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Happy Birthday: Audi 80

Published 16 September 2016

Vorsprung Durch Technik. Three little words that mean a lot… and if you were wondering what they do mean, the answer is: Moving forwards through technology. A little less evocative, perhaps, but no less appropriate for the car that transformed Audi’s image.

Prior to the B3’s appearance, Audi was something of a niche brand. A slightly posher Volkswagen, that had similar qualities and brand values to its parent, but a fairly vague identity. There were a few notable exceptions, the Quattro and the 100 Coupe being the more exotic, and the streamlined 100 of 1983 being the first indication that Audi was going places.

The B3, as it was known internally due to being based on the Volkswagen Group's third generation B-platform, was a car of many innovations. It was designed to be supremely aerodynamic, with flush-fitting glass and similarly flush trim seals around the bonnet, grille, headlights and mirrors, while the entire bodyshell had bathtub-like curves to help with air displacement. The 80 was smooth, refined, and at the same time immediately handsome.

It was also the first car to have fully zinc-coated, galvanised bodywork giving it a big head start in the fight against corrosion. It’s not unusual, even now – a whole 25 years since it went out of production – to find 80 B3s in almost immaculate, rot-free bodily condition. And viewed as a classic, that’s a very good thing indeed, especially as the simple mechanical layout makes the 80 a very straightforward and inexpensive car to maintain.

Audi 80 (2) (3)

We liked the B3 so much - we bought one. Read our updates here.

It also featured Audi’s much-lauded Procon-Ten safety system. This was a crash structure that, in the event of a frontal impact, caused the inner wings to collapse and pull the bulkhead and steering column forwards away from the driver, rather than intrude into the cabin. It was a remarkable and beautifully though-out piece of safety design, though its future relevance was somewhat offset by the mass take-up and subsequent mandate to fit airbags to all new cars.

Mechanically, it was standard Volkswagen Group fare, with 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol engines and a 1.6 (later turbo) diesel.

The five-cylinder Audi 90 came along in 1987 with the in-line five from the Quattro to add a bit of performance flavour, along with the 140PS 80 16v, which gave a more sporting flavour to the four-cylinder line-up. From 1989 to 1991, the 90 also got the first 20-valve engine in an Audi since the Quattro, with 170PS and a choice of 2WD Sport or 4WD Sport Quattro trim levels.

In 1988, Audi broadened the B3 line-up with the introduction of a two-door, known simply as the Audi Coupe. It introduced new front and rear suspension layouts, with sharper turn-in and a firmer ride.

Audi 80 (3)

In 1991, the B3 was replaced by the B4. A car that was outwardly similar, but built upon the next incarnation of the B-Type platform and featuring the steering and suspension set-ups that had debuted in the Coupe. At the same time, they chopped the roof off, and the Audi Cabriolet found its own controversial place in British history after Diana, Princess of Wales, snubbed British rivals and was regularly papped behind the wheel of one.

Much of the body styling was still the same, with the main bodyshell, glass, doors and dashboard being carried over from the B3, so in many respects the B4 was more a facelift. It did bring in a new corporate grille, however, the basic design of which can still be seen in the Audis of today.

The 80 was a fine car. Beautifully constructed, over-engineered, reliable and sturdy. But, much more than that, it was a game changer for Audi. It arrived bang in the middle of the upwardly mobile Eighties and shifted the focus of the brand from dull but dependable towards avant-garde and aspirational. It had the solid, sturdy feel of a Mercedes coupled to the modern dynamism of a BMW, and turned Audi into a brand that could more than hold its own in the executive car market.

The 80 B3, then, was the key to Audi’s future. A future that, today, sees the brand as one of the most aspirational, desirable and design-led car marques out there. On its 30th birthday this week, we’d expect a few champagne corks to be popping in Ingoldstadt, as Audi drinks a toast to the car that enabled its current successes to happen. 


   on 16 September 2016

I had an Audi 80 Sport in 1988/89 and apart from it's speed I have nothing nice to say about it.

David Bond    on 17 September 2016

I had to scrap mine when heater core failed. It is behind the dash and when I looked into what needed to be done basically everything you see in front of you in the drivers seat needs to be removed. So a new core was say £50 but fitting it is a good two days of labour.
Only problems I had were water leaks, failure of hoses etc. If I were to run another one I'd definitely use the waterless coolant featured in some of wheeler dealers shows.

Rob Whitmarsh    on 19 September 2016

I bought an Audi 80E new in 1987, and it was one of the most trouble-free cars I've ever owned. Financial problems following a divorce meant that I kept it for 6 years and about 50,000 miles, and other than routine servicing, it cost me nothing other than a single new tyre, never gave me any trouble at all. The only thing I didn't like about it was the way water dripped onto my knee when I opened a door on a wet day, they'd done away with rain gutters you see. I've owned much better cars since, but few have been as trouble-free as my 80E.

Edited by Rob Whitmarsh on 19/09/2016 at 21:43

   on 2 September 2019

Heavy body built on 60s technology with the ride quality of a donkey cart.I hear audi still uses this winning formula in their car designs to this day.

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