By on October 24, 2016

1979 Audi 500 in Colorado junkyard, RH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Before the Audi 5000 (the 100 or 200 outside of the US market) became notorious for playing the lead role in the first unintended acceleration fiasco (technically, the Ford “park-to-reverse” fiasco involved unintended shifting, not acceleration), it was known as an expensive, luxurious German car purchased by a handful of car-savvy California orthodontists. Sales of the first-generation 5000 began in the 1978 model year, so this high-mileage ’79 is a rare one. I spotted this lil’ beige devil in a Denver-area self-service yard last week.

1979 Audi 500 in Colorado junkyard, speedometer - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

That 221,818 miles on the odometer represents nearly 6,000 miles per year over this car’s life.

1979 Audi 500 in Colorado junkyard, evidence of electrical problems - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

When you see evidence of recent attempts to fix electrical ailments in a junked German car, you can make a pretty good guess about what led to that final, sad tow-truck ride.

1979 Audi 500 in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The traditional five-cylinder engine sits way up in the front of the 5000’s engine compartment, where the timing belt serves as a crumple zone during fender-benders.

1979 Audi 500 in Colorado junkyard, Drum brake - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The rear drums are surprising in a 1979 European high-end car. The list price for a 1979 Audi 5000 was $8,995, about 30 grand in inflation-adjusted 2016 clams or bones. This was quite a bit cheaper than the smaller, less luxurious (but slightly more powerful, 110 versus 103 horsepower) ’79 BMW 320i, with its $9,735 price tag. Of course, the 120 hp Datsun 810 sedan cost $8,129 that year and came with a phonograph-based Voice Warning System, but the Audi probably felt faster.

Road and Track stated, “For the money, we don’t see anything that can touch it.”

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

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27 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Audi 5000...”


  • avatar
    tomLU86

    As a teen, I remember getting a ride to college with a friend in his dad’s 81-82 5000 Turbo.

    I loved the interior, but what really stuck out was 4000-plus rpm at 80 mph on I-78.

    3-speed auto will do that…..

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      My 3 speed auto Volvo 140 was the same way. BW35 transmission and IIRC a 4.10 rear end. Yeah… it could have used another *two* gears for highway driving. The engine was built to rev, just like these Audi engines.

    • 0 avatar

      all about that axle ratio!

      my 2.56 equipped 77 Chevelle with its 3 speed TH350 loafs along at about 2800 rpm at 80. It doesn’t get busy till 100 when it starts spinning in the high 3s. It’ll also do 60mph in first gear if you’re willing to thrash the mighty(weak) 5.0 to 5,000 rpm. heck, if you’re willing to put up with the noise, it’ll do 100 in second but its well out of the power peak at that point, and starting to hit valve float on the original high mileage valve train.

    • 0 avatar
      CriticalMass

      The five speed cured that. My 85 Turbo turned 3100RPM at 85MPH, right on the torque peak, and got 31MPG while doing it. I always half expected the piston crowns to melt from a mixture lean enough to accomplish that but never did. I often drove Tampa to Chattanooga, which was 600 miles/8 hours flat, on a single tank doing 85 as much as possible and averaging 75. Man that was the real element of those cars.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I see those trigger door handles and that 5-cylinder way out front…

    Perhaps now and again
    You’ll recall and see
    The inner workings of it
    A mystery of Pandora
    A crunch

    Perhaps now and again
    You’ll turn a key
    And none of those in front
    Will tap in pain
    Arthritic veterans

    And then once more
    The doors will unite
    Raising their arms
    Praise to egress

    It’s all a vacuum

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    That interior, that dashboard, manual window cranks, available with a manual transmission, an engine with an odd number of cylinders. How many North Americans would actually consider it to be “an expensive, luxurious” automobile in the 1970’s????????????

    The brougham era was just ending and plush, was still considered to be luxury by the vast majority of consumers.

    We saw a test model in Scarborough prior to its launch on the market. No logos or identification but the test drivers who pulled into our full serve station were more than happy to show us the car and the remarkable 5 cylinder engine.

    A driver’s car, possibly but not luxury by the normal definition of the time.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I owned one of these (1.6 manual) for three days in a failed attempt of a crosscountry trip. (the third day was when we towed the twisted wreck to the scrapyard…)
    It was the first of three generations of Audis fullsizer that have managed to sneak it’s way into my ownership over the years. I’ve always found FWD Audis to be quite comfortable and dependable cruisers, although I’ve never owned one long enough to account for ther reliability. Certainly no sporty drivers cars by European standards, but with all the weight up front they are at least directionally stable. I think one reason they started making Quattros was to even out the weight distribution to improve (or maybe enable) cornering.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Owned a 1980 diesel 5 speed Audi 5000S. Beautiful metallic red (maroon). My GF at the time thought I was fairly well-off as I drove an Audi (this was 1988). I still have pictures of me going to prom in that car, and yes I admit I thought I was a bit of “something” for driving a European sedan. Never mind the diesel wasn’t exactly what you call quick, but the interior was leaps ahead of anything else my high-school buddies were driving and if it impressed her enough to let me reach down her blouse, well then the ownership experience was worth it.

    It didn’t survive my sudden deceleration with a mid 70’s American station wagon…

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      I bought one of these new, in brown(!), in the “S” trim. (The reason was that, at 6’4″, I didn’t fit in any of them that had a sunroof without reclining the seatback excessively and the brown one was the only one I could find in all of DC Metro at the time that didn’t have a sunroof.) I believe mine had electric window lifts and was a supremely comfortable car, apart from being seriously underpowered by the diesel engine, even in the days of the “double nickel” speed limit.

      I’m amazed that you got yours still running in 1988, or that Murliee’s model racked up over 200K miles. Mine was plagued by quality and design defects: the master fuse on the a/c system failed every winter and had to be replaced every spring; the slave cylinder on the clutch failed after about a year; the diesel engine required 2 head gaskets during my 7 years of ownership; the manual transmission would not keep reverse engaged; the steering rack boot failed in the first year or tow, requiring the entire rack to be replaced.

      The “experts” at the time were predicting astronomical prices for oil (and we were in the second “oil shock,” which is why I went diesel. As I recall, the Mercedes 240D (which I cross-shopped and was more expensive) was noisier, even more underpowered and had the super-stiff MBTex upholstery. We were shopping in January and, it sure felt uncomfortable compared to the nice herring bone pattern cloth in the Audi.

      I didn’t have the money for a 300D or 300 turbodiesel, which, I think had nice leather upholstery. In hindsight, I should have bought the 240 D; I’d probably still be driving it today.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Don’t be too impressed by those’ legendary ‘ Mercedes 240D’s ~ mine has 360,000 miles on it and finally needs a valve job and tranny overhaul plus the paint is beginning to go .

        I’ve had to replace the radiator once and the upper ball joints , alternator brushes and just this month all the radiator hoses because they were beginning to swell .

        I’d thought it was supposed to be an _economy_ car , I’m only getting 27 ~ 30 MPG out of it these days, I expect that to go back up to the normal 30 ~ 36 MPG’s it got until about 250,000 miles .

        The springs in the driver’s seat bottom broke recently, I got new ones and will soon rebuilt the seat, the MB-Tex upholstery still looks pretty good .

        Driving up Indian Highway # 13 last month it slowed down to 5 MPH on the steepest part, guess it doesn’t like long distance road trips on three and 1/3rd cylinders .

        Maybe I should complain to Mercedes ? .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    This will seem like a crazy statement.

    In 1980, I was 13. My little sister had ice skating practice at a chalet in New London, CT and instead of going inside I stayed outside. There was always a brown 5000 parked in the chalet lot and on every Saturday morning for like 3 months I saw that car. I would spend pretty much the whole hour studying the lines of that car. Everything from the shape of the grille to the cool door handles. I really liked the look of this car, it’s “europeanness” I guess. Compared to our Malibu Classic it was exotic!

    The closest I ever got to owning a 5000 was buying a new 97 Passat VR6, which really wasn’t a stretch after all.

    I’ll always have a sweet spot in my heart for these cars.

  • avatar
    CriticalMass

    I had one of these wonderful 1979 5000 hangar queens and then bought another, a turbo 5000, in 1985 for good measure. Great to cruise in, didn’t even feel right till it hit 80, but forever homing in to the dealer. He was a multi-line guy who also sold Caddys. So his service cars were Cadillacs. If I had to go on a longer journey I would pull the always-needed-service German into the service bay and take a Caddy for the trip. That was the ’79. The ’85 was even a better car for cruising but just as “reliable”. The best $2,000 I ever spent in my life was to buy the extended warranty for that princely sum. I stopped adding up warranty work at $8,500 in the fourth year. Great cars though. I loved them both.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      I had an ’81 Audi Coupe GT and an ’84 GTi. As wonderful as they could be to drive, I’ve never had to walk so much in my life. At least at one point my apartment was one block from a brand-new Autozone, so there was that.

      I cannot believe they sold extended warranties with these beasts! The dealer charged the company for the service, right, so they made money on service as well, but what kind of ratio of price to mileage would have bankrupted those poor companies? Did they ever start refusing to pay?

      • 0 avatar
        CriticalMass

        To their credit they never refused a request. The Coupes like you had were great driving cars. Great steering feel for FWD, something that couldn’t be said for the 5000’s. I always wanted one of those (glutton) and very occasionally still see one on the road.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I remember these new, they weren’t known to be very reliable .

    Nicely trimmed to be sure .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      These were sitting in the showroom when I bought my then-new ’78 Fox. I thought they were cool, but not as cool as the 911SC that also sat in the showroom.

      I still miss the Fox sometimes, even though it was pathetically unreliable.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        An old Air Cooled VW Buddy of mine bought a new first year Fox wagon paying the Dealer cash, it broke several times in the first month and they wanted him to pay out of pocket each time so he summarily junked it and will never buy another Audi product again .

        I cannot imagine junking a brand new car but he was seriously pissed off .

        The Audi 100LS was also a steaming turd and littered the Junk Yards for about five years after they began selling them new .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    thornmark

    >>A driver’s car, possibly but not luxury by the normal definition of the time.<<

    Not at all. "In the US, reflecting the Audi's luxury connotations, 90 percent of 5000s received the costlier "S" equipment package.[24] This junker was one of the stripper 10%.

    My Dad had two of these, this one and the later fuselage, about which "60 Minutes" faked the unintended acceleration. Both were “S”. Every summer we would host someone from Europe and I remember the one from Baden Germany said that the German Audis did not have that high level of luxury that ours had. Same with Mercedes – the home market versions were much more basic than what they sold in the US.

    btw, he thought my Mom's 1976 Cordoba was a real luxury car and must be very expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      We had an original first run Cordoba, at that time Chrysler still had a ‘luxury’ or near luxury image. Probably not very reliable over the long run but I had it for only one year and loved it.

      As for the Audi fitting the expensive luxury bill, less than $10k in ’79 was not high end expensive, even for domestics.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I believe the first Datsun Maximas that had the voice warning system (limited to just one warning: “Please turn off the lights”) were introduced in 1981, not 1979.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I bought a ’79 5000 (brown, no diesel) in ’86 and held on to it for 2 years. Loved the lines on that car but the incessant electrical and cooling problems and $200 aluminum door trigger mechanisms finally pushed me to trade it in on a Nissan. I eased it into a parking spot and tossed them the keys.

    I loved the way it drove though, and my sister’s new 1987 Taurus reminded me of it greatly.

  • avatar

    The color difference in the carpet on the transmission tunnel where it was covered and exposed is crazy.

  • avatar
    ShoogyBee

    I first became interested in cars at the age of ten, when the Mercedes W126 arrived in the US market for the 1980 model year. This generation 5000 was one of my favorite cars of those days. The coolest features (at least to my pre-pubescent eyes) were the 5000 Turbo’s rectangular donut-hole headrests and the diagonally stitched leather seats.

    I really wanted my dad to buy a VW Quantum sedan when it first came out in 1982 (he was in the market for the 2nd-gen Accord, which he ended up buying), since it was pretty similar in style and flavor to the Audis of that era. A few years later he ended up buying a 1985 5000S, followed by a 1987 5000S when the $5,000 rebate was announced for current owners.

    Definitely not reliable, but a pleasure to drive and ride in.

  • avatar
    hawox

    a similar audi 100 5cil was one of the first cars i retired as exchange vehicle. nice engine note, not very powerfull.

    owner told me it was the nicest full size car (for europeans) to drive.
    i still have a magazine i found in the car with the owner’s notations
    audi 100 100cv: 15.440.000 with ac, electric glass and sunroof, central lock. bmw +2.000.000, citroen -1.500.000…

    interestingly the guy later gave the car to his son and bought a toyota cressida, the only one i ever saw in europe. that was a nice car!

  • avatar
    ClayT

    Dad had one of these back around ’79-80. He bought it used and I recall it was fairly reliable.

    He wanted to tow his ’67S to Steamboat and Mid Ohio (from CA) so I crawled under it to figure out a hitch.
    There ain’t crap for frames or other attachment points under these things!

    He was flat towing with a tow bar so tongue weight wouldn’t be an issue.
    I ended up forming a piece of 1/4×4 flat bar the shape of the spare tire well, drilled and bolted it on, and built out from there.
    …did you know the spare tire is not in the center of the car!!??
    It worked, got him across country and back.

  • avatar
    serf2k

    My grandparents drove Jags in the ’60s, then Volvos in the ’70s…and when they looked for a new car in 1979 my aunt suggested that they look at an Audi. They ordered a 1980 5000S from the local dealer in Mexico Beige – to match the road dust as they lived in the middle of nowhere in the country. That car really had its work cut out for it – my grandfather was nearly totally deaf and the car was a manual…I remember sitting in the back seat as a kid while he tore along the highway with the car in third gear…until my grandmother would lean over and nudge him to shift. I recall that my grandfather had rear ended a couple cars with it….and had been rear ended himself once. My brother and I once delivered the car back to their house after one of these repairs and I remember loving the growl of the five cylinder after the second port in the throttle body opened up….it sure beat the 1981 Honda Civic wagon my parents had at the time. Once my grandfather opened the passenger rear door so my grandmother could put her coat in the back seat….she did, then got into the car without closing the door. He backed out of the garage and folded the door against the side of the car. After my grandmother passed away, the car was given to my parents. My dad used to refer to it as the “Panzer” because he said that it drove like a german tank. I became the caretaker of “The Panzer” when I got married….and I still have it. I would love to know if this car is still at the wrecking yard in Denver…there are some bits (like the cardboard radiator ducting) that you cannot find anywhere.

  • avatar
    gavix021

    I still have a car like this one. It was actually my grandfathers car and I have kept it fully functional till now.
    I am looking for the door panels of this car. They are exactly as the one on the right front door I can see at the pics.
    Can anyone help me to get in contact with the owner of this junkyard in order to ask him if these door panels are for sale, or can anyone help me to find these door panels like the one shown at the pics?

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