By on November 12, 2012


One of my Automotive Design teachers at CCS made us take a personality test to determine our strengths(?) as a designer.  It was beyond stupid, or so I thought. To wit, a (paraphrased) question: do you collect old things?  The answer was supposedly neutral: no matter what you answered on this query, your overall score didn’t change.

Which is a total crock. The history of design is so very important, especially for a powerhouse like Audi. Please!

The Audi 4000 signified the impending maturity of the Audi brand in the USA. This is a design that was the harbinger of better things to come: mass appeal with aspirational appeal.  It was seen in the Audi 5000, but that’s for another day. The 1984 Audi 4000 LE is a particularly perfect example of the breed, based on rarity (less than 400 made) alone.  Add the fact that this vehicle’s owner is our own Captain Mike Solo, who visited me in Houston to pick up his impressive 4000 LE a couple of weeks ago.

Now let’s be clear on one thing: like most European iron from this era, the 4000 was a somewhat horrible bastard compared to its homemarket offering.  The Euro 4000 (called the Audi 80) wasn’t handicapped by this battering ram bumper. The nose is overly static thanks to it and the US-spec headlights drowning out the clean lines of the upper half of the fascia.

While styled by the great Giugiaro himself, he did a far better job a couple of years later making the Hyundai Excel‘s bumpers. Perhaps VW was responsible for the US-spec bumpers, and if so, my apologizes to Mr. G and his studio.

Audi fanatics shall note that the LE was front-wheel drive , but there’s a Quattro badge on the grille!  Captain Mike’s LE had front end damage, so this isn’t the original grille.  (The emblem pops off, if you really give a crap about that.)

The quad headlights look a little sleeker from the side, sunken in with a wraparound trim cover and integral reflector. And while that bumper is all kinds of big compared to the Euro 80, let’s not forget that Lincoln loving fools like yours truly sported some seriously scary battering rams on their late-70s Disco Iron.  The point: these bumpers were here for a damn good reason.

Even better, the prodigious lower valance does a good job taking your eyes away from the large bumper.  The overall look is clean, but composed of far too many pieces.

Okay, the headlights look much better from here.  But my beef of too many parts to make the whole is coming to light: the trim between the headlights and bumper exists for…what reason?The extra filler panel abruptly ends with the marker light, adding an unfortunate layer to the already huge bumper.

Is this a Renault Alliance or an Audi 4000?  There’s a reason why people can still lust after aspirational American Iron of this era: they were about the same price, and they looked like a million bucks.  A million tacky and tasteless bucks, but whatever…peep the one piece bumper of the 1980 Ford Thunderbird: hideous car, awesome bumper.

Audi wasn’t on their game just yet, unless you were looking at the Audi 5000 waiting in the wings.

The four rings are a classic design element, and isn’t it such a lovely logo on such a small grille?  Too bad about that center trim thingie!

Too bad this couldn’t be a one piece affair.  Perhaps VW didn’t have the budget to make a fancy hunk of plastic only for America?

Too many parts, too many ways to weather in the Texas sun.  A big gap near my finger, an overlapping trim piece to the left.  The team involved in the US-Federalization of the Audi 80 can’t be thrilled with the end result in the 4000.

As you turn away from the 4000’s US-spec design, the clarity of the Audi 80’s DNA starts to show.  The side marker light is too close to the fender’s subtle crease, but at least it’s a slick affair with no exposed screws.

Like a balding forehead, the upper half of the fender is too thick and static, too Datsun Maxima.  A little less sheet metal above the headlights (ramp up) would make the front a little sleeker and “speed up” the lines as the fenders go to the A-pillar.

The thinner fender at the front wouldn’t change things here, but the overall effect would be far sleeker. Also note the interesting cut line of the fender into space normally reserved for the cowl: this also helps speed up the look.

That cut line made no sense in the last photo, but here you see it blend into the base of the greenhouse’s DLO, where the side view mirror starts the rest of the design.  Logical!

When is the last time you saw a near-luxury car with exposed wiper arms?  Times have changed, for the better.

Go a little lower and examine the bodyside molding, note the large negative area needed for the rubber to clear the path of an opening door: while this is a design pet peeve of mine, the cute Audi logo cast into the space is pretty cool.  The bigger problem?  The molding doesn’t blend into the crease directly above, it adds unnecessary visual bulk by not playing nice with the sheet metal.

Yup, premium imported vehicles have come a loooong way!

Today we hate the hideous black plastic triangle of DLO fail…but the Audi 4000’s black paint doesn’t look much classier.  Why not make an integrated sideview mirror casting to eliminate this waste of space?

Step back. That’s better. The 4000’s greenhouse is large, airy and chock full of glass.  The LE went a step further, eliminating the vent windows on the front doors.  It looks fantastic, also being a hat tip to the redesigned 4000 arriving shortly. The extra window in the C-pillar isn’t a cheap addition, and the contours of the sheet metal below give the impression of more tumblehome to the roof. Epic.

The 4000 is quite a looker from here.  Long hood, short deck and a wide open greenhouse. It looks efficient and sporty.  The C-pillar is fast, but not idiotically so. The decklid’s downward taper is delicious. While Audi’s clean DNA isn’t entirely present, this is definitely not Detroit Iron…and has more logical lines and crisp contours compared to its Japanese wannabe-competitors. Slam dunk win.

Did I mention “crisp contours”?  Note the four bends in the side of the 4000’s profile.  It’s not busy, and adds style without bulk and fuss.

I really like the slender black plastic door pulls with modest chrome overlays, especially since the negative area behind them is logical, not drawing attention to itself. (I’m looking at you, Toyota Venza) And the little release lever behind the slab of plastic is pretty slick.

Until Mike informed me that these release levers break at an alarming rate.  So much for beauty and durability going hand in hand.

Look at the size of that greenhouse!  What I wouldn’t do to see such a fine ratio of glass-to-metal, and for a clean cut line between the rear door and the fender. Everything is in its right place, logically.

The recessed rim is quite a looker too.

The BMW-like Hofmeister kink in the quarter window is a nice touch, sure to upset fans of the Roundel to no end! The horizontal trim bit at the base of the C-pillar upsets me. Was there a vinyl top option I’m not aware of?

While nobody loves black plastic triangles, this one serves a purpose (rear glass movement) and has nothing to do with DLO fail. Win.

This rain gutter is such a period piece, but it’s well-integrated. I wish the front bumper was this slick. Epic win.

Clean, trim and efficient.  The rear bumper has the same deadly sins of the front, but to a lesser extent.  Maybe because there’s an offset bulky spoiler on the deck lid?

A functional gas cap with finger assist (so to speak) and a symmetrical design that isn’t smeared on one of the 4000’s many body creases. Nice.

Tumblehome aplenty.  Me likey. A lot.

I’d still like to know why this trim piece at the base of the C-pillar needs to exist.  My cockamamie vinyl top notion makes sense from this angle!

Walk up, check out those cool halo headrests for rear passengers.  Very upmarket!  And if you want to complain about the aforementioned Hofmeister kink, Captain Mike has a Complaint Department ready to “handle” your concerns.

Yes ladies, he’s single!

Back to the bumper. Just like the front, that intermediate piece between the bumper and the body isn’t an elegant solution.  I know Audi was trying to eliminate the “shelf” appearance of most big bumper’d cars from this era, but this isn’t working.  The intermediate piece’s abrupt ending looks cheap, fading to bumper level as it reaches the rear wheels would have been marginally better.  Better still, stick with the conventional bumper “shelf”.

I do like how the crease ends into nothingness before the tail light.  I just wish the amber portion of the lense used that as a start/end point.

Then again, the 50/50 distribution of amber and red looks better here.

The 4000’s butt is a bit rounder than the front.  The curvy lights give surface tension to the design, even if it’s too VW-like for my tastes. The 4000’s redesign fixed that “problem”.

Like the front end’s significant valence, the rear end’s use of body color paint below the bumper helps lean out the package.

The spoiler is a nice “cap” to the decklid, tucking around the emblems and adding a new element to a somewhat mundane rear end. From this angle it looks like a perfectly curved baseball cap on the chiseled face of a perfectly wealthy baseball player.

Too bad the spoiler is too thick for the trunk lock.  Price point be damned, the 4000 is still a small car, the spoiler needs a bit more whimsy and lightheartedness to really be a part of the whole package.

These exposed license plate lights aren’t exactly the stuff of Yuppie fantasy, but at least you don’t see any exposed screws. And the lense is nicely frenched in.  While the 4000 is a nice piece, consider it as one of the vehicles that ushered decades of unquestionable design authority from Audi. Everyone starts somewhere, and this is a damn good place to start.

And that’s the real story here.

But still: my, what a big…bumper you have!  Thanks for reading and have a fantastic week!

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33 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 1984 Audi 4000 LE...”

  • avatar

    What I see is a Federalized Audi 400 / VW Quantum with various accoutrements grafted on to meet US Regs. The 400 in EU livery was probably a couple of hundred pounds lighter and looked differrent, expecially in the headlight area.

    Also, judging by the older style windshield seals, this platform started life in the late 1970’s. Like other European models of this Era – styling ques like the rear spoiler just got tacked on. US deliveries were probably a small percentag of Audi’s total worldwide output.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. The Euro-spec Volkswagen Santana looked a lot better than this US-bound Audi 4000. The Mk.1 Passat looked also a lot better than the US-bound Dasher.

    • 0 avatar

      The B2 Audi 80/4000 was indeed introduced in 1978.

      Some of the things Sajeev points out (the trim pieces above and below the headlights, the exposed licence plate lights) are results of the federalization (and a design aimed at the European market): the European headlights were taller and did not need the trim pieces, and the European licence plates are lower and wider, allowing Audi to position the licence plate lights under the trunk lid.

  • avatar

    Nice post. Our family had an 84 4000, but it had the vent windows, which my dad loved. It was “Maalox yellow” according to my mother, with brown interior. I liked the rear seat 3 pt belts, the aux gauges, and the crank sunroof. It was a good car, overall.

    That piece of trim on the C-pillar is there to hide the weld of the roof/body, I believe. Could be wrong, I never tried to peek under ours. It was fairly common to have a trim piece of molding to hide that junction, after vinyl tops faded from popularity.

    • 0 avatar

      That horizontal trim piece on the C-pillar was a design element carried over from the original (B1) design:

      Even the successor B3 model had it, though more subtle:

    • 0 avatar

      You are correct. In the old(er) days the rear quarters were welded and filled to the rear sail/roof panel so you had the appearance of a single piece from the roof through the C pillar to the rear quarter. That required “bodywork” if you will, at the factory and it was a time consuming step. This strip method saved assembly time and money. Audi was not the only one to do this back then. Volvo 740/760 did the seam covers down low like this as well. Today, this has typically been moved up to the roofline where the “filler” piece runs from the windshield all the way to the rear window. That way from the side view you don’t see this at all. From the rear you see the filler strip running parallel to the doors on both sides of the car. I actually miss the one piece look. Back in the day, even cheap cars had the factory do the filling; my old Reliant even eschewed the strips for the continuous look. I guess this detail goes on the scrap heap with good trunk hinges, fold away mirrors and trim around rear windows….

      • 0 avatar

        As said, it’s a question of cost. Fixing visible weld seams is a hand labour, therefore not only expensive but basically out of the question on mass market cars. The Maserati Quattroporte III comes to mind, where every visible weld seam is filled and bondoed to get that chiseled from one block of steel look that only expensive hand labour can muster.

  • avatar

    Here in the UK the four headlamp front was used by Audi for the top models in the range, I always preferred it for some reason. Maybe it’s a case of the different seeming exotic?

    • 0 avatar

      In Sweden, you could special order a US version Volvo. I don’t know if it was official, perhaps a dealer option. But I remember the US cars with their special trim and double round sealed beam headlights and larger grille. When half the country runs the same brand, there’s always someone that has to stick out. Also, I think it was a popular option on the 262C coupe, the Bertone bodied special. I think the US option was fairly common on that one.

  • avatar

    A Monday morning with a new Vellum Venum article is a sign for a good week ahead!

  • avatar

    ” Captain Mike has a Complaint Department ready to “handle” your concerns.

    Yes ladies, he’s single!”

    LOL…and +1 on the “good week ahead”

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Boy, that car is in great shape.

    I owned a used 1986 4000 CS from 1992 to 1994, same body style as this one but with the updated rear end and the Euro style headlamps.

    Looked exactly like this one, but in burgundy and with the rear spoiler:

    Burgundy metallic must have been a rare color on that car, ’cause I’ve never seen an identical one on the road, even when they were common.

    I remember it as being a reliable vehicle except for a water pump that went bad, a sunroof that would ocasionally stay in the open position, and those wretched door handles, three of which I had to replace. Thankfully many Audi/VW models had used them, so finding them at junkyards wasn’t difficult. The spoiler was made of a soft rubbery material, so the paint would crack just like the one on the featured vehicle.

  • avatar

    Exposed wiper arms had one advantage. They were out in the open, not tucked into a slot where various junk accumulates–pine needles, leaves, dead bugs, and so on. The careful owner cleans out the slot frequently, I suppose. I do not know that from experience.

  • avatar

    My first car was an 87 5000S, sharing many of these design elements from the predecessor. It caused me to remember a few things.

    -I had TWO of those trigger door handles break, in under 1.5 years ownership. The triggers made a great click sound when you pulled them open, except when you’d pull them and they break apart in your hand.

    -I prefer the old Audi script with the curved “d,” as opposed to the new, boring font.

    -Loved the pass-through headrests, and I wish they still used them today. It gave the car an interesting look from afar, and even when you couldn’t see emblems you knew it was an Audi.

    -The stamped rubber trim logo later became an enamel/metal Audi emblem, used through the late 90s (?)

    -That blue velour is difficult to clean and get all the dirt out.

  • avatar

    I drove an ’84 4000S through college. Never heard of the “LE” trim until today.

    * I agree this was a good looking car, but it was completely overshadowed by the groundbreaking 5000, which I still think is one of the best-looking cars ever mass produced. Put some clear lens/projector beams on a 1984 5000S and it would look contemporary today. The 4000, on the other hand was merely handsome for its time. I do find the blackout trim style (also seen on 80s BMWs and Volvos) to be far more appealing than todays chrome orgies.

    * Visibility was awesome in this car. Those open-center headrests were brilliant designs.

    * Trunk space was huge, mostly because it was far deeper than contemporary small car trunks. Packaging in general was great; My father and I — both 6-footers — could comfortably fit one behind the other in the front/back seats.

    * Despite replacing CV joints about 2X/year, we never got the steering wheel shimmy to completely go away. Worst thing about this car.

    * Handling was delightful for a front-driver, but “power” from the little engine and 3-speed auto required patience.

    * Automatic door locks were powered by motors, which performed a charming whirring/growling mumble as they slowly stood up in unison.

    I lost my affection for this car late one night when, merging onto a highway about 20 miles from home, the accelerator pedal arm SNAPPED and disconnected from the throttle linkage. A clever night shift mechanic helped me by raising the idle speed so I could limp home; my father added his own cleverness by setting the cruise control when the car was up to 40 MPH on a downhill.

    Grateful for the opportunity to reminisce about one of my few cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you certain the locks were motor driven and not vacuum-driven? The 5000S I had definitely was vacuum-driven. There was a whirring sound from the pump in the back, and they all stood up slowly.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m sure you’re right. All I know was the whirring sound, which was so much gentler than the jarring THUNK of most cars.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ll have to consult my long-missing copy of the 4000 technical manual,but I remember them being vacuum as well — and a pain to find the leak at that.

      • 0 avatar

        Ah yes the lock leaks. Mine leaked, so I never knew when the vacuum pump was going to gather enough energy to lock or unlock the doors. Sometimes it would lock itself after it had been sitting for days, or while I was driving, or getting things out of the trunk. Fun stuff.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree about the 5000s; it was such a clean design with a greenhouse that looked like a single piece of glass. Much as I like the Taurus, the 5000s sedan was a better looking design; the Taurus wagon looked better than the 5000s wagon in my opinion.

      What caught my attention about the 4000 like this back in the 1980s was that metallic blue color. The 4000 was the only car this blue came in at the time, and it really got your attention. But, unlike the 5000s; once it caught your eye, the rest of the car was ho-hum.

  • avatar

    I prefer the ’73-’77 Fox 2 door over this 4000

  • avatar

    I had an ’87 Coupe version of this in the UK in the same colour too- unlike most, it had the 1.8 Golf GTI engine in it with simple and reliable K-jet and no emissions gunk. It went like stink and still managed nearly 40mpg in mixed driving. My mates called it the Quatrette, due to the FWD and 4 banger. Over here, the ‘simple’ 80 is what gave Audi a reputation for reliability that was the polar opposite of what I remember from my previous years in the states.

    Those trigger door handles were diabolical though- I have a classic Saab, and the Saab’s door handle is nearly three times as heavy and operates with a solid click, not a ‘tink’ like the VW/Audi. My old mk1 Jetta had those, and I remember just how useless it was in the winter with both the lock cylinder exposed in the handle and the trigger prone to getting iced, thereby assuring the trigger will snap when you pull too hard.

    On another note, I was surprised how much the 4000/80 looks like a Lada Samara saloon- it reminds me of those very poor promotional shots from the ’70s that were taken on a large format camera with the standards mis-adjusted so the car is all out of proportion. The Samara- almost- but not quite a mid-level German car from 1980. I suppose that quote applies to the rest of the Samara as well- as in ‘almost, but not quite reliable’ or ‘the cheap plastic wiper stalk is almost, but not quite sharp enough to use as a surgical instrument’

    for comparison:

    • 0 avatar

      Yes! Another mk1 Jetta owner. I had an ’84. Many, many of the same design cues as this Audi (with many of the same pros and cons). I think the VWs from this era have really nice and unique designs (mk1 scirroco, dasher, rabbit… pretty much all of them).
      They kept those crappy door pulls into the mk2 era, my 16v gli def had door handle problems (among others….).

      • 0 avatar

        I drove an ’84 Jetta GLI through most of college, grad school and beyond. Put over 350K miles on it. Fantastic car, replaced many a door handle over the years. Ditto the ’85 Jetta 2dr that preceeded it, and the ’90 GLI 16V that I had years later. Good thing they are cheap and easy to replace!

        My latest toy, an ’87 Porsche 924S is right solid full of MKI VW bits. Though of course, the door handles LOOK the same, but are not interchangeable.

  • avatar

    I always thought the Germans and the Swedes excelled at making square cars look cool. The lines on this and the similar VW Quantum recently featured in the Junk Yard section really stand the test of time. The guage cluster above the console always looked trick to me too.

    Having had an 84 Jetta with the same door handles, I can vouch for their fragility and their propensity to pinch the sh*t outta yer fingers too.

    Though I see where Mr. Mehta’s coming from on the bumper design, I just miss the non-body colored honest-to-goodness bumpers of yore.

    • 0 avatar

      So true. Some of my favorite cars (from a design standpoint..not necessarily from a reliability one) are the straightlined cars that came from Europe…had a 1985 BMW 318is (in Euro trim…minus the cow-catcher bumpers), also had a 1985 Audi 4000s, lovley car…when it ran. I guess the “tall greenhouse/slabside panels” lust was developed from my growing up years in Germany and my utter love for the BMW 2002 (still my all time favorite car, one I idiotically sold and still miss). While the 5000S took the design world by storm (and made my mother lust after it for years), the A to B lines of the older variants still interest me more than just about any of today’s rounded jellybeans. Maybe that’s one more reason I’m considering a Wrangler when I get back from my overseas assignment…

  • avatar

    “From this angle it looks like a perfectly curved baseball cap on the chiseled face of a perfectly wealthy baseball player.”


  • avatar

    Great write-up.

    I envy your automotive knowledge.

  • avatar

    My 1995 S6 has the same C-Pillar trim that so annoyed you:*-JcIy-Isu6vvy42el44MGbcaxx7bUUYQKoRaN3aHkioIADGnQTVTfaph8PiN8kAjVM9lVapiyPBne42b/IMG_20120805_165140copy.jpg?width=517&height=600

    (I hope that URL didn’t get munged, if so try:

    I am fairly sure the C4 100/5000/S4/A6/S6 is the last place you see that.. huge leap from there to the B5 and C5s..

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Those door triggers cost $186.22 to replace at Willie’s Autohaus in 1986. I had a’79 5000 – the last of the round-eyes. Loved that car, but hated it’s high maintenance. When the water pump went and the 5-cylinder overheated, it was time to let go.

    The new-at-the-time Taurus drove very similarly, or so I thought back then.

  • avatar

    A little late to the party, but I had to comment on this one. I had an ’86 4000 that incorporated a few of these design elements, the rain gutter and door handles for one. By 86 the sealed headlights were gone and the rear taillights had been modernized as well. It was a nice looking car. It was my car in high school and served it’s purpose well, including taking a pretty good beating at the hands of a 16 year old me. Those door handles did break like crazy. I think I replaced both back door handles at least twice and then just gave up and opened them from the inside when I needed to. The door locks were vaccum actuated and took a while to operate towards the end of its life. The German electrics were its weak point: window switches, cruise control switch, and headlight switch all needed to be replaced, some multiple times. The motor was rock solid though. It was a 4 banger, not the 5 and only needed a water pump replaced in its advanced age. Mine was white with the blue velour interior, just like this one. Brings back memories…

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