Wooooooo first Oppo post! I plan on doing a series of these types of posts about cars that, for one reason or another, have become forgotten to time (and suggestions are welcome). Before I begin, I just want to say that my criteria for a car like this does not include how *good* the car is. Yes, speed/reliability/design will be considered but sometimes a good story or a weird tech or just something special about the car can make it worth remembering. Obviously if the car was absolutely stellar and well thought out and came out at the right time then everyone would know about it and they'd be collector's items. I'm looking for cars that aren't there......yet. With that said, let's get on to the car in the title!
How long does it take to go from 5000 to 200? 60 minutes.
Before I can talk about the 1991 model year, I need to go back to the 1986 60 minutes "story" on the unintended acceleration of the Audi 5000 sedan. I won't go into too much detail here as it is a well known case of the media outright faking results to get press coverage, but the resulting PR disaster was so bad, that the overhaul for the 5000/4000 sedan was renamed to the 200/100 to try and prevent that bad press from carrying on. What makes this particularly painful is that Audi's rally success as well as the commercial innovations were a major threat to the competition at the time. The quattro sedans were true german touring/sports sedans and had a great reputation for being unfazed by weather. But the PR nightmare that followed the outrageous accusations of "sudden acceleration" was so bad that Audi almost pulled out of the US market entirely. Which is a crying shame as they were far and away one of the world leaders in the 80s. Especially if you look at their track record.
The decade of Audi
Starting with the ur-Quattro in the early 80s, Audi began a string of dominating performances across a wide variety of disciplines for the better part of a decade using their recently developed "Quattro" AWD system. Although peugot and lancia gave them constant competition, Audi managed to secure many victories and 2 championships in the Group B era of WRC. Not bad for a new entry and a new technology. Plus Audi stuck with the front engined design despite all of their major competition switching to mid mounted designs to great success. Remember that this was the first time AWD was victorious in a top tier form of motorsport. Oh and the Quattro was used as the record smasher at pikes peak for a few years too.
Now that they had proven it worked on dirt, they turned their attention to tarmac and road courses. After a specially prepped 5000 turbo managed to reach speeds of over 200mph on talladega's oval, they knew they could pull it off. Whether it was planned ahead of time as a PR boost or it was just unfortunate timing, in 1988 the newly born Audi 200 was sent to do battle in the SCCA Trans-Am competition, not long after the sudden acceleration fiasco. What happened can only be described as "How to get invited and then banned in a single season". The rather stock looking 200s were absolutely devastating. Even a mid-season handicap couldn't stop them. A turbocharged, 5-cylinder family sedan (with the chassis left mostly intact) ran away from a pack of highly developed sports cars and coupes with high powered V8s. And the mid-Ohio race in the rain? It was called a "Sunday drive" for the Audi team. I posted this clip in a few other places, but I think I'll let the drivers themselves do the explanation.
And now we get to the final piece of the puzzle - the 20 valve motor. Following the ban from trans-am, audi built a bespoke tube framed silhouette "Audi 90" race car for the IMSA-GTO series. There were some initial transmission issues but they managed to win the whole championship with a 20 valve version (DOHC) of their venerable 5 cylinder design. It is a testament to that engine's design that it could be found in such a wide variety of disciplines and continue to find success almost a decade after its debut. After this win, Audi continued on into other smaller/localized series such as the Audi V8 DTM cars, or the south african S4s that both managed a fair number of victories. But to me, there is nothing quite like that decade of Audi. The next picture is just some engine porn for your trouble so far.
A genuine "GNX" moment
The 1991 model year marks an important turning point for Audi. This was the last year that the "early" quattro equipped cars would be produced. From here on out, more parts and platforms were to be shared with VW, the rally programs were ended, the racing programs in general were severely limited until they would get back into prototype racing in 1999.....Simply put the PR disaster had taken its toll on Audi. But, much like lancia did with the integrale's performance variants, Audi would not let one of their own go into the void without a proper send off. And believe me, they nailed it.
Enter the 1991 Audi 200 Turbo Quattro (picture below). If you got a 200 with a turbocharged engine and quattro and a manual transmission, you had a special surprise waiting for you under the hood. That surprise? The 20 valve DOHC engine. Marked as engine code 3B, the 3B was the first use of a DOHC 5 cylinder in a sedan for Audi. The Sport Quattro homologation special had one, but it was incredibly rare and wasn't nearly widespread. Of course, not that the 200 20v was exactly common either. But there are reasons for its rarity too.
You see, by 1991 Audi was facing a severe sales crisis in America and the worldwide sales were not exactly stellar either. How bad was it? Try low 5 figure sales in a given year (~12,000). Yes it was a luxury brand but when your sales drop over 80% in just 6 years (from 75k in 1985 to 12k in 1991), you are hurting in the worst possible way. You think a good E30 is difficult to find nowadays? Try finding an Audi of similar vintage in decent condition. The low numbers were almost enough to make Audi pull out but they somehow stuck to it. Weirdly enough they did so by borrowing a page from GM's playbook. You see, when the grand national's platform was switching to FWD, the GM engineers gave it one last hurrah before it was effectively crippled. With added power, looks, and rarity, the GNX stands as a legend in the archives of automotive history and is still highly sought after today. Pull into a parking lot and the cameras are guaranteed to come out. With this formula in their minds, Audi went back to the drawing board for a bit to come up with what has endeared itself into my heart as an all time great car.
I'm still not sure why they did it, whether for bragging rights, for a send-off, or just because they could, the engineers set off to increase the power of the 200. Audi engineers managed to shoehorn in the 20 valve DOHC turbo engine (complete with all the myriad sensors and tubes that us shade tree mechanics today hate....). With it, came flared fenders, a 5 speed manual, and the generation 2 quattro system. It was a bit lower, it was a bit meaner, it had BBS wheels, and it was a family sedan that packed 220 turbocharged horses in a platform and engine that had (separately) claimed outright victories in trans-am, IMSA GTO, and WRC.....Jalops, I submit for you a car that should be legendary but isn't.....the Audi 200 20v turbo. This photo is not just any 200/20v, but my own.
Why was it forgotten?
The answers are many, and they are simple. Simply put, the timing was very poor. The second generation M5 brought a lot more power to the table and when it was dry, the 200 20v simply couldn't compete as it was a genuine product of the 80s by this point. Plus Audi simply had no money to give it any more power. Plus the production numbers were startlingly low at 1000 sedans, and 200 wagons.......That's it. Both of which go for nothing while similar vintage M3/5s will rake you over the coals to buy a non-molested one. Plus it was never really a "numbers" car. Even with the better motor, it would never win in a power shootout or a handling shootout due to the thick steel body and quattro system adding weight. But really, I think it deserved better than this......
So why should you remember it?
Simply put, this is one of the few AWD performance cars out there that is "pure". There is no traction control, no stability control, a manually locking rear differential, and you have the ability to turn the ABS system on and off at the push of a button. If you don't know what you're doing and expect it to behave like an evo or GTR then it will not hesistate to let you drive into a hedge. But if you learn how to properly do weight transfers to utilize the mechanical torsen center diff's abilities then it becomes a surprisingly enjoyable back road stormer. But when you want it to, it will quiet down and be a relaxing, long distance touring sedan that you can drive with absolute confidence. To date, my car's record is somewhere around 16" of built up snow with no issues and keep in mind that it was lowered about 3" on coilovers by the previous owner. My example is at 270k on the original engine and transmission and it is currently undergoing a complete replacement of all sensors and hoses as many are giving out or completely shot. With proper care, these engines are known to do 300k or more with ease.
And keep in mind that for all the praise showered on the "Ur-S4/S6", they are basically this car, again. Their engines are improved, and they are in the newer chassis, but it took a couple years before we got the new models. In fact, I jokingly call this model the "S-Zero". With how blatantly similar the original S4 and S6 were, it amazes me that this car somehow slipped through the cracks of time. I guess that was life before the internet.....
Thanks for the read! For a bit of car pr0n, I present a 200 20v launch.