Audi 100 C2 5S

The story of modern Audis is a curious one. After WWII, no car wore the Audi badge until 1965 when Volkswagen resurrected it for a "new" mid-size saloon. This new model had been acquired during Volkswagen's buyout of a company called Auto Union, a name that harks back to an agglomeration of long-deceased German brands of which one was, of course Audi. Those four marques are represented by the magician's rings that grace the nose of every modern Audi today, and also represent Horch, Wanderer and DKW, and Daimler-Benz were glad to be rid of them when it sold them to VW in 1964.

This new model (known as the F103) became the template for all modern Audi's, as well as those Volkswagens that share the same platform. But the old brand name, Auto Union DKW, bore with it strong connotations of smoky, rattly two-strokes weaving their way through post-war rubble, and it was a reputation Volkswagen didn't want anything to do with. By reviving the Audi name, they hoped to add a touch of class to the production, and the DKW F103 was renamed the Audi 72 (signifying its power output.) 60, 80 and 90 soon followed, as variants of the same model, but Volkswagen had declared that no other Audis were to be built. Audi was to be a brand under VW, not a marque of its own.

But VW weren't aware of the beast that lay within. When they bought Auto Union, they also bought the factory, and with that the engineers who worked inside, who were not happy with this decision. Unbeknownst to the VW overlords, they built an entire working prototype of a big-engined large saloon, ready for production, and presented it to the management in 1968.

This rebellion proved phenomenal. That original Audi 100, designated C1, went on to become Audi's greatest-selling vehicle in its history, and the Audi name was cemented in the minds of Seventies buyers as a worthy consumer brand.

For the 1976 upgrade, Audi needed something more. The 100 name no longer referred to the engine output, and a hundred horses just wouldn't cut it in the world of executive saloons. Volkswagen, still reluctant to show any sign of their own originality, went on the prowl for a new power-source and found it lurking under the bonnet of a Mercedes; unsurprising when you remember from whom VW had bought Auto Union in the first place. What they saw, growling away in the engine bay, was the OM617, special in that it had not four, or six, or even eight cylinders, but five. An inline 5-cylinder engine unlike anything else on the market, delivering power to saloons such as the Mercedes W114 and its 1976 replacement, Mercedes W123. And coming from a luxury manufacturer, it had excellent qualities; it was smooth, it was powerful, it was eminently reliable. There was only one problem. It was a diesel.

VW soon fixed that, and by the time of its launch, the Audi 100 C2 was charging along on all five cylinders, making it the first inline-five petrol engine in the world. And the number of cylinders wasn't the only big number it carried; 134horses of power, and a price tag to match, quickly put the Audi 100 in the top class of executive saloons. The wonderful metallic model here, the 5S, was the top level of that top level, and commanded a purchase price of 24,000 DM in 1979, or $113,000 in today's money.

The price quickly set Audi apart from its Volkswagen stablemates; despite a similar design, the C platform was the next step up from the B on which the Volkswagen Passat was based, although Audi still saw room for extension. A top-of-the-line, high-class model was launched in 1980 with two bigger numbers; a showroom price of 30,000 DM and the name Audi 200.

With these two weapons, the Audi fleet was perfectly poised to capture a significant part of the market. That phenomenal engine gave it equal chances against the sporty BMW 5-series, whilst offering a level of refinement comparable to Mercedes' E-Class and unsurprisingly, the Audi 100 racked up heavy sales all the way into the Eighties. The turbo-charged 200 series even gave the S-Class and 7-series BMW E23 a serious run for their money both in the luxo-barge market and on the autobahns in general.

With 900,000 produced, it's incredible to believe that the only example one can find is at a classic car gathering in downtown Warsaw. Polished to gleaming, this Ingolstadt icon is one of only a handful of Typ 43 Audi 100s still cruising around. The generation had to surrender to Audi's Vorsprung durch Technik philosophy, or Advancement Through Technology, and as the C2 gave way to the C3 in 1982, the old 100 found itself crumbling away in car parks.

The reputation of the old Audi is a now a grandfatherly one; very much flat caps and pipes and slow Sunday afternoon cruises. And yet we shouldn't forget the significance of the Audi 100; there may have been only four rings on the grill, but there was a fifth one under the bonnet.