By on October 28, 2020

In our last Rare Rides, we discussed how the W126 S-Class established the model as a default for the large German sedan shopper. I also referenced the failed attempt at S-Class competition which was the Audi V8 Quattro.

So today let’s expound upon that failure a bit.

Prior to the V8 Quattro, Audi had built sporty small four-wheel drive cars, and luxurious midsize cars with front- and four-wheel drive versions, but never a full-size car. That changed in the fall of 1988 when the company started production of its new flagship.

Aside from its size, the V8 Quattro carried a couple of other firsts for the brand. It was the very first time any Audi used a V8 engine and predicting the future of the brand a couple of decades later, it was the first Audi to combine Quattro all-wheel drive with an automatic transmission. Imagine Audi’s crossover sales in 2020 if all-wheel drive required a manual. Laughable!

Audi did not create an all-new platform for their new large car, but rather stretched one from the 100/5000 instead. The resulting larger chassis was called the D1, and Audi layered on technology and features for its first-ever full-sizer. The body was galvanized steel and carried a 10-year corrosion perforation warranty. There were two all-new engines to power the V8 Quattro, in 3.6- and 4.2-liter displacements. Earlier examples from 1988 through the model’s discontinuation in November 1993 offered the 3.6 (247hp), while the 4.2 (276hp) was only available from late 1991 onward. The automatic transmission on offer was a ZF-built four-speed, while the manual transmission depended on engine selection. Cars with the 3.6 offered a five-speed manual, but the 4.2 offered a six-speed. It’s worth remembering that outside North America, a V8 engine was not usually standard equipment for a large luxury sedan. Buyers would normally opt for the V8 over many smaller 6 cylinder gasoline and diesel engines, and pay a hefty premium.

Standard equipment on the V8 Quattro included many niceties for which other manufacturers of the day charged extra. Climate control, cruise control, central locking, tinted glass, Bose stereo, car phone, halogen lamps, and walnut trim to name a few. But its most notable feature was the Quattro system. It was the only full-size luxury sedan on sale with all-wheel drive.

Not that it mattered to most consumers, who sought rear-drive for their large luxury cars circa 1990. The V8 Quattro could not compete with established German players like the 7 Series and S-Class, even with its novel method of power distribution. The unsuccessful V8 Quattro was discontinued at the end of 1993, as in 1994 the D2 A8 was ready as Audi’s second full-size salvo. It did much more respectably and was more in line with its competition than the debut version (and had six-cylinder engines for Europe). North America had no large Audi again until 1997 when the A8 was finally delivered.

Today’s Rare Ride was sold on Bring-A-Trailer back in 2016, as I couldn’t find a remotely decent example for sale today. Nagging reliability and a probable lack of parts availability took most V8 Quattros off the road long ago. In pearl white (the correct color) over black, this one sold for $3,000 in excellent condition.

[Images: seller]

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26 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1990 Audi V8 Quattro, First Time Full-size Failure...”


  • avatar

    In Europe, a big gas engine is a massive extravagance, and like tossing Euro notes out the window as you drive. Between fuel prices and tax on displacement, you pay to impress the plebs.

    We did a loop of lower Germany with friends. We had a 320d, and they had a 316i, both rental. At the end of the trip, they had bought two more tanks of fuel, which, at about $120 per tank, was significant. I can’t imagine running a 17 mpg SUV there, which is why there are so few of them, and explains why you see E class, 5 series type cars with small engines, not to mention the whole class of cars we never see, like VW Polo.

    The worst part was the 320d was solid on the autobahn, but the 316i got wheezy at about 110 mph…also explains the pre dieselgate love for clatter-wagons…..

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t imagine filling up a small car for $120.

      I like to pay $19.

      • 0 avatar

        Fuel was about $10 a gallon, at that time, diesel slightly cheaper, but the diesel got much better kilometer-age. We drove from Berlin to the Bodensee and back, a big loop of Bavaria. Two Americans using the autobahn for all we could…still moving over for Porsche and a few other high end cars…. Bavaria in the summer is one of the prettiest places on the planet….I could see why they use the 320d as a police car, it was a freight train up to 140 mph.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      When I lived in Belgium, my coworkers simply refused to believe that earlier that year I had purchased a full size 6.0L Pontiac G8 for the equivalent of 19,000 euros new (The euro was about $1.60 at the time).

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        On car websites with a bit of an international audience they do gawk at the gas engine displacements we Yanks ride around in on a regular basis. Even when it’s something as pedestrian as a 4.6 V8.

    • 0 avatar
      zerofoo

      “In Europe, a big gas engine is a massive extravagance”

      Or as I like to call these policies – self-inflicted wounds.

      I have family in Greece and I am stunned at the taxation levels in Europe.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I vaguely recall reading somewhere that a 2.5 litre 4 cylinder engine is considered a large engine for the average family in many of the European nations, but I can’t recall the exact context. I’ve often been curious, having no first hand experience. I know 2.5 litres tends to be sufficient for me (as a citizen of the USA).

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know but when I was there 2.0L was considered pretty large. In some places 1.6 was large enough that Ford replaced 1.6L Ecoboost with 1.5L. Executive sedans like Scorpio could have 3.0L V6 but that was not for masses. For masses it had 2.0L Ford I4 crap or if you are rich 2,7L V6.

      • 0 avatar
        Garak

        International audience here: the biggest engines I’ve ever had was a 2.5 liter in a Chrysler Voyager (manual, of course), and a 2.5 diesel in a Ford Transit van (with 68 horsepower). Other vehicles have fallen in the 1-2 liter bracket.

        Taxation’s not the same in different countries, but generally gas engines over 2 liters are considered excessive.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Massive extravagance, yes!

    I saw an Escalade in Greece a few months ago. At a gas station! And this was a pricey station, with regular at 1.499 euros per liter (most stations were 1.399) for regular–that’s about $6.70 a gallon. In Germany it’s about $5.60.

    Maybe it was a diplomat’s car…

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Since the Audi 5000 (aka my teens), the car magazines and Consumer Reports have liked Audi. Back in the Audi 5000 days, Audis (in the USA at least) cost less than BMW, which cost less than Mercedes. Over time, the price has narrowed.

    And yet, when you look at older used cars for sale, say 1990-2010, there seem to be considerably fewer Audis for sale, and their asking prices (or bids) are significantly lower than BMW or Mercedes.

    I think that’s very telling.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    You need to order the Exxon option with this vehicle. A dedicated Exxon tanker truck escort to keep up with the massive fuel consumption.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Blasphemy. C3 can never fail, and by extension, D1.

    https://i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/645/713/888.jpg

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The article and the posts help to explain why until the late 1970’s American ‘luxury’ autos such as Cadillac and Lincoln held ‘pride of place’ among North American consumers. With the possible exception of Rolls Royce, which if you have ever driven/ridden in a Roller of that era was in a number of attributes an inferior auto to Cadillac and Lincoln.

    Cadillac and Lincoln offered large displacement v8’s. Most ‘luxury/power’ appointments were standard, and with the exception of the Eldorado they were RWD.

    From the article:
    It’s worth remembering that outside North America, a V8 engine was not usually standard equipment for a large luxury sedan.

    Standard equipment on the V8 Quattro included many niceties for which other manufacturers of the day charged extra. Climate control, cruise control, central locking, tinted glass, Bose stereo, car phone, halogen lamps, and walnut trim to name a few.

    Not that it mattered to most consumers, who sought rear-drive for their large luxury cars circa 1990.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    …stunned at the taxation levels…. How so? Welfare states cost money. The Europeans in general have inexpensive or free health care. Lots of vacation. Money’s gotta come from somewhere….

    In Greece, they have lots of civil service employees. There is so much bureacracy they’ve added a KEP–Center to Serve Citizens–to help with some of the paperwork that is part of life in Greece. All the public servants, all the inane laws, the money to run that has to come from somewhere.

    Not to mention the money to buy national defense, something Europeans and Canadians don’t need, and something optional for Americans, but something essential for Greece, given its big, bellicose hostile neighbor with a long history of lawless behavior and genocide, now led by de facto dictator who wants to restore the Ottoman Empire.

    So, in a country where cars are a luxury, fuel is taxed. And that’s just the start. It costs more than $50-100 for annual plates. And you also report what type of car, or cars, you have on your tax return. And based on the size of their engine, you have imputed income. So, if you make 20k euros, but drive a car with a 3-liter engine, you are taxed as if you make 30k or 40k. But if you make 50k, the 3-liter car doesn’t hurt you. (I don’t know the actual amounts, but they make owning a car with more than 1.6 liters expensive for middle class people).

    All ideas that President Harris will probably consider, as she tries to level the playing field and make America a fairer, more just, and equaler society…..

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      This. The “all taxes are bad” crowd usually points to European countries’ taxation policies but don’t mention that the stuff you pay through the nose for here – stuff health care and college tuition – is “on the house” over there. If you lose your job over there, you’re not going to go broke. They just have a bigger social safety net, and that costs money.

      Not saying whether the European approach is right or wrong, but they have their own approach and we Americans have ours. I don’t think Americans would buy into 70% taxes with the promise of a real social safety net anyway. If that’s what “President Harris” really wants, she’s got an uphill battle on her hands selling it to voters.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    Back in the day this was on my list of dream cars. I am old enough to remember the introduction of this car into the market well. It was a novelty for Audi at the time. It certainly looked good at the time, at least to me. This is because when I was growing up your typical Audi was an underpowered and slow but relatively well-made lower to mid-middle class car which would rust after maybe five or seven years. And the much praised Quattro system was not available on most Audis, only on a select few chosen high-end trim models, which weren’t sales successes. The Quattro breakthrough only occurred with the C3 Audi 100/200 (known as 5000 in North America) and the Audi Quattro Coupe.

    But the car flopped because Audi’s image was not yet up to par with BMW and Mercedes-Benz and despite the perceived value-for-money, those who could afford such a car gladly paid a little more to get a BMW 7er or Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse (which later were also available with V12 engines). Also, at the time of introduction, sales of manual transmissions in the BMW 7er and S-Klasse from Mercedes-Benz were on a massive decline anyways, so this car might have gotten the interest of a sporty driver who valued doing their own shifting and was not opposed to AWD.

    In my neighborhood in Munich there is actually an Audi V8 Quattro, a gray model with dents all over and clouded headlights. It sporadically changes parking positions indicating that it gets used from time to time. I have never seen the owner(s) but this car cannot be used as cheap transportation considering the outrageous rip-off fuel prices we have to pay here.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    At the time though, a typical American V8 put out about the same power as a European 4 cylinder and burned a lot more fuel to do it.

    Looking at the Town Car for example, a European would have been astonished that a 5.0 V8 only put out 150 hp. Staying with Ford, the European Sierra had a 2.0 that put out 125 hp, and the 2.0 turbo was 225 hp.

    Ford knew how to make small, powerful, fuel efficient engines in Europe, why didn’t they do that in North America?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      To paraphrase Clarkson ‘what sort of reverse magic allows then to put out so little horsepower from such large engines’?

      However those European engines were whinny, finicky and generally less reliable and not as robust/long lasting.

      And Europeans generally drove far fewer miles.

      During my first trip to Europe when I returned the rental car, they thought that there was something wrong with the odometer as ‘nobody could drive that far’.

      A big underpowered domestic v8, still delivered remarkable torque, could run along the highway all day with minimal noise and low RPMs and still hold up with occasional maintenance.

    • 0 avatar

      Torque. The magic was a torque.

      • 0 avatar
        Jagboi

        Friend of mine just bought a 1981 Lincoln. 5.0 V8 putting out 129 hp and 231 ft lbs. Hardly a torque monster.

        Of course, many European cars are diesels and those are engines with lots of low end torque.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      You really think it is fair to compare a Town Car to a Sierra RS500 Cosworth? Did the Sierras making that power level even come with a catalytic converter? What was Bentley making from its naturally-aspirated 6.75L V8 or Range Rover making with its 3.9L V8?

      Anyway around this time Ford did offer a 200hp 2.3T and within the year the Town Car could come with 210hp.

      • 0 avatar
        Jagboi

        The Rover V8 and Jaguar V12 were both 1960’s designed 2 valve engines and each put out almost double the power per litre of the Ford 302. That’s for the US/ Canada spec with full emission trim, European market cars did put out more, mainly due to higher compression.

        Catalytic converters in Europe were optional in 1990, mandatory for 1992. In the case of Jaguar, the catalyst system dropped horsepower by 1.5%, so that’s a fairly small difference.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          The Rover v8, which originally was the Buick 215, and the Jaguar 12 cylinder were good engines. Although most will agree that the Jaguar inline 6 was their best engine.

          Regardless British 8 and 12 cylinder engines were nowhere near as robust, and able to endure abuse as North American v8 engines of that era.

          As for diesels, at that time the were still regarded as loud, stinky and with glacial acceleration. A diesel was not considered by the North American public for many years as a suitable engine for a luxury vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “Catalytic converters in Europe were optional in 1990, mandatory for 1992.”

          I’ll take that as a “no” on the Sierra Cosworth having one then.

          “The Rover V8 and Jaguar V12 were both 1960’s designed 2 valve engines and each put out almost double the power per litre of the Ford 302.”

          So were the American V8s you’re using as examples. The Ford 302 came out in 1966 and you’re choosing the lowest spec version as comparison.

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