By on April 28, 2021

Rare Rides has featured the predecessor of today’s sedan previously, in a very pearly 1990 V8 Quattro. After Audi spent a few years unsuccessfully trying to sell its first-ever attempt at a flagship full-size sedan, it took the lessons learned from the D1 and developed the D2 A8 and S8.

Today we’ll focus primarily on the A8 foundations that made the S8 possible. Work on the D2 platform began in 1982 when Ferdinand Piech signed a development contract with Aluminum Company of America (you’d probably call it Alcoa). The goal of the agreement was the use of aluminum technology to design a sedan that was lighter than other cars of a similar size class.

The weight saving via lighter metals would make up for the heavy Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which was a given in any flagship Audi. Not eager to repeat the same platform sharing mistake as with the V8 Quattro, the D2 was not an evolution of the steel D1, but rather an entirely new aluminum monocoque platform. Audi dubbed it the ASF, or Audi Space Frame. The Space Frame’s logo was proudly displayed on the lower b-pillars of every A8.

The new A8 was presented at the 1994 Geneva Auto Show and went into production later that year. At the start Audi’s new offering wasn’t quite ready for North American duty: A8 did not arrive in the US until the 1997 model year, and when it did it was more limited in scope than other markets. North American bound A8s were all equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive and (for obvious reasons) a five-speed automatic transmission. While markets outside of North America were offered V6 engines of gasoline and diesel persuasion, all North American A8s were equipped with Audi’s 4.2-liter V8. All North American examples were standard-wheelbase through 1999, but the long-wheelbase arrived for 2000. The L offered five additional inches of rear legroom and meant the lineup was more competitive with offerings from BMW and Mercedes-Benz that came with length. An ultimate version with a 6.0-liter W12 engine was offered from 2001 and was very expensive.

We’ve got the foundations covered, so in Part II we’ll talk about Audi’s transformation of the A8 into a high-performance sports sedan. And I’ll show you the S8 for sale that’s hardly been used.

[Images: Audi]

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29 Comments on “Rare Rides: An Almost New Audi S8 From 2001 (Part I)...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “the S8 for sale that’s hardly been used”

    I’m afraid of a new Audi, let alone a 20-year-old hi-po Audi.

  • avatar

    Shocked to not see a mention of Ronin. That movie made this car known to many. Still a chance in part II to movie name drop.

  • avatar

    On the exterior, clean and smooth lines.
    From the inside, it has genuine windows big enough to see out of.
    Whats not to like (except maintenance and repair)?

  • avatar

    2001 was part of the poorest part of my life, but if I could have had just one car, I think this would have been it. (Two years later, I started to get paid much more, but one of these was still way out of the question. I bought a new Acura TSX, one of the very first off the boat.)

    Such a clean and well-proportioned design, and the interior transcends the usual late ’90s plasticfest.

    Now I want to see the listing.

  • avatar

    Interesting tid bit. Despite it being labeled a 5 speed auto, it was impossible to accelerate in 1st gear. Off the line these cars shifted right into 2nd gear. My 17 year old self spent much time trying to manipulate the triptronic manual gear selector to rev up past idle in first gear. Never was able to.

  • avatar

    friend had one, I think this model – it was the long wheelbase aluminum 8

    for a few months

    got rid of it

    apparently the soft aluminum body dented very easily and the sides were pockmarked from door dings in short order

    she had a “prestige” lease that allowed her to do that

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Owning this car would be like dating a woman who is exceedingly beautiful and proficient in bed, but insists that you buy her a penthouse condo and a new SL every year.

    • 0 avatar

      Kind of mirrors what a friend said about my A3: if it were a woman, she’d be an awesome vacation companion and lots of fun in the sack, but you’d have to balance her checking account for her.

  • avatar

    Love these. Used to sell them when new but it was a hard sell against MB and BMW. Inputting a destination into this nav system is a torturous process. It has a little round knob in the center console you turn and press to enter each letter and number. I love the understated styling and think it was the more subtle choice against the other brands, but there was nothing subtle about the maintenance costs.

  • avatar

    I know this is sacrilege among enthusiasts, but the appeal of the Ronin-era S8 never clicked for me – either back then or now.

    I appreciate the internals and don’t doubt that it drives marvelously, but the style feels very “upscale VW” in the same way that the Phaeton was utterly forgettable.

    It’s an even harder sell up against the pinnacle of BMW’s design language (the E38) and the buttery smooth and svelte MB W220.

    • 0 avatar

      It was nearly finished by W220, better comparison is to the W140, but there’s no perfect overlap for MB.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s fair, although even the W140 seemed like it was in a whole other class of luxury (I’d argue above the 7-series as well).

        It wasn’t until more recently that Audi as a brand has felt on par with BMW/Merc IMO. In the 90s, it was sort of the Infiniti/Acura of Germany i.e. demonstrably above a Nissan but not quite a Lexus.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    A friend traded his A4 for his sister’s A6 ( it was too big for her ) then, a year later, traded the A6 for his parent’s neighbour’s S8, which was too big for the wife’s liking. A4 to S8 in a year – for free. I was with him when the driver’s door suddenly decided to not latch anymore: a CDN$900 fix. The central HVAC tunnel would often fill with water, too, even with the windshield drains absolutely clear. Seeing the engine that far forward in the engine bay was always off-putting for me. Otherwise a great car, if you can afford the upkeep.

  • avatar

    I loved these when they were current. Having owned a 2002 S4, however, has all but ruined Audi’s for me, this one included.

    Were they as unreliable as the B5s of the day?

    • 0 avatar

      these seemed much higher quality than the A4 of the time, those had lots of issues with electrics, the A6 was particularly bad prior to the redesigned 2005. Every 2.7 T A6 on our lot would have warped front rotors that had to be turned before delivery. I had an A4 demo that would close the sunroof at random while driving. Around 2002 they were all so bad I asked if I could not sell Audis and stick with our other brands but was denied lol.

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