Home » Just Before The TT, Audi Offered A Desirable Coupe That Nobody Bought: Holy Grails

Just Before The TT, Audi Offered A Desirable Coupe That Nobody Bought: Holy Grails

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For over 20 years, the Audi TT was a timeless coupe and convertible with fans spanning the entire world. Audi moved an impressive 662,762 TTs before production ended in November 2023. Before Freeman Thomas penned the iconic TT, Audi tried to sell another coupe. The 1990 and 1991 Audi Coupé quattro was a sensible coupe for people who wanted comfort with a dash of that trademark classic Audi fun, and few people bothered to buy it.

This story takes us back to the 1980s, when most stories about Audi talk about the marque’s iconic Audi Quattro. For many, the Audi Quattro is a car that needs no introduction and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those reading this article even have a photo of an Audi Quattro on their walls. As a note, Audi spells the Quattro model name in all lowercase letters, but to save some confusion we will be capitalizing it.

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If you aren’t a classic Audi fan, I’ll give you a brief explanation. The first Audi Quattro made its debut in 1980 and the car started life as an Audi 80/4000. Audi’s engineers gave the Quattro a wider track, disc brakes on all wheels, an independent suspension, and a 2.1-liter turbo five lifted from the 200/5000 Turbo and making 200 HP. The pièce de résistance of the Quattro was its legendary all-wheel-drive system, which Audi describes as:

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Audi’s solution, which made quattro technology possible in the first place, was the hollow shaft – a drilled-out, 263 millimeter (10.4 in) secondary shaft in the transmission through which power flowed in two directions. It drove the housing of the center differential from its rearmost end. The differential sent 50 percent of the power along the propshaft to the rear axle, which was equipped with a locking differential. The other half of the drive torque was transferred to the front axle’s differential along an output shaft rotating inside the hollow secondary shaft.

The hollow shaft permitted all-wheel drive that was virtually tension-free, light, compact and efficient, and that operated without the need for a heavy transfer case or second propshaft. The quattro concept was no longer suitable just for slow all-terrain vehicles, but in particular for sporty automobiles and high-volume production.

The Quattro went on to dominate rally stages while winning the hearts of buyers in Europe and America. Over the years the Audi Quattro got even faster and more ferocious and replaced the center locker with a Torsen center differential.

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The legend of the Audi Quattro overshadows some of the other great cars the marque built in the 1980s. One of them was the Audi Coupé quattro, which didn’t have the firepower of the Quattro, and traded brutal speed for comfort.

Audi Coupe 1988 Images 1

It was a coupe built for adults who still wanted to have fun behind the wheel, but also wanted a presentable, comfortable vehicle.

The Genesis Of Modern VAG

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Think about common Volkswagen AG models of the modern day. Most of them, from the New Beetle to the recently departed Audi TT, have a lot in common with each other. Pop open the hood and you’ll often find a transverse-mounted water-cooled engine and a FWD platform. And even when these cars do get AWD, they’re still front-biased.

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As VW nut Jason Torchinsky can explain, the modern era of VW traces its roots back to the B1 platform, which birthed the Audi 80, sold in America as the Fox. The B1 platform was also the basis of the Volkswagen Passat, initially sold in America as the Dasher. From Jason:

The Passat/Dasher was also notable because we can see it as the departure point where old air-cooled, rear-engine Volkswagen was replaced by the Auto Union-derived tech that Volkswagen acquired. The Passat was a modern Auto Union/Audi, really, with a longitudinal, liquid-cooled FWD setup that then morphed into the transverse FWD formula that has dominated VW ever since. Modern VW is really Auto Union, and here’s where it started.

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As Jason notes, the seeds were planted even before then. In 1958, Mercedes-Benz bought up most of Auto Union. If you aren’t up to snuff on your German car history, Auto Union was Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer together. After World War II, Auto Union was known best for two-stroke engined cars under the DKW nameplate. Mercedes-Benz bought out the rest of Auto Union in 1959 and positioned DKW at the lower end of the market.

However, as Europe recovered from the war, two-strokes began falling out of vogue, and that became a problem. Mercedes-Benz got to work developing a couple of prototypes. The engineers also developed a new four-stroke, water-cooled, high-compression engine, reportedly meant for military use. Ludwig Krauss led the development team the new cars and engine as well as helped DKW get its F102 into production. The F102 would feature DKW’s last two-stroke and it suffered from poor sales. Mercedes-Benz punted 50 percent of Auto Union to Volkswagen in 1964, then the rest in 1966.

Audi 60l 1969

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In late 1965, the front engine, front-wheel-drive DKW F102 was re-released as the Audi F103 (above), which was sold as the Audi 60, 72, 75, 80, and 90, each referring to power output. This time, the two-stroke engine was gone, replaced by the Mercedes-Benz M118. The seeds for VAG’s FWD water-cooled future were planted and the Audi name was brought back from the dead after it disappeared in 1939.

The Audi 80 B1 was a departure from the past of DKW bodies and Mercedes engines but embraced the tech Volkswagen acquired from Auto Union. When the B1 made its debut in 1972, it sported a new engine developed under Volkswagen ownership, the EA827, and a new body featuring a safety cell developed using computers.

Audi 80 1973 Int Images 7

Audi noted a large list of advancements with the B1. The EA827 boasted a belt-driven camshaft that directly actuated the engine’s valves, advertised as offering a smoother, quieter operation with fewer parts. Other notable advancements included an electric radiator fan that didn’t sap power from the engine as well as the fact that the powertrain was mounted on an isolated cradle, reducing noise and vibration while making service faster.

On the chassis front, Audi boasted the vehicle’s MacPherson struts up front and torsion crank axle with springs in the rear. Here, Audi touted front wheel drive as a safety feature as most of the vehicle’s weight was on the steering and drive wheels. Audi also sought to solve the problems of cars pulling to the left or to the right during emergency braking. The automaker’s solution was to link the brakes diagonally across the car as well as an outboard scrub radius front axle. The effect was a car that stays straight under heavy braking.

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Audi 80 1973 Int Images 6

All of this came on top of a stylish body, decent fuel economy, and a roomy interior. Audi also noted an early version of a feature common on many cars today. If you wanted to make a quick lane change, you just put slight pressure on the turn indicator stalk. If your turn was going to take some time, you pushed it all of the way.

The Audi 80 was such a smashing success that in 1973, it won the European Car of the Year award, beating out competition including the Alfa Romeo Alfetta and the Renault 5. Audi also says that 44 journalists from 15 countries bestowed the Audi 80 with Best Car Of The Year, as well.

Losing Doors

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The B1 was available as a 2- or 4-door sedan or as a 5-door wagon. In 1978, the Audi 80 would move to the B2 platform. The B2 platform would also spawn the Audi 90, the Audi 4000, the Audi Quattro, the Audi Sport Quattro, and the Audi Coupé.

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As Audi World writes, the B2 was penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro, and the original idea called for a sedan and a coupe. The big news was the introduction of Audi’s iconic quattro drivetrain, which trickled down through Audi and made it over to the Volkswagen Passat/Quantum, where it was rebranded as Syncro.

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Of course, the flagship Audi was the Quattro. As Hemmings writes, a slower, less expensive sibling was developed alongside the Quattro. This car would become known as the Audi Coupé and this car gave you some of the looks of the Quattro, but in a more restrained, luxurious ride. At first, the Audi Coupé arrived as a front-wheel drive car, but it got the Quattro drive system in late 1984.

Today’s Grail is based on the Audi Coupé B3. The B3 platform launched in 1986 and was a departure from Audi’s norms. This B3 split the Typ 89 Audi 80 up from the Volkswagen Passat. The Audi 80 continued down the path of a longitudinal engine while the Passat kept a transverse layout.

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The B3 removed the wedges of the past and replaced them with the rounded bodies that would become associated with cars of the 1990s. Other goodies that came with the B3 platform include a galvanized steel body and Audi’s patented Programmed Contraction-Tension (Procon-ten) safety system.

The Procon-ten system was something interesting on its own. A series of cables were linked to the engine. In a crash, the engine would move toward the passenger compartment, which would pull on the cables. This would not only drive the steering wheel forward but also tension the seat belts.

The B3 platform would also spawn two grail-worthy coupes.

The First Grail

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The Audi Coupé Typ 8B is a derivative of the 3B platform that underpinned the 80 and the 90. It’s like the Audi Coupé of before, but now with a design that I think is a bit easier on the eyes. Sadly, the 1990 and the 1991 Audi Coupé did not sport any turbo firepower. However, it did get the 20-valve 2.3-liter five-cylinder, which offered 164 HP and 157 lb-ft of torque.

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As John Davis from MotorWeek explains below, Audi made the Coupé more of a mainstream car. Yet, it still had Audi’s most powerful naturally-aspirated engine at the time. Add in a Torsen-based Quattro system, locking rear differential, and manual transmission and you have a sporty, brightly-colored coupe that you could take off-road. That’s exactly what MotorWeek showed:

In MotorWeek‘s test, the Audi Coupé quattro hit 60 mph in 8.7 seconds and did the quarter mile in 16 seconds at 87 mph. Those aren’t impressive numbers for a sporty coupe. But then again, how many sport coupes will make it through snow and dirt like it’s nothing? That was the magic of Audi Quattro.

Other highlights noted by Davis was the fact that the Quattro system helped to keep the car planted in corners. In terms of interior features, Davis noted: “Priced at $29,750, the Coupe Quattro includes leather, [Zebrano] wood, power windows, power door locks, a security system, and more. All the amenities you’d normally see on luxury sedans.”

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Other bits of kit included automatic climate control, Audi’s ski bag compartment, and folding rear seats. While I could not find other reviews of the Audi Coupé quattro, MotorWeek gave the car high marks for its features, quattro system, price, and styling, but knocked the vehicle for its lack of brisk acceleration and harsh ride.

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Audi never released any sales numbers for the B3-based Audi Coupé quattro, but they sold for just two model years, 1990 and 1991. It’s believed that about 1,730 were sold before the Audi Coupé was removed from the American market. It’s not known why the Audi Coupé failed to light a match in the American market. Perhaps it was the $29,750 price tag ($72,934 today) coupled with the unimpressive HP rating.

Despite that, the Audi Coupé has a lot of fans today, including the co-founder of Hoonigan, Brian Scotto. Audi gives us a description of it:

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Brian’s first love though is an Audi. During a visit last year to the Hoonigan Donut Garage by the Audi TT clubsport turbo concept on its way to SEMA, Scotto’s passion for the brand came out. While the 5-cylinder TT with electric turbo seemed alien to some of his fellow Hoonigans, Scotto shared his encyclopedic knowledge of the car and the brand that brought it there to his industrial park doorstep. He also pointed to a dust-covered blue coupe in the back of the garage as a reference.

That car is a Lago Blue 1990 Audi Coupe quattro, one of his earliest automotive purchases and the one that’s stuck around in the background for over ten years. For Brian, it all started with that car. He had it back before 0-60, when he was just a kid heading out to car shows and running a startup club for the like-minded known as Autokrieg.

Like Scotto’s Audi passion, the Coupe quattro has had a way of sticking around despite a very busy career and countless automotive distractions. It made the cross country move from his early home in New York to Southern California where it now resides in storage at Hoonigan headquarters.

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Audi fans seem to love these cars even today, but they’re hard to find in good nick. One example sold on Bring a Trailer for $14,500 in January. So, they aren’t the cheapest classics, but you won’t need to mortgage your house to buy one, either. If you aren’t locked into that coupe body style, Audi did sell the Cabriolet in America for longer than the Coupé.

The Ultimate Audi Coupé

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While America got the Audi Coupé for just a couple of model years, it continued production elsewhere with a greater variety of options. One of them was the Audi S2. When it debuted in 1991, it was the first production car in Audi’s now-famed S series. Audi and its race engineering partner Konrad Schmidt Motorsport, developed the S2 as the flagship of the Audi Coupé line and the spiritual successor of the Audi Quattro.

On paper, the Audi S2 has a lot going for it. The 2.2-liter turbo five with Quattro is a derivative of the Audi Quattro’s and came from the Audi 200 20V. This engine, in its best tune, pumps out 227 HP and 258 lb-ft of torque. It blasts down the Autobahn hitting 60 mph in 5.7 seconds before racing to a top speed of 153 mph. The Audi S2 even scored a decent coefficient of drag of 0.32.

Despite giving the Audi Coupé a much-need punch, the press was split. Reportedly, Autocar said:

“Not only does it fail to improve on the Quattro’s legendary road manners, it actually takes a step back. It is no quicker in a straight line, slower through corners and altogether less fun to drive.”

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Yet, Motor Sport Magazine had a better time:

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At the heart of this supreme competence is the 4WD system, and there simply is not a better friend for the enthusiastic driver through a British winter. In typical 40 mph sidewinds and the company of a £60,000 + BMW 850i, the S2 tracked along obediently and underlined its all-round prowess for almost half as much cash as its Southern Bavarian rival.

The S2 is not embarrassed by 5-litre BMW power either. Our example did not perform remarkably by the standards of other magazines, but it was still quick enough to cope with our automatic BMW comfortably, both officially sharing the same top speed. The S2 should slip just below the six seconds to 60 mph barrier that defines Porsche 911 territory these days. Our figures, including a 6.6 second average to the mile a minute marker, are the result of just one run in each direction. These results are a convincing testimony to the S2 ability to launch itself undramatically from rest to improbable velocities: 0-100 mph was comfortably under 20 seconds and the trip to 110 mph only occupied 24.4 seconds. In this connection it is interesting to compare the similarly powerful (but even more abundantly torquey) Saab front-drive machine with the S2; on the acceleration front the Audi zips away from a standstill to 30 mph so convincingly that the front-drive Saab was left a second adrift immediately. By 100 mph the gap was still around 0.7s, so even the TCS electronic traction device of the Saab is no match for that initial standing start quattro traction.

[…]

The Audi S2 Coupé is an immensely competent car, that makes us hope “one day all cars will be made this way.” The S2 is versatile and blisteringly fast, all achieved with barely a mutter from the now civil and almost liquidly powerful five cylinders in conscientiously designed and constructed coachwork. The steering is a flaw, but not a crucial one in road use. We think our readers, like the writer, would grow to appreciate the literal Vorsprung durch Technik (progress through technology) that Audi have achieved. The S2 may lack the motorsport involvement of its forerunner, but it is just as effective a weapon for Nineties motoring as was the original was in the Eighties.

Audi S2 Coupe 1996 1600 54

Unfortunately, the Audi S2 never made it onto American shores. The good news is that you can import one, just be prepared to open your wallet. Asking prices seem to range from around $20,000 to $50,000, and that’s before you pay to put it on a boat and get it to America.

The other good news is that the S2 was sold in a few body styles. You were able to get it as a coupe, a sedan, and a wagon. Reportedly 7,370 S2s were built as Coupés, plus another 1,812 S2 Avants and just 306 as S2 sedans. That’s 9,488 S2s in total. Hilariously, that’s far more copies than the U.S. spec Audi Coupé quattro.

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No matter which car you choose, you’ll get a piece of obscure Audi history. Production of the Audi Coupé ended in 1996 and there was not any direct successor. Indeed, the closest thing to a new Audi Coupé was the Audi TT, and now even that is dead. So pour one out for these lost and sometimes forgotten Audis. In an era where crossovers dominate the landscape, a little 164 HP coupe still sounds pretty cool.

Do you know of or own a car, bus, motorcycle, or something else worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com or drop it down in the comments!

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(Images: VAG, unless otherwise noted.)

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SomeIntern
SomeIntern
29 days ago

I was recently looking for manual cars and found an interesting modern holy grail, a 2018 Audi A5/A4 with a manual transmission. There are only about 8 for sale right now so they’re quite rare. Only about 2 in Premium Plus trim.

Julian Sammons
Julian Sammons
1 month ago

I had one of these in my early 20s. One of the more rare, special cars I’ve owned, got compliments, and yet I had very little love for the thing. I’m sure it needed suspension work, but it handled like an absolute dog in the corners and was plagued with electrical and idle issues I couldn’t resolve. I don’t miss it at all yet also wish I still had it (though would promptly sell it if I did). Love that motor though.
Traded it to a total dirt bag for his e28.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
1 month ago

What if Mercedes-Benz had kept Auto Union in the 1960s and positioning it as a bargain brand (like Škoda in today’s Volkswagen range)? Would that more or less eliminate Volkswagen in the early 1970s as it would have no “saviours” (K70 and B1 Passat)?

Who knows…

RataTejas
RataTejas
1 month ago

Had an ’82 Coupe back in the day. Numerous problems, but my gosh what a fun drive. One of the few cars that I miss.

The Clutch Rider
The Clutch Rider
1 month ago

I guess it didn’t help that it looked like a Jetta of the times, just wider.

I had a buddy that had one of these, and i wasn’t too impressed with it at all. This was the early aughts, and at the time i was driving a 92 accord.

Patrick
Patrick
1 month ago

Corrado MAYBE but Jetta??

The Clutch Rider
The Clutch Rider
1 month ago
Reply to  Patrick

I guess I looked too much at the front-end lines, but yes Corrado would be a better. also, the rear end has a lot of Jetta in it

Rob Castaldo
Rob Castaldo
1 month ago

I had a pearl white 91cq for years. I sold it as a project car to someone a few years ago when I didn’t have time to finish restoring it. The enthusiast community for these is strong. I know a guy near me in buffalo who owned 5 of these in various states. My mechanic has a Tornado red one sitting behind his shop awaiting a restore.

There’s really nothing quite like the sound of an audio 5-cylinder.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDqCJFqJFt0

It was a slow car that was incredibly fun to drive fast, especially in the snow.

A lot of people swapped the stock 7a for a turbo 3b out of the 5000 wagon or an AAN out of the 100 sedan. There was also a turbo kit available from 034 motorsport that got the car up over 200 hp. The 7a is a pretty bulletproof engine with a lot of them cresting 300K miles before needing a rebuild. Some folks were running >500HP on stock internals.

Importing parts was fun. I purchased replacement mirror glass from Poland and added a remote keyless system that connected to the vacuum-actuated door locks from the UK. Various other parts from scrapyards all over eastern eroupe.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 month ago
SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
1 month ago

Years later Sam Tyler and Alec Hardy became the best of frenemies, across time and space.

Last edited 1 month ago by SNL-LOL Jr
Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 month ago

A friend of mine had one of these. It was a former Toronto Police drug car. The odometer didn’t work, so it was “mileage unknown.” He out a Stebro exhaust on it and the European headlights. Fun car until one day he was visiting someone…

“Hey Jaak. You bring the Audi today?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Well, it’s on fire.”

Yep, it caught on fire while parked, and burned to the ground.

MEK
MEK
1 month ago

After my CRX Si was stolen back in college, I test drove 1991 Audi Coupe. I had always been an Audi fan and really wanted one of these badly. The car I test drove (twice) was a ’91 5-speed (was this even offered in auto?) in yellow. I wanted the car very badly and I recall the car being very solid feeling (Teutonic, if you will) but I was a bit surprised that it didn’t feel all that quick, even when compared to my former CRX. It was almost certainly faster, but didn’t feel it, which I recall being a bit disappointing. Also, even though the car only had about 50k on the clock, it already had numerous electrical issues, a clunk somewhere in the front end and a couple interior panels were lose or already coming apart.

Reluctantly I passed on the car after my father talked me out of it, convincing me (most certainly correctly) that the car likely would have bankrupted me with repair costs.

I both do and don’t regret passing on that car. I still want one, but I also don’t feel like dealing with the headaches of an aging Euro car, especially one that is likely very difficult to source parts for now.

Last edited 1 month ago by MEK
Christo Arvanitis
Christo Arvanitis
1 month ago

A friend had the Quattro Coupé and it was a beautiful car but I’ve always lusted after the OG Quattro… the red one with the Audi rings on the side is just perfect. The styling reminds me of the angular beauty of the original Scirocco.

Patrick
Patrick
1 month ago

Funnily enough, I was amazed right this afternoon with the sight of a couple imported and very rare Audis: a red S2 exactly like in the article and a B5 S4 Avant (Nogaro Blue on Merc wheels). Two forbidden fruit I would absolutely love to own!l

Last edited 1 month ago by Patrick
Christo Arvanitis
Christo Arvanitis
1 month ago
Reply to  Patrick

Oh, that Nogaro blue. Love that color

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
1 month ago
Reply to  Patrick

You can get the S4 Avant here, but the RS4? That’s some tasty forbidden front. Some dude near me imported one a few years ago and it’s obscenely cool.

Patrick
Patrick
1 month ago

So I just checked, and we’re both right. I thought I knew my Piëch-era dubs, but I ignored (forgot?) they sold b5 S4 Avants in the US, although obviously in small numbers (1500ish). That said, they were never sold up here in Canada, just the still-awesome-but-not-a-sick-wagon S4 sedan. And of course RS4 in NA wasn’t until B7 ….in sedan form (boooo)

Chris D
Chris D
1 month ago

What a nice-looking car. Why can’t modern cars be so clean of lines and purpose-built? You can see some Ford Escort in there, and a bit of Volvo under the hood. If it weren’t for the prohibitively high price, these would have sold in much higher numbers.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris D

Audi still builds cars that are (mostly) clean and unfussy, but they are nearly universally derided as “boring” and “conservative”. Audi is doing their best to destroy the corporate mug single frame grille, but aside from that I think the whole lineup is pretty good looking.

Greensoul
Greensoul
1 month ago

What a damm good looking car. Gives me serious original Isuzu Impulse vibes. Life is crazy. Back in the old days (1950-60’s) if you had kids you bought a 2 door so the kid’s couldn’t escape or fall out of the back doors. After the advent of required child seats and child resistant rear door locks on sedans, the coupe met it slow, painful death. Sad

Bracq P
Bracq P
1 month ago

A long write up to lead up to the 90s Coupe, but how could you forget the OG?
From 1969 to 1976 the 100 Coupe S paved the way for all the iterations to follow. If you want a holy grail, check the V3 and V4 variants by Porsche.

Huibert Mees
Huibert Mees
1 month ago

First car I ever bought was a 1973 Audi Fox/80. I loved that car. It was great fun to drive. Reasonably fast for the time, its 75 hp engine didn’t have much weight to pull around. It’s the car that taught me all about brake fade. I was a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver in college and one day my boss challenged me to a race to see who could deliver the most pizzas in a 10 hour shift. I never drove that car so fast! But on a long downhill with a stop sign at the bottom, I was going way too fast and the brakes faded long before I got to the intersection. Luckily no traffic (or cops) and I sailed right through that stop sign. I won the race though!

Diana Slyter
Diana Slyter
1 month ago

Drove the Audi 80 when it first came out and fell in love with it, only problem was my college financial aid wouldn’t cover the payments!

John E
John E
1 month ago

It looked like a 1987 Ford Escort GT and the Escort most likely could dust this heap of German garbage. Seriously, you would be far better off to spend the money on a early 90’s Nissan 300Z. These old Audis will bankrupt you and this one does NOTHING well.

Pappa P
Pappa P
1 month ago

As others have mentioned, a widely unloved car.
I remember my buddy’s girlfriend had one in the mid ’90s. He was a mechanic with his own shop. I thought it was cool and asked about it. All he had to say was that it was basically unfixable junk.
The S2 sounds kind of cool though.

Al Camino
Al Camino
1 month ago

You must be running out of grails. I was a new car buyer back then, and these were overpriced, unloved, and a total design letdown after the previous Audi Coupe. Plus they looked like Ford Escorts.

Ryan L
Ryan L
1 month ago
Reply to  Al Camino

The “looks like ford escorts” isn’t intended to be a dig is it? The 87-93 escort coupes were great. One of my favorite of the era alongside those hopped up dodge shadows.

Al Camino
Al Camino
1 month ago
Reply to  Ryan L

Not at all, I loved the Escort and would much rather have the cheaper Escort over the Audi. I had a friend who had an Escort coupe and used to beat on it. Fun car.
Audi’s mistake was not building on the design of the previous Audi Coupe which everyone loved. That’s why everyone back then considered the new coupe to be such a let down.

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
1 month ago

Meh! it was kinda bland and awkward looking. Not an aspirational design. And only 2.2L? Not sufficient in my book.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 month ago

I honestly didn’t even know they sold that coupe here at all, in any form! 😮

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