Vellum Venom: 1984 Audi 4000 LE

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom 1984 audi 4000 le

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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2 of 33 comments
  • Dave M. Dave M. on Nov 14, 2012

    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.

  • Mypoint02 Mypoint02 on Nov 18, 2012

    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...

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.