1986 Audi 5000. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
Although the German Audi name only became known in North America in the 1970s, particularly through the Audi 100 LS and Fox models, it had a long history. It even had an early American connection when an engineer named Jorgen Rasmussen, head of Germany’s DKW, bought the bankrupt Detroit-based Rickenbacker Motor Company’s side valve six- and eight-cylinder engine designs and production machinery in 1927. He acquired Audi in 1928 and used these engines in some Audi models until 1932.
Audi was established in Zwickau, Germany, in 1910 by automotive engineer August Horch. Horch had started automaker A. Horch and Company in 1900, but left after a dispute with his partners, and established Audi, a Latin translation of Horch, which means “listen.”
Audi built several models, from small to luxury, including one of the first front-wheel drive cars in 1932, the year Audi joined with DKW, Horch and Wanderer to form the Auto Union Group. Audi’s badge of four inter-locking rings represents each founding company. Audi production ceased in 1939 when the Second World War started.
Following the war, Auto Union’s plants in East Germany were nationalized but the company was re-established in Dusseldorf in 1949, producing small, two-stroke DKWs and Auto Unions. It came under the control of Daimler-Benz in 1956, followed by Volkswagen in 1964 who revived the Audi name in 1965.
Audi produced a variety of small sedans, and then for 1978 came the replacement for the 100LS and the start of a model line that would establish Audi as one of the world’s most respected and innovative car makers. This was the front-wheel drive Audi 100, known as the 5000 in North America, powered by an inline, overhead cam five cylinder engine, the first production gasoline five (Mercedes had a diesel five).
The fuel injected Audi, 2,144 cc (131 cu. in.) five was derived from the Fox four. A five was desired because more than four cylinders were considered necessary for the class that Audi was aspiring to, and because an inline six was too long and/or heavy for the longitudinal, front-drive layout. Sophisticated crankshaft balancing and engine mounting quelled the quivers inherent in an inline five.
The Audi 5000’s unique engine was not its only advanced technology. Its unit construction body was roomy, light and strong, featuring two front sheetmetal frame members that used controlled deformation to manage crash energy. It had power rack-and-pinion steering, diagonally split braking and MacPherson struts.
If there was a criticism of the 5000 it was its modest power. This was addressed in 1980 with the Turbo model, which increased horsepower from 103 to 130. According to Road & Track, this dropped the zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time from 12.9 to 9.4 seconds, and raised top speed from 161 to 182 km/h (100 to 113 mph). In response to rising fuel economy requirements, a five-cylinder diesel was also introduced.