Pumpe Düse

How swiftly time passes – one moment you’re the talk of the town, the next, tomorrow’s chip paper. 

Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photos have been used. Image: autoevolution

Recently, a more mature Audi A3 in black arrived in our vicinity. Hardly worthy of a fanfare, especially as my initial introduction to this car was as follows; bonnet up, engine internals strewn roadside, stationary. Owner holding aloft the camshaft, almost trophy-like as I drove by. This did not bode well for such a car. If the old girl posses life, ’tis but a glimmer.

For this version of the PQ34 is now a late teenager – and whilst aged is far from long in the tooth, but now appears to follow a darker path. This new to my locale version of the A3 (Type 8L for you nomenclature completists out there) was manufactured sometime in the latter part of 2001, first registered in January of 2002, denoting this model to be post-facelift version.

With the original only being available as a three door, this five door (Sportback) variant has that cleaned up frontal version of Dirk van Braekel’s urban runabout. The headlight treatment still looks fresh, even when most examples have now taken on that milky effect when plastic ages. Can much light emit from lenses so? The car does have a current MOT pass, an effective guarantee for all matters mechanical… and I live on the moon.

Remaining with the Sea of Fecundity, the mileage this car has covered brings forth more lunar sobriquets. The first recorded mileage at January 2006 is 76,739, substantial enough for a four year old car. By January 2011, those wheels have now turned 140,707 miles and an MOT fail but for easily repaired and relatively normal maladies.

However, the very next year and another ministry fail with an extensive (and expensive) list, that mileage has suddenly fallen to 115,866. Could this have been a typo by the test engineer, for the next record is for the car to pass with 162,000 miles? The cars odometer currently reads at 203,742 with another MOT imminently necessary. The back catalogue of required repairs reads like a component providers dream ticket: struts, suspension arms, both pads and discs and at one juncture “the dual mass flywheel is starting to knock.

Goodness only knows how much my near neighbour shelled out for this mechanical bombshell. Or indeed, has the oil filter been attended to since the car presumably left the comforting bosom of an Audi service department. That might account for the trophy camshaft…

To the interior – worthy of a mention as, barring the now ground in dirt of goodness knows how many owners, still carries off that modern approach that helped boost Audi sales to the point of narking their VW bosses. I’m sure a good vacuuming session and judicious use of the proper cleaning materials would bring about a highly agreeable effect and bring about what van Braekel’s design team had eyes on all those years ago.

To the cars exterior; again, a good wash and brush up would do no harm in returning the black paint to being ship shape and Bristol fashion. Inevitable scratches and scuffs are there but the panels retain their gaps with no hint of tin worm which is impressive for such an age. If accident damage has been accrued, one cannot tell. Another sure fire sign of integrity.

Still not convinced? Marker pen in black to enhance the registration plate alphanumerics must surely win you over now? Those four silver rings still shine with an intensity bordering on the sinister. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Although I’ve yet to witness this pocket rocket do battle with anything other than the driveway the A3 resides upon, the badge on that rear lid says it all. One point nine Tee-Dee-I.

Pub bores could hold court twenty (and more) years ago extolling the revered badge with its otherworldly fuel mileage figures (fifty plus ‘round town, mate) eleven second 0-60 time, 100bhp and almost 120 mph v-max. And this in a family car, ye gods! One can almost hear the designer labels twitching in anticipation, the BlackBerry phone poised for a dial up search.

The title of this piece refers to the unit injector, which, along with a turbocharger adorned with variable geometry held sway with said pub bores and led to the Audi A3 becoming the darling of the PlayStation 2 generation, addicted to excess even if the Golf In a Posh Frock initially arrived as a perfectly respectable, almost anonymous hatchback.

From these relatively humble beginnings, the A3 went on to corner significantly large sales with ever increasing variations in engine sizing along with overtly placed aggression. Whereas cousin Golf is seen as dependable, to many, pure, the (then) smallest of wares from Ingolstadt, has corralled a darker epithet.

Though it is doubtful this singled out example will be tailgating anyone in the foreseeable. When I see this car, my ears sense the diegetic sound of menacing music, a tone foreboding in rhythm. Maybe it’s the black paintwork; or maybe I’m reading too much into this. Either way, these days that Pumpe Düse emits nothing whatsoever – in this instance, no bad thing. Since writing this piece, the car along with owner have mysteriously disappeared. Darker spirits at work?

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

14 thoughts on “Pumpe Düse”

  1. Good morning Andrew. After yesterday’s Munich horror show, thank you for a timely reminder of an era when Germanic automotive design was generally understated and self-effacing. The original A3 really was a very calm and rational design:

    Notwithstanding Audi’s legendary build quality, I cannot believe that major surgery on a 200k mile two decade old A3 could ever be financially viable. Perhaps the owner has just given up a losing battle?

    1. That opens up the discussion about what ‘financially viable’ means, doesn’t it? I’m always intrigued by this because it is such a such a subjective issue.

      Repair may cost more than the car is nominally worth perhaps, or repair may cost more than it adds to the value of the car. Probably neither of these matter very much if one is planning to keep the car. The latter pretty much sums up any expenditure on a car over about 5 years old I would imagine.

      Earlier in a car’s life the cost of depreciation is colossal of course. But it’s hidden, or accounted for in advance by the calculation of a suitable monthly payment.

      We kept our longest running car for far longer than it made ‘financially viable’ to do so. Each year cost an average of about £800 to keep it running on top of normal servicing costs. But we owned it outright and knew its entire history. To replace with something reliably better would have cost perhaps £10k or more and instantly got us into depreciation territory again. I’m not saying we were right; it suited our circumstances at the time. We have since dipped our toes into PCH territory and I now have a lovely car but at the end of the four years it goes back and I am left with nothing.

      You ‘pays your money and takes your pick’ I suppose.

  2. It wasn’t just Audi’s small cars that were understated back then. Two decades ago, the company had the self-confidence to put this beautiful A8 into production:

    Now, we get this instead:

    Grille apart, it’s not terrible, but there’s still too much going on, desperately trying to attract our attention.

    1. Hi Eduardo. You’re right, I’ve checked the DTW archives and the D2-generation A8 has so far escaped DTW’s gimlet-eyed scrutiny, which is surprising, given how highly it us regarded around these parts. It’s now on the list…

  3. I remember the A3 being launched and my niece getting one for her first company car. She’s still loyal to Audi after all those years. 200+k miles is still
    pretty good going even in these modern engines. I guess though that if it had been looked after a little better, it might’ve not trashed it’s camshaft. My first venture into the world of Mercedes was with a 230CE. I had to replace the engine at 210,000 miles which I thought was pretty good. It cost £1000, but it was money well spent. That was nearly 20 years ago though, so not sure how much it would cost now.

  4. At the risk of sounding like the pub bore, that 1.9TDI was an excellent engine. My Passat estate, so fitted, had a range between tank fills of 700 miles; when EVs can manage anywhere near that I might be persuaded that true progress has been made.

  5. Spurred by Andrew’s research, I checked on the fortunes of my own A3, a 1.8T registered in November ’96. It fell off the DVLA radar in December 2008 with over 127,000 miles recorded in November 2007.

    I’m surprised it lasted so long.

    A consistently unreliable car with a litany of serious failures and petty annoyances. I did at least 70,000 miles in my three year (from new) tenure. In the third year I was doing 1000 miles per week. At least I was able to establish how much the A3 had been improved, given the number of loan cars I was using.

    The PD engine was far pleasanter than the 20 valve petrol unit, although on my own car – despite its reputation – it was one of the few parts which never failed.

    1. Hello Robertas – it’s a shame you seem to have had a duff one. Early-build cars are often like that, though.

      A thousand miles a week, pre-satnav, must have been fun.

  6. Oh, man. I remember the ad campaign for the replacement of the first A3. In German if was a one word tag: “Scharfer”. You can´t call this Audi´s Cimarron becuase it´s not a bad car. It is however, a clear example of the grey area between badge engineeering and real engineering. Unless you have self-satisfying fantasies about cloth-covered a-pillars and damped cup-holders a Ford Focus was always a better thing to spend your money on.

    1. This one:

      I quite fancied a 5-door A3 in the late 90s, but a MK 4 Golf was just as nicely finished and was better equipped.

    2. My A3 had a shockingly shoddy interior, and also the blight of peeling soft-feel plastics. Within a couple of the years it the interior had been re-engineered and was much improved. By that point my work had gone international, and it was galling to find the same interior in the Octavias taking me to the airport very early every Monday morning.

      As for the Focus, even a low powered one could keep well ahead of the 150bhp A3 on a challenging open road. Didn’t bother me too much, as I spent most of the time on motorways making moderate progress within the bounds of the law, but it must have bothered the high-ups at VAG, given the rear suspension re-think for the PQ35 platform.

  7. I did not know that the quality of the first series audi a3 was so low considering that it is the best of the 4th generation golf. I personally didn’t like the 5-door, but I find the 5-door of the second generation more pleasant than the 3-door.

  8. Curiously, in the late 90s, it was the Octavia that was the best built from all the cars based on the Golf Mk4 platform, not the A3 (8L). Rumour has it that the A3, particularly the first series, had been the worst built of them all, (apart from the overseas-built Beetle, of course…), and inferior even to the Da Silva Leon Mk1 (notwithstanding that the the lowest quality
    of first-fitment components used to be fitted to Seat).

    But it was the A3 Mk2 (8P) that really stood out as a design in my eyes.
    It was so much more focused compared to the tame (but classy) 8L.
    In spite of the many stylistic criticisms of the Mk2 (classy it was not),
    at least it didn’t pretend and acted as an explicitely dynamic looking premium hatch. The Sportback was particularly endearing, having a roof surface area that practically made it a ‘longroof in thin disguise’.

    In the years that followed, however, it developed a weird street image of being driven mostly by socially aspiring, poorly-dressed yuppividuals,
    and, to add insult to injury, was later reputed to be among the most
    popular mobility choices of some adult-entertainment figures, too.

    Which all conspired against the possibility of me ending up buying one
    (an indecision I sometimes regret, anytime I see a nice 8P on the street).

    The convertible was weirdly handsome, too. This never ceases to amuse me, as I initially thought it’s the DLO-shape & D-pillar that made the 8P
    so distinctive – but apparently it was the beltline-rake that rhymed
    and flowed so sweet with the flanks, confirming the overall
    convergence of its vertical projection. It’s worth measuring
    the width of the windscreen lower edge against the hatch
    glass width, but never got around to actually measuring it.

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