It’s the year 1980, and you have some money to order a new family sedan. It needs to be spacious enough to take a family of four on holiday. It ought to be a safe car. It should really have a modern design and the latest electric gadgets. Last not least – you would like to have some fun at the steering wheel as well. What are the options?
Well, the options were still quite different from what was available only 10 years later: There was no Mercedes 500 E, there was no BMW M5, the sports sedan as such wasn’t really invented yet.
From Mercedes, you could buy a 280 E (W 123 series); yes, powerful, but hardly a sporty car. BMW offered models like the 525 or maybe even the 528i (E12 series); yes, they were sport sedans, albeit generally not considered to be spacious and comfortable.
And then, there was the Audi 200 (called the Audi 5000 in the US). Introduced in 1979, it was based on the Audi 100 sedan, but modified on the inside and outside. This made the car more comfortable, more luxurious, and look much more stylish.
Most of all, it came with Audi’s famous 2.2 liter 5-cylinder engine. A brilliant piece of engineering with a strong characteristic across all revs, and a really attractive engine sound. In the 1981 Audi 200, it was available as a naturally aspirated engine with 136 hp (“Audi 200 5E”), or as a turbo-charged version with 170 hp (“Audi 200 5T”).
This made it a fairly quick car: The 200 5E did 0-100 km/h in about ten seconds, a really respectable time for a family car in 1980. The 200 5T got to 100 km/h in just 8.6 seconds! Mind you, it is 1981, and the brand new Porsche 944 did 0-100 in 8.4 seconds. As the driver of an Audi 200 5T in 1981, you could go chasing Porsches on the Autobahn!
Back in 1980, real sport sedans like the M5, S6 or 500E weren’t invented yet. This Audi 200 was a forerunner for this segment!
Audi’s famous Quattro all wheel drive wasn’t introduced yet, which is why the Audi 200 5T was the most powerful front wheel drive car of its days in Europe.
As additional options, it did, of course, offer the latest gadgets like air condition, cruise control, height control, heated seats in the front, electric sun roof, or anti lock brake system (the airbag was just launched by Mercedes and not available from anyone else yet).
By 1981, I was three years old and my dad had saved some money to order a brand new Audi 200 5E from our local VW Audi dealer. This made the Audi 200 the first factory-new car that I ever witnessed. He chose his Audi to be painted in onyx metallic (basically a dark green) with caré velours seats in Schilf (which literally translates to “reed” and meant a dark green interior). This color combination came with a dashboard in Efeu (“ivy”). Quite a fashionable green car for the time!
My dad also went for a couple of options, six to be precise: There was the stereo cassette radio “Brussels”, the cruise control (“Tempomat” in German), the air conditioning (“Klimaanlage”) for a staggering 2,000 Deutsche Mark, the power sun roof (“Schiebedach”), illuminated make up mirrors (for 28 Marks, cute), and a stronger power generator. They also charged an admission fee (“Zulassungskosten”) and 91.15 Mark for the petrol in the car. Amazing.
All of this added to a total gross price of 37,214 Deutsche Mark. To give a comparison, a Mercedes-Benz 250 E (mind you, a 6 cylinder sedan from Mercedes) was priced at 28.532,50 Mark in 1981 (base price without options, look it up here). In other words, the Audi 200 5E wasn’t a bargain; you could have bought a nice 6 cylinder Mercedes for the same money.
One of the family vacations in this car took us along the coast of UK, visiting friends in Cardiff and Southampton in the summer of 1983.
Being five years of age at the time of these pictures, I have only vague memories of riding in this car. My dad later referred to it as being tremendous fun to drive and I know that owning a factory-new Audi 200 had made him pretty proud.
The fun was spoilt, though, after the car experienced a total breakdown of the automatic transmission when the car was only three years old and had a mileage of about 35,000 kilometers (21,000 miles). The dealer suggested that both parties (Volkswagen and my dad) should pay 50% of the bill. My dad was upset and escalated this to Volkswagen’s upper management in Wolfsburg, unfortunately without any success.
This was the moment he sold the Audi, went straight to the local Mercedes dealership and got himself a 280 SE right from the show room. A good choice back then, but today I wish I still had that 200. I also wouldn’t mind to take care of the transmission 🙂
The Audi 200 continued being a forerunner specifically for Audi. It was followed by milestone cars such as the Audi 200 Quattro 20V in 1989, one of the fastest mass-produced sedans of its day with a top speed of 242 km/h, and the Audi S4 4.2 quattro in 1992.
But it wasn’t only Audi – the entire industry picked up the trend of luxurious yet sporty family sedans, with cars like the BMW M5 (launched in 1985), the Mercedes 300 E-24 Sportline (1988) and 500 E (1990).
Today, only very few Audi 200 are left on the street (don’t know when I last encountered one in real life), and even fewer good ones in original condition. Personally, I have no doubts that the good ones are genuine Tomorrow’s Classics. I’d guess that they keep rising in value.
What are your thoughts on the Audi 200? Like it or love it? What sporty family sedan would have been your favorite back in 1980?
Tomorrows-Classics.net is all about sharing stories of beautiful cars that will soon be genuine classics. Do you have a special car and a story to share? I look forward to reading from you!