Welcome to Athens, everybody. Ah, Greece. The land of yogurt, honey, and two kinds of ruins: the historic kind and the economic kind. When many people think of Greece, they usually come up with either ancient Greece, with the Olympics and the lightning bolts and whatnot, or they think of modern Greece. An economy in shambles. A constantly shifting government. A migrant crisis with no right answers. Today’s car is kinda like that. See, Audi is simultaneously one of the oldest and one of the newest German car brands. This is a 1969 Audi 100 LS.
The history of the 100 is integrally linked to the history of Audi itself, so let’s start there. Daimler Benz was fashioning itself as a bit of a German General Motors, which in essence meant compiling a whole lot of smaller brands to file under the Daimler masthead. That’s why this car kind of looks like a Mercedes from certain angles (particularly the back). The 100 began development under Mercedes, and was actually going to be a Mercedes for a little while. But then the part of the company that was in charge of the project got sold off to Volkswagen, and here’s where things get interesting. VW was already working on a large-ish sedan to appeal to the, ahem, bigger-boned American market. That car was codenamed the EA 128, and was about as cool as Neil Patrick Harris wants to be. It had a flat-six engine developed by Porsche that was mounted in the back. It could seat six adults thanks to some huge bench seats. It even had a wagon variant.
The EA 128, then, was a big deal for Volkswagen. It also made the newly acquired Audi 100 project feel kind of redundant. So what did the Audi engineers do? Did they give up like chumps, kowtowing to The Man and the bureaucrat drones controlling The Establishment? No! The 100’s head of development, Ludwig Kraus, finished the car in secret, and when it was finally presented to VW management, they liked it so much they decided to build it. Meanwhile, the EA 128 project fizzled out and died, leaving only a couple surviving prototypes that are now holed up in museums (like this one!). Now, it’s easy to look at this decision as the triumph of mediocrity and safe decisions over risk and innovation, but the Audi 100 was actually quite an advanced car for its time, even if it did look like a block of feta cheese. Hey, we’re in Greece! Did you forget?
The 100 was front wheel drive, which, while far from the first car to do that, was pretty unique at the time. It also had inboard front disc brakes, which meant they were mounted to the differential as opposed to the wheels themselves. This reduced “sprung mass,” which is a scientific term that I don’t totally understand, but apparently it made the car ride more comfortably. Clever. Engine-wise, the 100 had a 1.8 liter inline four cylinder which was air-cooled (making it a bit of sacrilege in VW land). This particular 100 is the top-of-the-line LS model, which means it had 99 horsepower. Audi also did a coupe version of the 100, which looked strikingly similar to the Aston Martin DBS of the time. That car received the slightly bigger 1.9 liter inline four, making 113 horsepower. In terms of a transmission you could have a four speed manual or a three speed automatic sourced from Volkswagen, but why would you do that to yourself? Get the manual. You’re worth it.
There’s a story in Greek mythology in which Zeus decides one day that he really really needs to figure out where the middle of the universe is. So he commissions two eagles to fly towards each other from the most easterly part of the known universe and from the most westerly part of the known universe. The birds meet over the town of Delphi, drop a stone, and the rest, as they say, is total fiction. It is a nice metaphor for this car though. You see, the 100 went through three generations before being replaced by a car called the A6, which today, lands smack in the middle of Audi’s lineup. Not too big, not too small. In other words, the center of the (Audi) universe.
- European police departments were big fans of the 100, in no small part due to its “performance and roadholding.”
- This was the first water-cooled car to be produced at VW’s Wolfsburg plant, which at the time was the largest car factory in the world.
- Though the 100 was sold in the United States for a time, there’s a reason you don’t see many of them around anymore. Reliability on these things was, let’s say, almost completely nonexistent.
- Surviving 100s, however, have found a new life among the European “Stancing” crowd. Not exactly my thing, but hey, whatever you’re into, man.