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Audi 80 GT: ringing the changes
Was the Audi 80 GT "a new dimension in high performance motoring"?
Despite the proliferation of go-faster models in its current range, Audi’s name hasn’t always been synonymous with sporting cars. A manufacturer of models in the deluxe mid-size class during the 1960s, a saloon car which focused on blatant out and out performance was not only an alien concept to the Ingolstadt company but many other auto makers, too.
It could be argued that the 115bhp Aston Martin DBS-aping 100 Coupé S of 1970 was the the first ‘performance’ Audi, but with more style over substance, the gorgeous fastback wasn’t it. Something smaller, something nimbler was needed. And it just so happened, such a car was just around the corner – and it would provide solutions to both desires.
The Audi 80 ‘B1’ was launched in the summer of 1972. A small, notchback-shaped saloon, it wrapped a new technical concept under its pretty lines. The first ‘modern’ Audi, the 4.2-metre long 80 B1 debuted the water-cooled ‘EA 827’ engine family, a revolutionary steering geometry with ‘negative roll radius’ which enhanced stability under severe braking situations, as well as a computer-designed safety cell. Not only was the 80 B1 promptly named European Car of the Year in 1973, it proved pivotal in providing the basis for the new range of water-cooled, transverse-engined Volkswagens that followed.
‘Cooking’ 1.3 and 1.5-litre engines did a sterling job, but the new 1970s performance small saloon idea piqued Audi’s interest. In 1973 it unveiled a variant of the 80 which would not only prove just as stylish and practical as the other members of its family, but faster, too. The Audi 80 GT was, with its 453-litre boot, a contemporary high-speed holdall to rival the Ford Escort RS 2000 and the ‘E21’ BMW 316.
Development of the 80 GL’s 1,471cc engine gave birth to a new 1,588cc unit. Now with 100bhp and 97lb ft at 4,000rpm, the 80 GT sprinted to 60mph in 10.0 seconds, and on to a top speed of 109mph. And even though it was at the vanguard of safety, legislation demanded less kit than today, so a light weight of 855kg ensured the little front-wheel drive saloon felt every bit as fast as its bald figures suggested. Even 43 years later, circumnavigating Milton Keynes from roundabout to roundabout, Audi UK’s pristine carburettor-fed 80 GT is fizzy and has plenty of pep.
The arrival of fuel injection in 1976 later turned the GT into the GTE (‘Gran Turismo Einspritzung’ translated to ‘Gran Turismo Injection’). With an extra 10bhp, the two-door Audi quasi-coupé could truly now live up to the long-distance performance and luxury grand tourer aspirations bestowed upon its name. It wasn’t only extra firepower which made the difference: a heap of additional middle-management desirability was instantly added to Audi’s performance wunderkind.
Desirability is something which still permeates through the performance-orientated ‘RS’ range of Audi sports models today. In terms of market, the S4 is the nearest modern incarnation of the 80 GT, but spiritually, in model hierarchy at least, the S3 Sedan perhaps best embodies the 80 GT’s small saloon, big performance idea. With the imminent launch of the new 400bhp RS3 Sedan, Audi’s dinkiest notchback of today will also take up the mantle of the original extra-oomph, added-appeal 80 GTE.
Sold as a ‘A new dimension in high performance motoring’, few may have thought that the 80 GT’s marketing headline would endure to provide Audi with a multi-model performance car legacy. But, this it did, and much more besides: the original Audi 80 GTE’s engine went on to power a much-revered performance car icon: the first-generation Golf GTI.
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