Saturday, July 25, 2009

1990-94 Audi V8

As we’ve already seen, the orthodox recipe for DTM success in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s consisted of a small, rear-wheel-drive chassis propelled by a high-revving 16-valve four-banger. Of course, few companies are less orthodox in their approach to motorsports than Audi. Even more impressive than the firm’s habit of shunning of conventional wisdom is how it has often beaten other companies that still cling to it, whether it’s building a championship-winning rally car with all-wheel-drive, creating diesel-powered sports prototypes that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their first four appearances or, the one we’re interested in, successfully campaigning a big, heavy luxury sedan against the comparatively petite Benzes and Bimmers. The Panzer of which I speak? The Audi V8, of course.

With global sales booming (and the full force of the CBS-led smear campaign that nearly drove the brand off the continent yet to be felt), Audi sought to create a proper flagship. The foundation consisted of a stretched and facelifted version of the company’s 100 and 200 sedans (both known as the 5000 over here prior to ’89), which was propelled by a brand new DOHC 3.6L V8 (based on a pair of conjoined 1.8L Volkswagen 16V fours) producing 240hp that spun the quattro AWD system through either a 5-speed manual (only offered in 1991 and ’92 on North American models) or a 4-speed automatic (the first for a quattro-equipped Audi). For 1992, the engine was bumped up to 4.2L and 276hp. Standard equipment included leather upholstery, an eight-speaker Bose sound system, front and rear seat heaters, a dust and pollen filter for the HVAC system, and a built-in cell phone.

Buoyed by the circuit racing success of quattro-equipped racecars in SCCA Trans-Am and IMSA GTO competition on this side of the pond in 1988 and ‘89, respectively, Audi drafted the V8 for DTM duty in 1990. Incredibly, it won the driver’s championship for the lovable Hans-Joachim Stuck on the first attempt. Frank Biela (who later brought the company sportscar glory driving the R8 and R10 TDI prototypes) won the crown the following year, but 1992 proved to be an embarrassment, as DTM officials called B.S. on the new flat-plane crankshaft which Audi claimed was made by modifying the stock cross-plane crank (Yeah, whatever…). After failing to secure a third-straight title, Audi quit at the end of the season. However, they weren’t missed for long, as 1993 marked the debut of Alfa Romeo’s all-singing, all-dancing 155 V6 TI, ushering in the glorious age of the Class 1 hypercars that were equal parts tin-top, Formula 1 and O.G. Can-Am.

Although these cars stickered for around $50k new, the overwhelming majority of that value has long since evaporated. Early, high mileage cars with the smaller engine can be had for under $2,000 in drivable condition, while really nice later ones can top $5,000. Known problem areas include the automatic transmission, the anti-lock brakes, and the vacuum-actuated central locking system. But if you’ve got the extra scratch to budget for potential fixes (and this being a German car, the more the better), you’ll have pretty much the only car in its class with a racing pedigree.

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