A Photo For Sunday: 1988 Audi Coupe

1988. Let’s read that back: nineteen eighty eight. Which is half a year short of three decades.

1988 Audi Coupe

There really is something about the form language of industrial design that is verging on the timeless. Credit for this car goes to one J Mays who penned the Audi 80 in 1983. This one is known as the B3 (35i). While there are a few oddities on the car, they are far below the detection limit of normal humans.

The Audi coupe has a very subtle detail which is worth looking closer at. I will come to that later.

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The Audi 80 saloon appeared in 1986 (which is 31 years ago), using a longitudinal front drive layout. The advantage of this is not clear as it means the nose of the car is usually quite prominent as you can see on this car. For 1988 Audi launched the coupe which might simply be the saloon with a different back. It is however quite different. The good parts are the consistency of the detailing and overall treatment. The less satisfying thing relates to the proportions and the way the car looks unbalanced: I am subliminally reminded of the Ford Escort Mk2 which also looks like a car missing 10% behind the B-pillar.

1980 Ford Escort

It’s quite a stumpy car, that Escort. And so is the Coupe. The difference is in the way most details are handled.

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My third slide show shows the odd details. However, most of the 80 is very tidily handled yet quite busy with more little articulations than the succeeding generation of car. The way the side trim is located in a recess is not so different from the BMW shown here recently.

What you detect overall is a studious neutrality. The radii appear to be constant and applied very carefully. Their is not much variation all across the car’s corners and edges. The short wheelbase and high-waistline suggest a very robust vehicle. This is no dainty Italian coupe. I am not sure what they did want us to see: solidity, the solidity the four-door lacks?

1986 Audi 80

This car (above) is not the best example, I grant you.

Now the little subtle detail. Notice the way the bodyside on the saloon appears less full than the coupe. There is a feature line running just under the door handles (black on the 4-door). On the coupe there is a very slight undercut which forces the reflections on surface above the line to make a sharp contrast to the surface below the line. Thus on the coupe the bodyside almost always has a pale upper shoulder and the wheel arches stand clear too, as they also reflect the light more.

On the face of it, the coupe is a straight bit of industrial design. No, it’s more than that. The light management has been achieved through really small but important “nudges”. The BMW doesn’t do that: its subtle curves are elsewhere. The Ford doesn’t do it at all: the flat surfaces meets at small angles, that is all. Added all up, the coupe isn’t just the 80 with two fewer doors. Pretty much every panel has been massaged. Dieter Rams said the best design is the least design. And as I say, it only looks that way.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “A Photo For Sunday: 1988 Audi Coupe”

  1. I remember being impressed by these when they came out. They didn’t look as much like a see-saw in profile as their big brother the 100, with its enormous overhangs. When you see them in the metal now I don’t think they’ve aged that well, although some of the detailing is still nice. I’ve always liked Audi’s flush side glass with the little plastic grommets that secure the pane to the channel.

    Did the couple always have the distinct grille? I remember the saloons being facelifted to make more of the grille and looking a bit ungainly as a result.

    1. It has aged well, I think despite my reservations. It’s the detailing and consistency that helps distract from the fwd proportions and slightly light rear half. The spoiler and liftgate is quite complex – that’s a period detail. It must be a challenge to open though.

    2. I *think* this might the 90 coupe – a different grille and a five pot motor, as distinct from the 80 coupe.

      Audi’s model differentiation was confusing at the time (there was also the 200, which was essentially the 100 but a touch more ritzy). Nearly 3 decades on it’s very hard to remember the details!

      I always wanted one of these though – a 90 coupe quattro with the five cylinder engine and blue cloth interior. It was never considered great to drive, but a very likeable thing.

    3. There were no badges on the back. If you Google audi 80 and 90 you get a lot of similar images. Naming a car only after engines is daft. Mercedes did with with 200, 230, 260 etc so people are forced to learn in-house project codes.
      At Wikipedia this car is identified as the B3 (35i).
      Some cars were 80s and some were 90s but it doesn’t discuss saloon/coupe mix. The same page also says the 80 was renamed the Audi Coupe and was called internally as Type 8b (so what is 35i referring to?). Too much information.
      I am referring to this as an Audi 80 coupe.

  2. Car manufacturers have too many model ranges now. I understood Audis when it was 80, 90, 100 and 200. Before they started naming models after ISO 216.

    1. When all the contenders in a market offer x cars and those cars are similar between marques, a contender who can offer x+1 has a competitive advantage. They gain a marginal sale. As soon as the number of models re-equilibrates, the competitive advantage for the firm who offered the new product diminishes but not to zero. They have a broader customer base. That’s why firms stay making models who popularity has peaked (for a while). Eventually (which is where we are at) there is much less difference between the new niches and the existing ones. The CC people might be able to confirm my idea that the 2 door and 4 door hardtop/coupe/saloon/estate boom of the 60s was much like our SUV/CUV boom.
      I wonder if the firm who cut back on models and simply increased model changes might fare better as long as they passed on the reduced R&D costs to the customer or improved actual quality to help support residuals.

  3. I owned an original Audi Coupe, 1982 model. In 1988, I bought an Audi 4000S quattro – therein lies the reality that VW/Audi used to wait a couple of years here in Canada before bestowing the latest model on those darn colonials. The quattro was just the square old model, and came complete with rubbery dampers, a huge letdown from the Coupe, which was taut and well-damped. However, Bilstein to the rescue for the quattro. I really enjoyed both of these cars immensely.

    So in 1994, I plumped for a two-year lease on a 1994 Audi 90 quattro “Sport”. I should have avoided the “Sport”. With a lumbering lethargic V6 and a ride like an elephant, it was overall a big step backwards from the earlier car, and tackled corners with huge roll and terminal understeer, which the incredibly stiff ride would have led one to believe should not have occurred. Bloody awful, really. I had driven a friend’s five cylinder Coupe MkII a few years earlier and should have learned – the rear suspension had little travel compared to the original and the DOHC 164 hp engine seemed little more powerful than the 115 hp in my quattro. Weight was the enemy.

    In those days, I needed a sedan for work-related duties, but had purchased a new 1990 Eagle Talon Tsi AWD for “personal” use, Mitsubishi’s turbo coupe version of the Galant VR4. It went like the wind, and it was a tossup to me whether I liked it better than the old-style quattro with its Germanic ways. Many were the days it was a tossup which beast I selected to drive. The AWD on both worked flawlessly for me.

    When the MK II Coupe arrived, they didn’t sell compared to the Mk I, and it was the looks. A short, fat, dumpy looking thing compared to the svelte original which even teenagers driving hotted-up Yankee iron complimented me on. The details hardly mattered to me – the new sedan was far better looking than the coupe and it sold well -no design consultant needed to see how much better the four-door was. Anyone with a pair of functioning eyeballs could see that. Unfortunately, the 1993 revision and the 1994 90 I leased was a fatter version of the decent looking 90 sedan you picture here. And, did I mention it before? It was nasty. Never so happy that I only leased that driving debacle for two years.

    That was when I discovered Subaru and stopped wasting money on expensive German machinery of the latest overweight design. That 1994 90 quattro weighed 700 lbs more than the ’88, and it was ponderous. The aero was suspect, and driving in the rain with the driver’s side window a quivering mass of water obscuring all outside view was just a continual reminder of the stupid mistake I had made in the first place leasing the damn thing.

  4. Thank you for this design dissection, Richard. This generation of 80/90 was perhaps not Audi’s finest, but the detailing on the outside at least was excellent.

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