would be born the following October. My wife’s 4000 would work as a family car, but I was still driving my 1979 Fiat 124 which was not really up to the task of being a kid hauler. I went looking for an Audi of my own. Used quattros were still out of my price range, but I found a white 1986 Audi Coupe GT.
The first generation Audi Coupe GT, manufactured from 1980 to 1988, was a bit of an amalgamation. It featured the body of the Audi quattro, but without the fender flares. Front wheel drive only in the US, the front of the Coupe was virtually identical to the Audi 4000. From the windshield back things changed however. The Coupe had two long doors and a sloping rear window that stretched almost to the tail which was punctuated with a rear spoiler on a short deck lid.
In Europe the Coupe could be had with both four and five cylinder engines, but US cars were only imported with the normally aspirated 2.2 liter inline five-cylinder engine. First sold in the US in 1981, the car was facelifted in 1984. The largest change was the addition of integrated wrap around bumpers which improved the aerodynamics and enhanced the looks of the Audi.
While some of these second generation Coupes featured digital instruments mine had traditional mechanical gauges. It was a five speed manual with gray leather interior and a sunroof. Interestingly, the sunroof did not fully open. For ventilation it could be cracked open by manually cranking a handle but for true open air motoring one actually removed the sunroof and stored it on a dedicated shelf in the trunk.
Despite its modest 110 horsepower engine and front wheel drive the car handled well and was fun to drive. In 1985 Car and Driver named it the Best Sports Coupe in America. It was a step up from the Volkswagen Scirocco or Toyota Celica, but something less than a Porsche 944 (or Audi quattro!).
I purchased the Coupe for $8,000 which at the time was $6,800 more than I had ever paid for a car. The Audi had just under 60,000 miles on it. While in the past I had done much of my own mechanical work by necessity, beginning with the Coupe and my wife’s 4000 we transitioned to using a real mechanic. We were lucky to discover David at AutoWerke in Rockville, Maryland less than three miles from our house. Over the past quarter century David has serviced all of our German cars and a few outliers as well. David worked to educate me and did his best to see that I adhered to a maintenance plan that assured that moving forward my cars would not suffer the sort of decline I had so often experienced in the past.
Now the ’86 Coupe did not yet have the complexity associated with more modern Audis but it nevertheless followed what I have come to think of as a German car pattern of reliability. Brilliantly engineered, German cars are designed so that they can be maintained forever – the key word being maintained. Maintenance – from a German perspective – encompasses much more than the items shown in a traditional service schedule – tune-ups, fluids, brakes, etc.
German car maintenance incorporates the possibility that items that would never fail in a non-German car may need replacing two or three times. To not attend to these items, to neglect such “maintenance”, is akin to puppy beating. Looking over the maintenance records for the Coupe this morning I noticed, in addition to all the expected items, that there were switches, cables and small hoses replaced multiple times that I’ve never had to replace in non-German cars. It may sound like I’m complaining but perhaps I’m just coming to the insight that German cars, like elite athletes, are endowed with great abilities but are fragile. Maybe you can’t have one without the other. It could be this mechanical yin yang is a real thing.
Over eleven years I added 125,000 miles to the odometer. Repairs over those years almost exactly equaled my original $8,000 purchase price so in the end the car was $16,000 all in. At a cost of $1,455 per year or thirteen cents per mile the car ended up being a bargain. In 2002 I drove the Audi Coupe from Maryland to Kansas and gave it to my nephew who was about to turn sixteen. The car drove as well on the trip to Kansas as it had on the day I purchased it eleven years earlier.
(I just found and shot this red curbside Audi coupe this fall, and it was just looking for a suitable post. PN)