I Would Wait For You Like The Patient Swans Of Inish Glora

In 1978 Audi withdrew from the lower end of the market when the daring and distinctive 50 ceased production. While it might have been a landmark for Audi, it was a molehill for everyone else.

Fancy some Golf?: Autoevolution.com

The 50 didn’t sell awfully well and Audi felt it ought to focus its efforts on larger cars. However the penny dropped that premium car makers could offer smaller cars as the 90s wore on. BMW chopped up the 3-series to make the Compact (1993) and Mercedes got with the programme in 1997 with the A-class.

In between, Audi reworked the Golf platform so it could carry a higher price tag. In order to widen the expanse of silver metallic water between the little Audi and the mighty Golf, Audi offered the car initially as a 3-door only. That gave it a little coupé character for a company short (at that time) of coupé glamour.

The 1.6 litre in-line 4-cylinder engine sat transversely in the engine bay and, of course, it typically came with two-wheel drive. So, initially, Audi was offering a more athletic-looking car than the equivalent 3-door Golf but there were really too few beans in this tin. So, with the initial magic of a “bargain” Audi wearing off, Audi endowed the A3 with more powerful engines and, more importantly, all-wheel drive.

The pumpier engines included a 1.8 petrol turbo and a 1.9 turbo diesel. For the halo quattro car, Audi fitted the 1.8 petrol four with two grades of power output: 150 or 180 PS and directed the motive force to the tarmac via a Haldex Traction four-wheel drive system. That allowed Audi to remind buyers of their rally success of the previous decade and fight off VW’s Golf. The Quattro, shown in 1998 and on sale in 1999, came with an optional extra pair of doors, erasing somewhat the original ambition to cast the Audi as a distinctly different ball of wax from the Golf.

Feel the quality: fr.wheelsage.org

That said, the five-door looked remarkably different to the three-door (and Golf), with its six-light glass house and semi-estate tailgate. Visually it had a lot in common with the successful A4 saloon, and shared the same high-quality level of interior fittings. As much as its austere styling, a robust and clinical character was part of the emotional appeal of these cars.

Buyers seemed not to be too concerned that despite the speed and grip of the 4-wheel drive cars they didn’t manage to provide the extra soupçon of engagement that Alfa Romeo or BMW provided in cars of a similar size. Reviewers might have noticed this difference when getting from one car to another but for customers in Audi’s showrooms, the damped grab-handles and straight-forward performance provided enough of a rush to the brain.

The question is whether the A3 Quattro is a Driven to Write kind of car. The 4-wheel drive system gives is a bit of technical interest. It’s an electro-hydraulic system that waits quietly until the front-wheels begin to slip whereupon the extra power is ordered to the back to where it can do something. It isn’t in operation the whole time.

The A3 (whether Quattro’d or not) is certainly a thoughtfully executed example of late Ulm styling. The bodyside has just enough form to bring it alive and there’s a small light-catching surface on the sill to bring some interest to the lower body. The blacked out lower front and rear valence even appeared on Fords of the early Chris Bird era (no surprise as he was working at Ingolstadt before moving to Merkenich in 1998).

Image: autoevolution

Extracting something from that, we find the A3 is sort of, kind of DTW sort of car for its formal attention to detail yet also a vehicle that dodges our firmer affections (there have been no proper articles here about it until now, barring something about the smoker’s pack in 2015).

Like the superlative elegant first-generation A8, the simplicity of the A3 was hard to repeat in a new way. For the replacement A3 Audi added some more busy, not enough to make it fussy but still, additions for addition’s sake. The German adverts of the time called this sharp: indeed the mark 2 is more firmly defined but not any better.

The current car is another overlooked vehicle in the DTW universe, far from bad and probably very good in many ways and very well able to avoid our close scrutiny for good or ill.

Author: richard herriott

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

21 thoughts on “I Would Wait For You Like The Patient Swans Of Inish Glora”

  1. The Audi 50 was essentially the same car as the first generation VW Polo which it spawned. Pre the Golf VW was using Audi and NSU for the designs for its cars which is an interesting story of desperation to replace the Beetle and correct in house model and design failures. After the ill fated K70, the first Passat was a hatchback version of the Audi 80 . There were only minor differences between the Audi 50 and the Polo. The first in house VW was the Scirocco which predated the Golf.

    1. One of the things that I’ve not seen fully explored is how VW, through the 1970’s, managed to go from creeping updates to four increasingly uncompetitive models to launching such a competent range of water-cooled cars – a range that largely defines VW to this day. VW’s 1980 range was quite a miraculous turnaround from what they produced in 1970.

      Conversely, the British motor industry, which seemingly had much greater experience in designing new and innovative models, found itself unable design a car to modern standards after 1970’s Range Rover (excluding cars produced in collaboration with Honda).

    2. Richard, the more I look at the history of this stuff the more I think it comes down to luck.

      Look at BMW. In the early 60’s they weren’t up to much, but a new 4 cylinder engine and semi-trailing arm suspension applied to otherwise conventional cars gave them enough advantage to grow into a global powerhouse.

      And that engine and suspension were still clearly in evidence in their cars 30 years later.

      Contrast that with the Rover P6, which also had a new ohc engine and suspension (and a lot of other innovations besides).

      What caused BMW to end up with the hemi head and semi-trailing arm? And Rover to end up with the Heron head and de Dion? I’m sure both companies looked at both.

      I think it’s mostly luck.

    3. Bertel Schmitt, former ad man on the original VW Golf account, says VW:s success in the 70’s was “blind effing luck”. It’s a funny story, but he’s a raconteur, so I don’t know how much of the story is really true, but it’s a funny story nonetheless.

      “How about we tell the truth? That’s right: Truth. We know, but they don’t: Nobody wanted the car. The car was wrong. Everybody hated it. To everybody’s surprise, it became a success.”


    4. Ingvar, great find !

      Also from that article:

      “Nobody really cared, and everybody was convinced that the Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft (as VeeDub was named at the time) would soon be gone, along with all other car companies on the planet. This gave us free range, and we could do whatever came to our warped and alcohol-affected minds….

      (Later, whenever oil spiked, the notion that cars and car companies would soon be dead returned with regularity. …”

      A good lesson to keep in mind whenever someone regurgitates the conventional wisdom on the “certain” future of the auto industry: “the future is electric”, “the future is autonomous”, “the future is all SUV”…

      The fact is, no-one knows. The only certainty is that the conventional wisdom will be wrong.

  2. Interesting car.

    I don’t believe I have ever seen one, as this model was never sold in North America (later models were).

    It’s a clever re-skin. I’m still looking for more pictures but I believe that much of the door rings and door inners are shared with the Golf.

    And yet the car looks much different, and actually is different.

  3. The original A3 was certainly a pleasingly calm and rational design and the additional third light in C/D pillar of the five-door version was very nicely resolved:

    These always look better when there isn’t also a fixed quarter-light window in the rear door to complicate things. Sometimes, however, this involves a hidden compromise: I’m not sure about the A3, but I remember that, in the second generation (B2) Audi 80, the rear door windows only wound down about half way because the intrusion of the rear wheel arch prevented them from dropping further into the door.

    My only real criticism of the A3 was the treatment of the front grille, which looks a bit small and mean. A slightly taller grille, which met the shut-line with the bonnet and eliminated the thin strip of plastic above, would have been neater, IMHO.

    Richard’s critique raises an interesting question: when you design a car like the A3, with a distinctive silhouette but minimal ornamentation, how do you replace it if you want to maintain the silhouette? That has been Audi’s perennial problem for a long time and their solution, additional ornamentation, has long run its course.

  4. Though doubtful the following could have been fitted with 5-cylinder engines, could Audi have spawned an entry-level model based on the mk2/mk3 Golf and mk2 Scirocco and Corrado to slot below the Audi 80/90 from the 1980s and beyond pre-Audi A3?

    1. The last thing Audi needed at the time you mention was an entry level model.
      They already had stopped the 50 for pure marketigt reasons after more than 180,000 sold in four years at eye watering prices – hardly a failure in the market if you ask me.
      At that time Audi was still “Uber Opel and Under BMW” (Fugen Ferdl) and only just had started to push the brand upwards and needed to gain credibility as a BMW competitor at eye level.

      The Audi 50 was identical to the Polo Mk1 and came off the same Wolfsburg production line. Once the Polo got plusher (losing its cardboard door trim, getting a passenger side sun visor and bigger engines) the biggest difference was the chrome strip along the side crease – the Audi’s had a rubber insert and went around the bend in the crease, the Polo’s did without the rubber and stopped ahead of the bend.

      The A3 was a cheap attempt at testing the market. Fugen Ferdl’s theory was that customers were prepared to ‘buy smart’, purchasing a smaller car at a higher price. The first A3 was a toe-in-the.water exercise to test this, just as the BMW Compact and Benz truncated C class coupé.

    2. That may be the case and the 5-cylinder probably could not be mounted into the mk2/mk3 Golf, mk2 Scirroco and Corrado platforms anyway.

      However am basically envisioning a more upmarket Audi analogue of the Lancia Delta featuring shrunken down Audi Coupe / Quattro styling, with its AWD rival to the Integrale models being akin to the Volkswagen Golf A59 prototype or at best a sub-Quattro Hot Hatch that ends up indirectly replacing the original Audi Quattro for Group A Rallying.

      The 2226cc Audi 5-cylinder Turbo also appears to be in essence a 1781cc EA827 4-cylinder with another cylinder added, so in theory a 2-litre 4-cylinder turbo engine should put out around 158-242/249 hp with the Golf A59 prototype managing to put out as much as 275 hp.

    3. One should not forget that the Delta happened by accident. Just as Group B cars were cancelled they presented their HF 4WD road biased car that by mere incident fitted the bill quite well. Only after Abarth took over and made the Integrales homologation run versions of their rally weaponry the Delta myth started.
      When time had come for Audi to present a Delta equivalent they had the A3 and S3. The latter is just as fast as any Integrale with the benefit of not giving the impression of disintegrating at any moment.

      Every single big engine (400 to 500 cc per cylinder) in the VW emporium is a derivative of the EA 827 in the sense that even the EA888/EA189 have the same bore spacing as the old lump. Any in line engine from three to five pots is based on this modular approach and even the W12s are from the same conceptual base.
      This enables them to produce a bewildering range of engine variations on the same production equipment.

    4. Would have to agree regarding the A3 and S3, just do not rate the PQ34 platform (except for the Skoda Octavia) and cannot help envisioning a Golf/Jetta-sized entry-level Audi using the mk2 and mk3 Golf platforms.

      It is also interesting to note the BX platform used in the Brazilian Volkswagen Gol was derived from the existing Audi 80 B1 and B2 platforms, which opens up the question of whether an entry-level Golf-sized Audi using a similar platform (albeit one that owed more to the 80 B2 platform) would have also worked outside of Brazil prior to being replaced by the mk2/mk3 Golf-derived Audi models.

      Another aspect is the fact that the VR6 engine was said to have been conceived around the late-70s to early-80s IIRC (initially as a 2.0-2.4) being tested in mk2 Golfs. While the mk2 and mk3 Golf platforms were unable to fit the Audi 5-cylinder engine, had it been feasible perhaps an earlier VR5 could have worked for a mk2/mk3 Golf-derived Audi?

      So the VR6 to W12 and related derivatives are also derived from the EA827? Have to wonder whether Volkswagen looked at a VR4 at one point, also were the 60-degree Lamborghini L539 V12 and 60-degree V12 TDi related to the EA827 or all-new designs (know the latter features the same bore and stroke as the 90-degree 3.0 V6 TDi CR)?

    5. The Lambo V12 is an engine of its own and a massively reworked descendant of the old Bizzarini engine.

      All VR/W engines from the VW emporium are based on units of a pair of cylinders. This unit is balanced in itself and therefore arrangements of any numer of these units can be made from VR6 to W12 or W16.
      There is absolutely no reason why they should have looked at a VR4 because they already had I4 engines that perfectly fitted the bill, particularly not as early VR engines with two valve heads suffered from lots if problems, many of them similar to the Fulvia’s because of the unequal length of the induction tracts.
      At that time Audi was busy with becoming an accepted BMW competitor and anything that put into danger of undermining these efforts was out of discussion. There’s a big difference between an A3 being a premium mid size contender from an accepted upper class manufacturer and a V8 coming from a manufacturer rooted in mini or mid size cars.

    6. The EA827 itself admittingly makes the case for a VR4 redundant though the 4-litre Volkswagen W8 does give a glimpse of such an engine, am more surprised at the EA827 being to some degree related to the VR/W and 60-degree V12 TDi engines.

    7. Going back to the Volkswagen VR engines would it be accurate to say the end-on gearbox layout was what allowed it to be mounted transversely, since it is curious Volkswagen were able to make it work whereas BMC’s planned 18-degree V4/V6 SOHC engine project to only being able to be mounted longitudinally and in FWD form with a similar layout to the Triumph 1300?

      Also the relations between the Volkswagen VR and EA827 engines raises similar questions regarding the 18-degree V4/V6 and E-Series engines that were apparently developed in parallel with each other, even if it is doubtful that any such relation exists between the latter two.

  5. It has always struck me that the Mk2 A3 (a.k.a.8P) was, compared to the orig.8L, immensely different in its design-to-public orientation, so to speak.

    Whereas the original was sober, restrained and decidedly un-sporty in its appearance, the Mk2 was sculpted & proportioned so as to resemble (even on bone stock wheels, tyres & ride height) a decidedly stancey, aggressive and perhaps, in some colours, even slightly vulgar Series 3-compact emulator.

    Its (rather sneaker-inspired, IMHO) silhouette and general harmony of the marriage between the DLO and rakish beltline, made it a totally different “animal” than the original. It was, actually, blatantly obvious that the styling-dictated target groups were distinctly different compared to those of the stern, clinical (but purer as form) Mk1.

    This “silent revolution” in their A3 product positioning gave Audi an added cocoon of commercial riskproofing, which, in hindsight, apparently had no significant side effects to speak of.

    Personally, I find both the 8L and the 8P very appealing, but in totally different automotive roles: the orig. as a positively unexciting, OCD-removal daily driver with a very subtle design (although with a very restricted colour choice that make it suit it to my taste), whereas the 8P would be a nice holiday car, one that you’d enjoy watching on sunset amidst a scenic paysage, and one you couldn’t stand seeing it dented, bruised or stone chipped…

    The explicitly sportive appearance of the Mk2 would make me expect driving prowess too, which the Mk2 luckily has in spades, if a little compromised on ride plushness.

    Where the A3 topic *really*
    fascinates me, is the Sportback version of the Mk2. It is quite literally the sportiest looking true longroof compact car ever made.

    Had it been available in 3dr.form, with some cleverly proportioned door lengths etc. it would be my “car to take to the end”, an absolute visual keeper that I’d forgive many other imperfections. Gladly.

    Audi missed epically, IMO, by not making such a move, even if it would be a slight spiritual “nod” to the Volvo P1800 longroof estate.

    If you think I’m exaggerating, locate a good Sportback and take a good long look from all angles. Yes, it is not particularly tasty, but it has that irresistible curb appeal that makes you want one.

    The answer might lie in the fact that, perhaps, the Sportback (as opposed to the regular 3dr.8P Mk2), has removed a decent “chunk” of the obviously ‘sneakerish’ stance of the 3dr. Therefore making it irresistibly balanced – overtly inviting, yet adamant in disarming you in your attempts to tag it as ‘vulgar’.

    Very intriguing cars, each gen.in it’s own particular ways. The Mk3? Too early for me to tell, and maybe, too… mainstream?

  6. There does appear to have been a good deal of rancour over the narrow-angle vee-engine programme, which ran considerably over-budget and timescale owing the problems VW engineers faced developing it. At the same time, it was reported that Audi engineers, who it seems, wanted nothing to do with the VR6, had developed their own 60 degree V6, which matched the VW unit for power and weight and was cheaper to build. Audi (and Dr. Piech, it seems) argued hard for this engine to be adopted over the VW unit and in the end, it appears both engines were proceeded with.

    Georg Kacher reported on this story at length in Car in and around 1988, but my copy currently resides in the wrong country, so I cannot quote directly from it.

    As regards the A3, a family member here in ROI bought one new in (I think) 1998. I found it to be a very pleasant motor car, and given its Golf V underpinnings, quite a decent handler. It was a 1.6, so no ball of fire, but adequate for Irish conditions. It was replaced within the family owing to its size and relative impracticality, replaced by a contemporary Audi A4, which was lovely to behold, but nothing like as nice to drive.

    1. The only info regarding Volkswagen’s other V6 suggests it featured a 90-degree angle rather than a 60-degree angle, which probably makes sense if it is basically an Audi V8 minus 2-cylinders on the grounds of cost.

    2. The V6 is not a V8 with two cylinders cut off.
      A ninety degree V6 makes sense because it is much lower (but wider) than a sixty degree configuration and offers enough room in the ‘V’ for a properly tuned induction tract. If you have wide cylinder heads (like in PRV V6 or anything with valves set in a V) there’d otherwise be no room for the inlet ducts (the Aurelia V6 is a perfect example of how not to do it). Just look at the Dino V6 to get an impression of the difficulties to match a narrow angle (sixty-five degree) with high performance peripherals.
      From the days of the EA827 VW very rigidly made sure that every engine of that class could be produced on the same production lines – which necessitated identical bore centre spacing.

      I remember that the VR6 development was a typical Piech experiment. They had just two competing teams of just two engineers tasked with designing such an engine. Such an approach running out of money says more about VW’s disastrous financial situation in the late Carl H. Hahn years than about the engine. VW went through one of their typical periodic phases of near-bankruptcy at that time and Fugen Ferdl more or less rescued the company – for example by reducing the number or rear axle versions for the Golf Mk3 from 38 (thirty-eight) to two…

    3. Meant in the sense the V6 appears to share much with the V8 and both in turn being related to the EA827.

  7. All this and nobody mentioned that well-known lesser-cylindered warbler, the VR5. I always wondered what went on inside its little beating heart. Deprived of the symmetrical sixth, it had to snuffle around with 15 degree cylinder banks and some kind of weird crankshaft, not to mention those unequal length intake and exhaust runners, now in non-symmetrical rotation and a tropical syncopated beat. Makes you weary just thinking about it. No wonder there was no VR5 Mk II.

    Had an Audi 90 degree SOHC 2.8 V6 with offset crank throws in my ’94 90 quattro. Smooth, asthmatic and completely gutless. Showing any sign of brio or quick-revving was not allowed even in neutral – it had the apparent rotational inertia of a late 19th century oil-engine flywheel. VW has sacrificed a lot to keep those bore centres. Mazda made several transfer lines where a 2.0 four, 2.3 four and 3.7 V6 block from Ford all with different bores could be handled automatically. Now that’s engineering. Lateral thinking is sometimes required, but VW has always taken the sledgehammer approach to standardization, like MQB and bore centres.

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