1970-1976 Audi 100LS & Audi 100 Coupe S
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.
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.
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.
The 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.