Hug Tight Your Futile Success

This is a short post for the early morning. Another longer one will be along shortly.

Car Magazine June 1978

The image is the front cover of Car magazine from June 1978. I often wonder about that time, or more precisely, 1979. Prompting this is the image of the Senator and the assumptions built into Car’s headline. I’d really like to go back to hang about 1978 and 1979 and see if really was the threshold time it seems now to be.

Of course, at the time it probably looked like the last ten years were being repeated with minor variations. That it was a turning point only seemed really clear to me in 2008.

It’s a funny period, 1979/1979 – the short 1970s were fading away. The 80s didn’t start until 1983. Flared trousers and loud shirts had gone to be replaced by some of the oddest fabrics fashion ever threw up (I could not find examples, alas). Some of the 1970s hung about, watered down and tired.

Trousers were still pretty flarey and the long haircuts were still in use. I have a children´s book by Shirley Hughes, written in 1978 (I think) and all the dads and mums in the book still sports high-street 70s style and have long hair (including the dads). The 1960s are still there, in 1978.

That somehow brings me to the Opel Senator on the front cover of Car forty years ago. Is the riveted-on chrome trim on the front of the car not a hold-over from the cheery times before the oil crises? If we look inside the car the upholstery is in dark, rich blue and mustard and bordeaux – colourways that echoed the startling richness of the 1960s still.

Image: Autocar

Car claimed the Senator would scare Rover. Rover, note. Not Audi. At that time Rover had one car: the SD1 in its various guises. I have a road-test somewhere where the two are matched. I can’t remember the victor. In any case, Opel survived the longest. The Rover turned out to be a bigger failure than the Senator which sold in decent numbers for another decade and a half in various forms while Rover decided to churn out Hondas with grilles and walnut trim in unlikely places.

1977 Ford Granada 2-door:

If Thatcher hadn’t won the 1979 general election and if Ronald Reagan hadn’t won in 1980 then maybe Opel would have clung on to the top tier of cars. The way I understand it, the European mass-market car makers benefitted enormously from a strong welfare state and strong unions (the UK is different, I know). Thatcher’s revolution pulled the rug from under the feet of the affluent working class whose cars were the Granada and Senator as much as the Cortina and Ascona.

Where does Audi fit into this narrative?

Author: richard herriott

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

8 thoughts on “Hug Tight Your Futile Success”

  1. Surely Audi doesn’t fit into this narrative of the late 70s in any significant way? I consider that Audi only came of age in 1982 with the launch of the aerodynamic 100 which suddenly took it upmarket and made its products seem contemporary rather than dated. I think they then very cleverly built upon this until the late 90s approximately, with a string of cars that each built upon their predecessor and looked even more contemporary, in the same way the current Astra has compared to the previous one.

  2. I was a 12 year old kid on a bike who hung around car dealers in Tewkesbury in 1978.
    The family had a Vauxhall thing going at the time, and Wayne Cherry’s Luton team were on their Droop Snoot kick.
    I had just come back from Düsseldorf a year earlier- I was an Army Brat- and I still remember the « otherness » of the new Audi 100 at the time of its launch.
    The big front overhang, I found out at the local Audi dealer was full of a FIVE cylinder
    engine in the larger cubic capacity versions.
    This was a new look with a new sound!
    In terms of « fitting in », in retrospect it didn’t. The NSU RO 80, styled by the same Claus Luthe, was a Glorious German Disaster. Fab styling that still turns heads today and a reputation forever tarnished by that rotary engine. Another discussion for another day.
    The rhino proportions of that beautiful NSU reappeared on the Audi 100 C2 to house the engine that was in essence the réinvention of the Audi Marque, so while Ford’s Uwe Bahnsen gave the Granada mk1 a masterfully crafted new suit (styled around the mk1 door skins!) and Wayne made a Royal(e) from a Senator, Audi quietly embarked on their path to domination of the executive car segment.
    Four rings to rule them all.

  3. The 1982 Audi 100 was often compared to the Ro80, and I don’t see it. Yes, there is the six-window glasshouse and the smooth, aerodynamic lines, but the NSU was a carefully proportioned, light looking vehicle with a long wheelbase, whereas the Audi was a blunt, bulky mass on a minuscule chassis.
    Nevertheless, it actually has contributed to Audi’s “Vorsprung durch Technik” image in the 1980s, but probably not as much as the success with the Quattro and the subsequent use of this technology in normal cars.

  4. My comments refer to the length of the nose of the Audi 100 C2 of 1976. It was all about the five cylinders, without which the C3 would have « just » been an aerodynamically efficient, flush glasshouse saloon. With a short wheelbase.
    The comparison of the RO 80 to the 100 C3 was often made, and like you, I never quite got it.
    Without the five THE QUATTRO and its eponymous transmission would maybe have ruled rallying but the soundtrack would not have been so memorable.

    1. In addition to the five cylinder engine, the initial C2 Audi 100 marketing materials highlighted crush zones “designed to buckle in accordion pleats on impact”. Were awkward looking overhangs mostly a result of this new approach to safety?

  5. How did Audi fit in? Peripherally, along with the equivalent Volvos, Peugeots and Renaults of the period, as they didn’t have a ‘British’ badge to qualify them for selection by the fleet buyers of the time. It was the rise of user-chooser fleet policies in the 80’s boom which did for this sort of vehicle.

    Car magazine and others always used to run this sort of headline to drum up interest whenever a new entrant came along (see also Omega, Scorpio, and so on). They then reverted to the established order following the first road test. It’s a close relative of ‘Will the [insert sporty hatchback] cause the VW GTI to lose its crown?’ headline.

  6. I remember quite well the bally-ho the presentation of the Senator/Monza created -. Idnd’t understand that at that time and still don’t today. The Senator was what the Rekord E should have been from the beginning – a car without an ox cart rear suspension. The Senator still had the antediluvian cast iron power units that were neither powerful nor smooth, it still had the ‘sneeze factor’ steering and a kitsch interior and what looked like an overdose of aftermarket stick on chrome. The Rekord E/Senator pair were just another indicator that Opel was unwilling or unable to follow the technology raid setting in during the Seventies. Sophisticated chassis design, efficient engines, aero bodies – all this wasn’t what Opel was about. That they presented the Kadett C at roughly the same time as the Golf Mk1 just shows how far they lost touch with market trends.

    Where did Audi fit in? Just nowhere, mostly because they didn’t have a clue of what to do with the brand. An Audi manger told a journalist that they saw themselves as “Über Opel and Under BMW”. The folded paper design 100 Type 43 (C2) was a big step in the wrong direction. Their skunkworks first 100 was an accepted perfect alternative to Mercedes’ W115 but they made nothing from that. The next 100 was developed with VW going through one of their regular phases or near bankruptcy which forced them to use many stopgap solutions like the EA831 engine from the LT28 light truck. Paolo Nestler’s weird colour schemes weren’t particularly helpful and the 200 luxury version made things even worse with psychedelic seat patterns, ugly US style lights and beige chrome trim. Audis from that era were criminal rot boxes that corroded even faster than their counterparts from Rüsselsheim or Munich. During the Type 43’s time a friend of mine was sales manager at our largest local VAG dealer (VW, Audi, Porsche). When the first 200 turbo was presented their service manager told me that the guys from Ingolstadt were mad because these cars simply would fall apart under heavy acceleration once they were two or three years old. During that time dealers weren’t allowed to sell used Type 43s they had taken as part exchange because VW wanted to get these rot boxes off the road (the same happened with Golf and Scirocco Mk1s).
    Their ‘aero’ Type 44 made things even worse, if anything. An excessively wide body with enormous overhangs on a short wheelbase and a far too narrow track combined with small engines and strange equipment choices didn’t help in shedding their deservedly petty bourgeois image. One of product planning’s big mysteries surely must be why they developed the C3 into the V8 D11 which looked exactly like the base car despite of being different in more than eighty percent of parts and which appeared shortly before the base went out of production.
    Only when the 100 C4 transmogrified into the first A6 and finally got the engines the 100 should have had twenty years before did they start to finally do their home work.
    With the A6 C4, the 80 B4/A4 B5 and A8 D2 Audi finally had the cars they should have had from the beginning. That makes it even more astonishing that they managed to get where they are within less than ten years.

  7. This was the first in a long and distinguished line of rear drive, full size sedans from Opel. The Senator with the egg-crate grille was magnificently odd – an entirely rebodied version of the Carlton/Omega, for no discernible reason at all!

    The Lotus Carlton was obviously brilliant and bonkers.

    Even the last of the line Omega was a desirable car.

    Now we have the Insignia. Sad times.

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