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1970-1976 Audi 100LS & Audi 100 Coupe S

Audi100LS The "Life With My Car Lust" post that I promised for Wednesday is turning into a monstrous endeavor and is taking me longer to finish than expected. So, in the interim, here's a less self-centered post on a lustworthy Audi that is older, rarer, and even more difficult to find parts for than mine.

Audi is such a high-profile brand today that it's easy to forget that it is a relative newcomer to the U.S. market. In 1970, Volkswagen's ubiquitous Beetle was by far the most popular import; it was widely considered the import, the only one that had truly gone mainstream. Many of companies that are now import car parts suppliers started off as VW Beetle parts specialists; many import car magazines started off with a Volkswagen-centric focus. Nothing else--German, English, or Japanese--was even close in terms of sales or visibility.

At this point, Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche were established in America as niche brands, but they were making steady inroads into American market share and brand awareness. Despite the Beetle's continuing sales dominance, forward-thinking VW executives were aware that the company needed to lessen its dependence on the ancient air-cooled Beetle both by developing newer, more modern alternatives in the company's existing market (such as the 1974 Golf/Rabbit) and expanding the company's range beyond basic transportation.

Audi100Coupe1 Enter Audi. The Audi nameplate had been around since the 1930s and, for the vast majority of its life, had been part of the famous Auto Union group, which produced DKW, Horch, and Wanderer road cars and the famous Auto Union silver arrow grand prix race cars. Volkswagen bought control of Auto Union from Daimler-Benz in 1964, folded in NSU, and chose the Audi name to represent the group. 

Audi had two cars available to help expand Volkswagen's reach upmarket in the United States--the Super 90 sedan and the 100LS. The smaller Super 90 was the forerunner to the U.S.-market Audi 4000 and, eventually, today's A4, S4, and RS4 compact sports sedans. The 100LS was the larger offering and spawned the revolutionary and aerodynamic Audi 5000 sports sedan and today's A6, S6, and RS6 mid-size luxury sedans. Interestingly enough, after the unintended acceleration scandal tarnished the 4000/5000 levels in the popular eye, Audi briefly reverted to the European 80/90/100 naming scheme before settling on today's more familiar A4/A6 nomenclature. Well, okay, it's not that interesting.

Audi100Coupe2 The interesting part is that the 100LS was Audi's first, best foot forward when the brand made its United States debut in 1970, making it the trailblazer for some pretty remarkable cars. The enthusiast press quickly took to the upscale sedan from the unknown Audi brand. With 115 horsepower--gallingly, more power than I get from my 1986 Coupe GT--the 100LS' four-cylinder engine was reasonably eager and able to push the 2,300-pound sedan from 0-60 in about 12 seconds. That was decent performance for a front-wheel-drive import in 1970, and that sort of general adequacy was matched by the handling, which was fairly stable and neutral for a car that didn't make any sort of performance pretensions.

No, the 100LS was much more about providing stylish family transport, and it did that well. The interior was Spartan by today's standards, but spacious and tastefully appointed by the standards of the day. And the exterior ... well I think the styling is absolutely gorgeous and probably prettier in hindsight than it was at the time. The proportions and detailing of the 100LS speak to everything that was right with late 1960s and early 1970s German-car styling The body is long, low, and wedgy, and the roof pillars are delicate and slender, highlighting the generous greenhouse. Even prettier was the 100 Coupe S, which shared its mechanical bits with the 100LS and foreshadowed the Coupe GT as Audi's practical sporty coupe.

Audi100Coupe3The 100LS exceeded the modest sales expectations, but in an absolute sense it never sold in huge quantities and didn't exactly make Audi a household name in the United States. That didn't really begin to happen until the Fox debuted a few years later, and Audis didn't really become popular alternatives to BMWs or Mercedes until the Ur-Quattro and 5000 Turbo Quattro dramatically raised Audi's upscale profile.

That makes the 100 coupes and sedans really rare and interesting time capsules from a time when the Audi brand was virtually unknown. There have been some 100 sedans and coupes popping up on Bring a Trailer lately, and the common consensus seems to be that the driving experience isn't particularly special and that the cars are difficult to maintain, particularly due to an almost complete lack of parts availability. This has so far served as an effective purchase deterrent for me, but if and when I make my fortune and stock my garage with a slew of generally worthless cars, I'll have an Audi 100LS and 100 Coupe S represented--as rolling sculpture if nothing else.

The photo of the 100LS sedan is from Wikipedia Commons; the images of the delectable blue 100 Coupe S are taken from a recent Bring a Trailer post.

--Chris H.

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The 100 Coupe S looks like what the Datsun B210 hatchback wishes it could grow up to be. The sedan is just, well, nice. Neat, understated, perfect proportions.

When there were still enough of these around for anyone to know what they were, they used to routinely feature on worst cars lists. Things like inboard brakes that lasted 5,000 miles, were hard to service, and overheated transmissions and overstressed halfshafts. Engines that fell out. Rear suspensions that collapsed. Batteries that caught the back seat on fire if someone sat on it. Electrical problems that exceeded the number of electrical circuits. Many former Audi Fox owners consider them to have been the low point for the automobile, but they actually had several fewer common failure points than the 100 LS.

http://bringatrailer.com/2009/11/04/48k-original-miles-1970-audi-100ls-2-door/comment-page-1/#comments

nice audi!

Yeah, the consensus is that these cars are a nightmare to own and maintain - which is a real shame since their looks, their rarity, and their significance make them pretty interesting collector cars.

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As a teenager in the early 70s, it seemed that Audis suddenly appeared overnight in 1971.
I’d never heard of them, suddenly they’re showing up in the neighborhood. A remember looking at a neighbor’s 100 and not knowing anything about it.

Likewise, before 1972-3 you rarely saw a Mercedes.
They were bought by “foreign car nuts” or farmers who expected a Mercedes to last 20 years, quite a change from typical American car buying habits of the time.
Suddenly Mercedes are everywhere, it seemed like a lot of Mercedes were seen on TV.
My recollection is they started to get popular when the new SL and sedans came out…the sedans (sorry I don’t know the Mercedes body code number) that replaced the sedans that had the stacked headlights.

Anyone else remember it like that?

I was unaware of the Coupe version until now. It's quite a looker -reminds me of the Giugiaro-penned Isuzu 117 Coupe I've lusted after for years.

Nice Article.

NITPICK TIME(Sorry):

Most Audi's still went by the 80/90(4000)/100(5000) in all world markets. It was changed for North America for some strange reason.

Gherrit White: "NITPICK TIME(Sorry):

Most Audi's still went by the 80/90(4000)/100(5000) in all world markets. It was changed for North America for some strange reason."

No worries, Gherrit - I think we're actually in agreement. I was talking about the North American market and called out that they reverted to the European naming scheme, so I think we're aligned on that.

I remember two things about that first generation Audi 100:

1 - It was advertised with billboards whose text read "I don't know what it is, but I want one."

2 - My sister bought, for non-trivial money, one that was about four years old. During her three years of ownership shepaid, each year, more than the original purchase price to keep it running. When it died she kept the front seats as lawn chairs.

I worked on these as a professional wrench-turner back in the mid 70s, and can second the other comments about their terrible reliability. I especially loved the engines that fell out. The engine hung from (rather than rested atop) the mount on the passenger side, with the mount itself just an inch or two away from the exhaust manifold. A thin heatshield protected it, but that would quickly rust away, leaving the mount to bake and split in half, causing that side of the engine to fall.

The inboard front brakes were great, in theory. Unfortunately the engine suffered from numerous oil leaks which soaked the pads and rotors. In just a year or two (if I recall correctly) Audi eliminated the inboard design.

Another "interesting" design feature was an engine kill system that worked off the alternator. If the belt broke, the engine immediately shut off.

The seats were exceptionally comfortable though. :)

My folks bought a 1971 100LS off the showroom. It spent 4 of the first 6 months in the shop. We finally got it back after my mom was intentionally insulting to the service manager. She alleged he wouldn't dare own something that bad. He insisted he believed in Audi, and owned one. She demanded to see the keys as proof. When he produced the keys, my mom took them and said, "you can have yours back when I get mine back". Ours got fixed rather fast.

It always was a garage queen. When I hear about them now, I just hope they've improved. It was the only direction they could go.

I owned a 1974 100LS I purchase used in 1980 with only 50000 miles. By 1982 the engine was worn severely and #4 oiston siezed. I rebuilt the engine and ran it until 1990. The car required constane maintenance. The final straw was the underside of the car was coased with PVC. Seemed like a great idea to keep the water from rustin ghte body. But the PVC Cracked, held the water and the car was a rust bucket. I finall got rid of the cat when the drivers side seat fell through the floor and the jack points were so bad the jack punched through. I only paid $600 for the car and easily spent that much every year keeping it running.
BUT, it was a very comfortable car, looked good, fair performance and good gas milage.

The 1974 100 LS purchased 1 year used in Canada by my father is still running strong today, with about 100,000 miles on the original engine. My experienced observation is that if this vehicle is not used in the winter (Audi's first bodies rusted to hell in N. American winters), such as is the case with our Audi, it will last a very long time with routine maintenance. The only thing we needed the last 36 years is a routine valve job (once), transmission modulator, brakes (once or twice - calipers rebuilt once), muffler (maybe 2 of em' - they last forever it seems), tires and battery + oil change every 3,000 miles. Valve adjustments should be done regularly but most people do not bother and the engine goes to hell. Oh yes, we replaced teh water pump too. I use the car sparingly now because it appears to be the only one in Ontario - population over 10 million, and there is no rust. This is extremely rare and a unique historical artifact for Audi. She turns heads in awe on the road because nobody knows what the hell it is but they love the design and chrome!

I had a 77 100LS that I rescused / purchased from a ford dealer in 1984. By then it was a rust bucket and so I had it restored and sprayed in its original "racing green" color and also had an air dam put on. Everyone was putting on air dams back the on their BMWs and alike. Needless to say this Audi looked HOT and most people thought it was a Mercedes as it looked like and had the same detail features as the 300D. My question is: did any of the Mercedes engineers have an influence in the design? Their we're so many similarities? From the burlap floor mats to the sunroof crank to the exterior trim. It was just like the Mercedes. Anyways I loved this car. Ran great. Always started. I simply loved driving it everyday!!!!

I owned a 73 4-door 4-speed 100LS with air conditioning. It was neither reliable nor built to last. The rack-and-pinion steering was great. Other than that, the shift knob was about the only part that did not crack, rust, mel, short-circuit or go out of adjustment daily.
Don't be seduced by the 4-ring "chrome" trim that spans the front grill---it's plastic!
I second the bad memories of dealing with the inboard front discs, the positive-ground battery under the rear seat, and electrical circuits that should have used connectors at key junctions instead of being hard-wired. And is a 2-piece hose consisting of a short run of cloth-covedred rubber slid over a short run of hard plastic any way to maintain a seal?
This car came to the US around the same time many appliances and electronics had a label on the back or underside reading "no user-serviceable parts inside". I guess Audi conveniently forgot to slap those stickers on its vehicles.

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