By on August 1, 2016

1994 Audi 90S in California Junkyard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The folks at Audi got really confusing with their American-market car names for a couple of decades and I have given up trying to sort out from memory, say, when the 5000 became the 100 or the 200 or whatever the hell it became in the chaos following the Unintended Acceleration Debacle. The Audi 80 was sold in the USA as a 4000 or something — it’s all a blur — but then Audi badged it as an 80, except for the sedans, which were 90s, I think.

Anyway, this California ’94 sedan has 90 S badges and it’s a fairly interesting car.

1994 Audi 90S in California Junkyard, speedometer - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

It made it very close to 200,000 miles, which is great for a high-maintenance German car in a state with the ball-bustingest emission testing in the country. My guess, based on the good condition and high miles, is that it’s a one-owner car that was loved dearly … until the time came to trade it in on (probably) a new A4 or S4. Buyer interest in high-mile Audis with manual transmissions and front-wheel drive hovers somewhere between zero and oh gawd no, so it washed up in a San José wrecking yard.

1994 Audi 90S in California Junkyard, rear suspension - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The buyer of this car recognized that all-wheel drive doesn’t provide many benefits in a region with no dirt roads, no snow, and very little rain, and he or she went for the more sensible front-wheel-drive version of the 4000/80/90/6000SUX/Horch 830BL.

1994 Audi 90S in California Junkyard, shift knob - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Five-speed? Damn right.

Class A Winner 2 - 24 Hours of LeMons Denver 2014

With all the dozens of Audis — including plenty of 1.8T- and V8-powered models — that have competed in the 24 Hours of LeMons, only one has taken the overall win at a race: a front-wheel-drive Audi 90 powered by a V6. Tellingly, it is campaigned by a team made up of Audi dealership mechanics.

1994 Audi 90S in California Junkyard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The V6 engine in this car made 172 horsepower, which was just 17 less than the straight-six in the 1994 BMW 325i. The 90 S listed at $27,820, versus $29,990 for its BMW competitor; the ’94 Mercedes-Benz C280 with a 194-hp L6 was $34,900, though burly security guards might have escorted you from the dealership if you’d been the kind of person to request a manual transmission in one.

1994 Audi 90S in California Junkyard, alarm sticker - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Don’t break the glass!

This era of Audi sedans was all about manly rock-n-roll in Germany.

With the TDI version (not available in the United States, because diesels are all about diminished expectations), you could drive from (some miserably gloomy Northern European location) to (some sunny Southern European location) on one tank of oil!

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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36 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1994 Audi 90 S...”


  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I remember family friends showing up in a pearlescent white Audi 90 at our house back in the mid-late 90s, compared to our string of well worn Civics this thing was absolutely opulent. Likewise their previous Cutlass Ciera International Series(?) was a good deal more luxurious that our tin cans. As budding car enthusiasts, of course my brother and I couldn’t wait to crawl around the interior of this German wonder and immediately set the alarm off! As I vaguely recall, they later got rid of it after being driven up the wall with electrical issues. These same folks then bought a similarly troublesome ’98 ML320 when they moved back to Russia, go figure!

    I’m a fan of the iron block 12 valve 2.8L V6 when paired to the 5spd. Reliable and genuinely fun to drive. I had all sorts of fun sliding around on snowy PA back roads in a a4 Quattro with this powertrain and a really nice sounding exhaust.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “These same folks then bought a similarly troublesome ’98 ML320 when they moved back to Russia, go figure!”

      “Go figure” indeed;

      I’m still trying to figure out why anyone would move BACK to Russia…

      Living in Pennsylvania must REALLY be horrible!

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Oh they made out quite well actually, I wasn’t second guessing their decision to move back, just buying a first-gen ML!

        They got in on the ground floor of the local real estate market, snapped up an almost finished summer home (trimmed out in wood inside, sauna room, well insulated for Siberian winters) in a prime spot for about $25k, and several flats. The guy still had money coming in from research grants in partnership with US colleagues (and a little went a long way in Siberia at the time). They still have the old ML, I guess they finally got a hold of a well versed diagnostician. For the rutted dirt roads to and from the summer home, I have to admit the ML is perfect (although a Land Cruiser Prado would arguably be an overall better vehicle from a reliability standpoint).

        For these (mostly) retired folks, moving back to Russia made all the sense in the world. In terms of value for money, an American dollar goes quite a ways over there! They spend their time gardening, and take trips to the US to visit grand kids. The biggest downside is definitely availability of good quality healthcare. Forget the public system, even the private for-cash practices are seen as generally inferior to what you might find in the States.

    • 0 avatar
      ThirdOwner

      I read a road trip report on an adventure motorcycling forum where the author observed something like ten Audi 100s in a row on a Kazakhstan road. A very popular (used) car there, apparently.

      His forecast was that eventually every single Audi 100 existing in the world will end up in Kazakhstan.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Yep the B4 body Audi 100 is a mainstay of used Euro-iron in Russia and other CIS states. Durable, rust-resistant, simple enough for shade-tree guys to wrench on. Their bowed out shapely door panels and lines earned them the nickname “Bochka” (barrel). That and the B3 Passat were some of the first European cars to come across after the collapse of the Soviet union, along with E34 BMWs and W124 Mercs and a smattering of 240/740 Volvos and Opels. Most of these old Europeans are living out the last of their days with their 20th owners, sadly in pretty rough states of repair more often than not. Considering the hard lives they led, it is impressive just how long they can be nursed along for.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    *sniff*

    Look at the gloriously upright and narrow A-pillar of the dearly departed Saab alongside that junky white thing.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Evidently the VAG V6 was worked out by MY94.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The 80 and the 90 were both sedans, just one had higher specification. Then for 1992 there was the 80 only, and the 90 was dropped. Then for 1993-95, only the 90 was available. 1996 brought the A4 along, which killed the sedan but left the convertible going until 1998 (and how dated that was by then, wow). Makes lots of sense!(?)

    The engine is decently solid, but the car feels very heavy and slow. You really had to rev this to get it going. Excellent paint quality. Interior materials were top notch! Nice two-tone color scheme of black dash and cream fabrics. Plastics in the engine bay however (and the odometer gears)… weren’t so great. P0442.

    There’s me 93 90S auto.
    http://zombdrive.com/images/1993-audi-90-1.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Audi probably kept the old 90 Cabriolet around until 98 because their conversion shop had plenty of bodies and tops available. Kind of like the Mark I VW cabriolet built by Karmann produced until 93, well after the Mark II was in it’s life cycle.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Also of note – 1994 brought the passenger airbag along, which got a wood panel to cover (presumably) the seams from adding an airbag to an old non-airbag dash panel. They added more wood around the interior to make it all match. My ’93 only had a small amount of wood on the center console, surrounding the climate control knobs.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Corey since you had one of these I think we’re going to need some pen to paper from you (or Grango). I wish I had time myself but the next two days are very busy for me, but I need to get back in the swing myself.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Looking at the pics on this, I don’t get any feeling for the owner. No personal effects or stickers, nothing! Just a well maintained old car (though the exposed/fraying copper wiring harness next to the engine is scary).

      I can’t place the owner of this car. Aging yuppie who kept it forever? Has he still got a StarTAC?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    @Corey

    I think he’s still got a StarTAC somewhere but I think he’s a guy like you who bought it second or third hand to preserve it. Now it’s gotten up in miles and say the bomb (brake booster) need replaced which is in excess the value of the car.

    Go.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Did this body style ever get the true TDI, or was it still the old indirect-injection tractor-speed TD?

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Audi never offered us Americans the diesel version of the 80,90 or 100. The prior pre-Aero 5000 78-83 was offered with the diesel and turbo diesel. Then the renamed 100 was offered with a 2.5 TDI.I doubt any of them had a case of “sudden unintended acceleration”. You could surmise that Audi stopped selling the diesel version here in the states because of the bad rep from the GM diesel.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        I’ve never thought of my father as particularly cool, but he did own a diesel Audi 5000 with a manual transmission. It was probably the only one of its kind in Columbus, OH around 1992.

        It was loud, and sounded fast, but I doubt it had triple digit hp.

        As a traveling sales rep, Dad put around 25K miles on a car annually, and the Audi did not fair well under his stewardship.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    Only once did I test drive an Audi 90, or maybe it was called an 80, that one with the glorious 2.3 inline five. Compared to my then Golf 2 GTI 16V, it felt like a luxury car, albeit a small one. Which is the only reason I didn’t buy one when the Golf was finished: even the Avant (wagon) was hardly bigger than the Golf on the inside, and I wanted more space too if I was to have more car. But a fine vehicle it was. Or is; they are still a relatively common sight here in Germany.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      My recollection is that the 80 designated the 4-cylinder model, and the 5-cylinder was the 90. Until they put the V-6 in the 90.

      They were okay, but felt a lot like a Jetta at a much higher price. (plus ca change with the A3/S3 today!) They were actually slower than the Jetta VR6. In the day, I ended up buying a Volvo 740 Turbo instead, and never regretted that decision.

  • avatar
    ThirdOwner

    I had one of these, with a 5-cyl NA engine in AWD with 5MT. Bought it as a high-miler and added some more over a few years I had it, with no major repairs. The car had a good mechanical feel to it, was fairly light, and a pleasure to drive on ice and in deep snow.

    The only current approximate equivalent are Subaru offerings. The ‘Vorsprung durch technik’ attitude has made Audi models too brittle and complicated for my taste. Wish they still made them the old way.

    • 0 avatar
      Testacles Megalos

      I too once had one of these with the 5 cylinder 20v but mine was a coupe. What a great car. Pretty easy to work on, well-screwed together and it took me well over 100k miles. Including track days. Problem for the US market is that engine lacked torque. It was absolutely brilliant once you reached about 3500 rpm or so, but for Murkin drivers used to V8 torque the car must have felt really slow. Which is why (along with the Driver Error Accelleration problem) is how I bought it for about two songs instead of the three or four Audi NA wanted. Somebody eventually offered me more money than I could turn down considering the mileage….but I do miss that car.

      • 0 avatar
        ThirdOwner

        If you found your 20v lacking power my 10v had half of that. Didn’t matter to me as it was a winter car and it could break the limits of traction easily on slippery stuff anyway. I specifically sought a 10v as they were reported to be more reliable than 20v ones, but that was all relative. Well-worn, it sounded like a sewing machine, and like a good Singer it just kept going.

        • 0 avatar
          Testacles Megalos

          I had no trouble with the 20V and knew a number of guys who had 20V, also no trouble. The bottom end was bomb-proof, supposedly shared with the earlier turbo quattros; quad bolted main caps etc…. I think it was an interference engine though; I was compulsive about my timing belts at 5 yr/60k intervals, annual oil change (and after every track event). I think the quattro setup in those cars was the best – quaife in the middle and the rear could be locked. Unlike the current systems that use brakes to control power distribution, brakes were independent of power meaning one could left foot brake without killing the engine. I lowered mine a little bit and put a bigger bar on the rear so it was not as sloopy in the corners, as well could be set up nicely.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    At first glance, I thought it was a late ’80s K-car. I immediately wondered what could have induced Murilee to photograph it.

  • avatar
    Timothy

    The Audi 90 was my first taste of German sporting sedans. A client of my Mothers bought on. Pearlescent white, black interior, manual Quattro. I, at the age of 12 or 13 thought it was the coolest thing on 4 wheels. WAY cooler than the 1985 LeBaron GTS Turbo mom rocked, or the S-10 my dad hauled crap around in.

    Then a cousin bought a E36 325i and my allegiances changed… the sound that inline six made. Mmmm. Good stuff.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Occasionally I’ll see the Cabriolet version of the 90 on the road or on E-bay. They were only equipped with the 2.8 auto and FWD.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Ha. I’m amazed at all the gushing love for these cars here.

    Because frankly, these were hunks of expensive junk.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      [citation needed]

    • 0 avatar
      cimarron typeR

      I owned one of these, a laser red ’95 model over black leather, 5spd. I sold my 93 Probe GT. It was one of the most reliable cars I’ve ever owned, and one of the longest ownership runs I’ve had.
      I bought it sight unseen from Beecham Audi in Cinn., as a CPO with 58k in ’99. The only things that broke on that car was an electric antenna which was under warranty at the time, a cat. conv. replaced under emission warranty at 70k, and fuel pump at 148k or so,ironically as soon as we arrived home from a round trip from STL.
      I kept it for 170k. I had timing belt /water pump done at 90k. I never replaced the Torsen fluid as per my mechanic and the drivetrain was in perfect running condition upon sale. Until recently we still saw “Red” in South KC. I sold it to a couple who actually broght their bass( the instrument not the fish) to make sure it fit in the rear compartent.

      The suspension woke up with Konis SAs in front , Bilstein HD in rear. I would have went Bilstein all around but there was no front fitment.

      This car suffered the same issues as other VAG products with poor clear coat , my brothers Ur S6 had same issues. I had the top half and black lowers repainted at a body shop in a bad area of town for cash only for 350.00.

      I really liked the styling it was a mini A8 which was an aspirational at the time.It had one of best HVAC systems I’ve ever experienced based on complaints of the previous generations poor cooling capability, I think they over engineered it.The heater especially, combined with the heated seats, a first for me, was quick to warm the car as I spent most of my time at work with the car uncovered.
      The locking center Diff was unstoppable in deep snow even with no season tires mounted, and lack of electronic nannies and mechanical throttle linkage made for an analog driving experience and plenty of fun on snow covered parking lots.

      Overall a pleasant experience of ownership. Unfortunately with Audi withdrawing the manual from the new A4, they won’t likely be getting any new car business from me.


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