A responsive, small sporting saloon
A fascinating range of nimble, 105m.p.h.-plus small sporting saloons and coupés seems to be thriving on the unhealthy fuel and financial climate. Ranging from the twin-overhead camshaft Toyota CeIica GT at £2,345, through the new RS1800 at £2,825, the increasingly popular Lancia Beta Coupé 1600 at £2,884 (soon to be joined in Britain by a 2-litre version), the Triumph Dolomite Sprint at £3,083 to, until recently, the BMW 2002 at £3,049 or the expensive, 2002 Tii at £3,659, to be replaced from January by the “3” series, they all combine sporting pretensions with a sensible degree of comfort and refinement. Well placed on price and with performance and handling which belie its fairly conservative looks is Audi-NSU’s contribution to this developing market, the front-wheel-drive Audi 80 GT. At £2,910, this 110 m.p.h., 2-door saloon is a superbly responsive small car which boasts astonishing economy for its performance.
Since Audi-NSU introduced the compact 80 series to complement the 100 series in 1972, much of its running gear has been spread to other variations on the theme such as the VW Passat and Scirocco. Until the recent announcement of the fuel-injected VW Golf GTi the 80 GT was the high performance spearhead of both Audi and VW ranges by virtue of an enlarged engine delivering some 15 b.h.p. more than the most powerful of the lesser models. By stretching the bore from 76.5 mm. to 79.5 mm., but retaining the same 80 mm. bore, the 1,470-c.c. in-line, four-cylinder, single overhead camshaft engine has been increased to 1,588-c.c. capacity. A twin-choke, downdrought Solex carburetter with larger chokes is fitted, the compression ratio is raised to 9.5-to-1 and there is a mild revision of valve and ignition timing. Thus modified, this engine gives 100 b.h.p. DIN at 6,000 r.p.m. and generous torque throughout a wide range, an average of 93 lb. ft. DIN being available in the 2,600 r.p.m. so 5,100 r.p.m. scale with a peak of 97 lb. ft. at 4,000 r.p.m.
Abetting the perkier engine is a larger (8.5 in.) diaphragm spring clutch, a cast-alloy sump, a larger radiator and a slightly lower third gear to reduce the gap between the intermediate ratios. The suspension is stiffer than the ordinary 80 models, retaining the same layout of McPherson struts, coil springs and an anti-roll bar at the front and a beam axle, coil springs, telescopic dampers, radius arms and a Panhard rod at the rear. Uniroyal 175/70 series steel-braced radial tyres on the 5-in, wide alloy wheels help put down the extra power to the road. The servo-assisted brakes are unchanged from those of the GL, being 9.5-in. discs at the front and 7-in, drums at the rear.
Audi Make available an option pack of Bilstein shock-absorbers and ventilated front disc brakes; I have tried cars with and without these items for considerable distances, concluding that the preferable specification would include the discs but not the dampers. The harsh ride of the Bilstein-damped car, even when heavily laden, was barely tolerable for long journeys on mediocre roads, while the unventilated discs of the other car soon deteriorated under hard driving. The handling and roadholding of both ears was highly impressive, showing few of the traits associated with drive at the pointed end: negligible understeer and few signs of torque reaction through the driveshafts to disturb the sporty, plastic-rimmed, alloy steering wheel. Steering is acceptably light, responsive and accurate. Another plus point is the self-stabilising steering geometry which this car shares with almost the whole of the latest Audi-VW range. In theory it should keep the car stable when braking on uneven surfaces and in practice it seems to do just that, in spite of the Bilstein car’s hard damping attempting to throw it off line over bumps. In motorway cross-winds the 80 GT showed good stability, a front-wheel-drive virtue perhaps helped by the small spoiler sprouted on the front apron. Impressive too was the low wind noise (the first car quieter than the second). Thus these Audis proved quite relaxing to drive for long distances on motorways, though the engines could not be called “unobtrusive” at speeds above 80 m.p.h.
Good seats “make” a motor car almost as much as good performance and handling and the front of the 80 GT has two of the best: reclining Recaros. Like most German seats they feel hard on first contact, but support is in exactly the right places, they lock the body in place under hard cornering forces and the net result is one of comfort and relaxation. They are allied to a reasonable driving position, though the pedals are too widely spaced, with insufficient room to relax the clutch foot. All the seats are upholstered in black-and-white chequered cloth.
A tachometer, speedometer and fuel gauge temperature gauge occupy the plasticky cowled facia, while the central console normally houses just a clock, joined there on the Bilstein-fitted car by an optional voltmeter and oil pressure gauge. Indicators, headlamp flashers and dipswitch are controlled by a left-hand steering column stalk and powerful wipers, with wash/wipe facility, by the matching right-hand stalk. Illuminated switches in the top edge of the facia perform the other necessary functions, including the operation of a heated rear screen. There is through-flow ventilation via swivelling facia vents and attention to detail is shown by separate vents in the heating system for demisting side windows. Stowage for incidentals include a lockable, illuminated glove box.
Engine accessibility is good, there’s a splendid array of fuses and relays housed in a neat perspex cover against the nearside wheel arch, an electric cooling fan is used in conjunction with the larger radiator and the four halogen headlamps give an excellent beam. The boot is illuminated, though the spare wheel mounted against the bulkhead spoils its shape, there is a lockable fuel cap, stainless-steel door-sills, a driver’s door mirror, reversing lamps, PVC underseal and many other “extras” in the standard specification.
Performance is astonishingly rapid if you remember that this well-equipped, sporting luxury saloon has a mere 1,600-c.c. In spite of a change to third gear being required to reach 60 m.p.h. this figure came up from rest in 9.6 sec., not far off the Dolomite Sprint/RS1800 league. More astonishing still was the fuel consumption: a best of 39.1 m.p.g. and an overall figure of 31 m.p.g. But both cars were afflicted by a bad carburetter flat-spot. A deliberately weakened mixture, perhaps?
Since we tested these cars, rather ugly American-style bumpers have been fitted for all markets, together with one or two other modifications, but the main specification remains the same.—C.R.