This article was first published in 2007.
Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of
old cars that I’ve bought despite public opinion being that they’re going to be
a stupidly huge money drain.
From a BMW 3.0si to a BMW 733i, from a Saab 900
Turbo to the first model Lexus LS400, from an old Volvo 142 to an Austin 1800 –
there have always been plenty of people happy and willing to tell me that I was
a fool: that the car would break down every week and the required repairs would
always be expensive.
Like, why not instead just buy something like a
humble Holden or Falcon?
But the mooted breakdowns and expensive repairs
have never occurred. Sure there might have been minor problems, but the blown
engine or broken gearbox or seized wheel bearing or defective dash instruments
have never happened.
So when I saw the 1988 Audi 100 advertised on
eBay, I was excited. Very excited.
I’ve always been a huge admirer of the 100 series,
the very first modern-day aerodynamic car. With its high boot lid - then
completely unknown - and careful attention to rounded leading edges, shallow
front and rear window angles and flush-mount side glass, this was then the most
aerodynamic sedan in the world. And that in a time when no-one cared much about
aero... Such was its impact, even here in Australia, that the VN Commodore and
EA Falcon stole huge body design ideas straight from the Audi.
Under the 100’s bonnet was a 5-cylinder in-line
engine, hanging forward of the front axle line and driving a transaxle
positioned behind. The forward weight bias might have appeared bad for handling
(but then the all-conquering Quattro ran the same layout) but Audi suspension
engineers seemed to overcome that. And the engine location left a huge amount of
room for passengers and luggage – this was always a car bigger inside than
And here, all those years after release, was a 100
that looked to be in superb condition. Yes, there were cracks in the dash but
the bodywork – all galvanised – looked excellent, and the seats and other trim
were in very good condition. At least in the eBay pics they were...
I did the old trick of scrolling the page down to
hide the price and then asked my wife, Georgina, to come in and estimate the
starting dollars. She put those at around $3000 and so it was with great
excitement that I showed her what it actually was - $1500 Buy It Now.
That was sufficient persuasion for her – I didn’t
need any – and so we made an appointment to see the car. It was located only 20
kilometres away – this was looking better and better.
And in the flesh the car lived up to its promise.
Nearly. The front and rear indicators had had some repair work done to them and
the front right corner looked like it had been involved at some stage in a minor
accident. But the interior was good – a mat covered the dash cracks – and the
short test drive I made showed the auto trans (3-speed only, a 4 speed auto was
later offered but it never came here) was working fine. The growly 5-cylinder
had more than expected torque and everything seemed to work. Except, that is,
for the air con compressor that was noisy (and this fault was pointed out by the
I bargained the man down to $1200 and put down a
deposit. The next day I drove it home.
I think of the Audi as a classic, and this was a
classic that with its interior space and superb presentation could be an
everyday usable car.
But then things started, if you’ll excuse the
expression, to turn to shit.
On my local bumpy country roads I found the car to
have a weird, uncomfortable corkscrewing motion. Maybe one of the dampers was
shot (although a corner bump test showed nothing) but whatever the problem, the
car pitched and heaved. We immediately named it ‘Galloping Gertie’ (after the
Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge that collapsed in 1940 – see
That was – kind of – OK but then the water pump
started furiously leaking. With the longitudinal engine placement, space is
tight so I gave the car to a mechanic to do the work. It made sense to also
change the cam belt, so about half the purchase cost of the car later, it was
And while I was chasing the source of the leak, I
discovered something rather interesting. I put the car up on jack stands, the
two positioned just rearwards of the front wheels. And bugger me if the car’s
body didn’t droop so badly that the front doors became quite hard to close.
European stiffness and design integrity? Bullshit!
And then the mechanical D-Jetronic fuel injection
developed an idle oscillation. Up, down, up down, it went – to the extent that
on trailing throttle decel, the car could feel to speed up, slow down, speed up,
slow down... I sprayed lots of cleaner through the system and it improved it a
little – but didn’t eradicate the problem.
Then the climate control failed. This wasn’t the
noisy air con compressor, but instead a completely different problem where the
fan failed to work. A fuse, you say? Not that I could find.
Then the electric windows – both of the
front ones – died; you see, too much winding up and down to get the ventilation
needed without the cabin fan functioning.
Then the driver’s door lock broke – I pulled off
the door trim (I had delusions in my more enthusiastic moments of also fixing
the window) and found a link had come off an arm. At least that was easy to put
Both Georgina and I were starting to hate this
car, but I pretended that everything was fine. I even ordered a secondhand air
conditioner compressor from an interstate wrecker – by now I reckon I’d spent
the full purchase price of the car on repairs and parts... in the first two months
Then I got a phone call from the lady herself.
“I am at a shopping centre,” she said with iron
restraint. “The key has jammed in the boot lock of the Audi and I can’t get it
The Audi ignition and boot key are one and the
“Oh yes?” I said. “Go buy some WD40 and spray it
in. It’ll come out OK.”
10 minutes later there was another call.
“I’ve done that and it won’t come out.”
Since I was a 100 kilometres away at the time,
there wasn’t anything I could do.
Georgina rang a locksmith and after a struggle
that involved several kilograms of powdered graphite, he got it out. Georgina
drove the car straight home and vowed never to step foot in it again. Especially
when I easily inserted – and then removed – the key from the offending lock
without any problem. (But then again, the locksmith hadn’t been able to get it
out without a struggle...)
Time passed. The Audi sat out the front on the
road, unlocked and undriven. (And unstolen – thieves must know something...) With
other cars available to drive, no-one in this family wanted to drive Galloping
Gertie – a car with no ventilation, no air-conditioning, an oscillating idle
speed, and locks that could without warning gain a death-grip on keys.
Then I thought: this is silly. They’re minor
faults. The car looks good, is spacious, was an advanced design and even has a
prestigious name badge. I’ll drive it today.
I went out, inserted the key and found that an
unknown electrical fault had completely flattened the battery.
I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, I muttered to
months later, long after the registration had expired, I was at my mechanic’s
workshop. The place where the water pump had been replaced. He’s a Volkswagen
specialist – so that’s close enough to Audi – and I wondered aloud if he wanted
another loan car for his business. Like, that superbly presented Audi 100 I
happened to have. I told him no lies and he was interested. Now all he has to do
is send the truck so I can kick the bastard car up the ramps and bare my bum at
it as it departs...