Vintage Views: Audi Coupe GT


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story by alan cesar

The sharp angles that defined 1980s car styling were supposed to look high-tech. They reflected the precision of new devices like CD players and digital watches. Unfortunately, a lot of those designs seem simply lazy or dated today.

If one company pulled off boxy with style look, though, it was the Volkswagen Group. Between the Giugiaro-designed Mk1 Rabbit and the rally-winning Audi Quattro, they clearly had the simple beauty of the box nailed down. The nimble and delightful nature of the GTI showed they had competent chassis engineers, too–ones who knew how to build a fun, front-drive car.

Enter the Audi Coupe GT. This two-door brought a mature sensibility to the GTI. It was less of a scrappy runabout and more of an upscale European sports coupe. It was available with a digital instrument cluster and came standard with rally-Quattro looks. The five-cylinder engine only added to its character.

That overhead-cam engine could push as much as 130 horsepower in its final, 2.3-liter version. Torque came in strong and at low revs. If its horsepower figures seem unimpressive for a 2500-pound car, remember that GM’s 2.5-liter Iron Duke couldn’t even push triple digits at the time.

Besides, ridiculous power is easy with these robust five-pots, and the sky is the limit when it comes to engine swaps. They share a bell housing with nearly anything the company made–except for the four-cylinder engines–so your options range from Audi’s 160-horsepower turbos to their howling 4.2-liter V8s. The turbocharged fives can eclipse half a kilohorsepower before you even remove the valve cover.

Those turbo engines come from the Audi 5000, and they’re incredibly plentiful. Prices for used Audis tanked after the “unintended acceleration” debacle in the late ’80s, so many decent cars got junked when they had only minor problems.

The cars have sprightly handling for their era, but as with many Audis even today, their weight lies ahead of the front axle centerline. That’s because the iron-block engine is tilted 27 degrees to the starboard. The twist-beam rear suspension isn’t Honda-sophisticated either. These factors ultimately limit cornering capability, but the unique sound of those oddball combustions will always make you smile–especially when it’s accompanied by boost.

Everyone outside of their rabid fan base–Audi Coupe fans are an obsessive bunch–has essentially forgotten these cars. Don’t bother buying one that needs lots of work. A decent driver will fetch between $1500 and $2000; just $6000 will buy the best-kept example in the world. We’ve spotted a well-prepped SCCA racer with lots of spares in the Audifans classifieds for $5500.

So start digging for spare change behind the seats as you browse the junkyard. Before long, you’ll have enough to buy the wheels to accompany your skinny tie and cable-ready TV. Then you can start planning a bonkers engine swap.

Shopping and Ownership

We talked to several hardcore Audi fans to get these tips. Big thanks go out to Huw Powell, Tony Hoffman, Nick Roshon and Cody Forbes for all their time and input.

The Coupe GT line began in 1984, but the late ’87 cars–the so-called special builds–were the most powerful Coupe GTs. These came with the NG-code 2.3-liter engine and rear disc brakes, which make them the best daily drivers. They also have a body-colored spoiler and mirrors.

Earlier engines can gain a bit of horsepower by using a camshaft from a turbo or special-build car. The exhaust manifold from a 4000 Quattro will add a few ponies, too, but swapping in a turbo is the hot ticket to cheap speed.

It’s very easy to do a turbo engine swap from an Audi 5000. You more or less bolt in the engine and bring over the wiring harness. It’s even easier if you install a MegaSquirt at the same time. You’ll need to do that eventually; the CIS system is effective, but it’s limited to about 200 horsepower.

The car is great for sprint racing and track days, but it’s not much of a LeMons endurance racer in turbo form. Larger radiators don’t really fit; this eventually causes cooling issues. By the end of the day, your car could be misfiring or even melting pistons. They’re strong in the rain, though.

The manual transmission is stout. Shifter bushings will wear out, but they’re still available and easy to replace. The three-speed automatic is very simple and easy for a do-it-yourselfer to rebuild. When the seals between the transmission and the final drive let go, it’s time for a teardown.

Later cars have a hydraulic clutch. The firewall will crack at its mounting point and prevent you from fully depressing the pedal. Reinforce the firewall to fix this.

Coupe GTs were rarely offered as a Quattro in the U.S. Converting one requires modifying the floor pan and basically swapping everything over. It’s not worth it.

Upgrade to the two-piece front struts and uprights from the 1988-’95 Audi 90 Quattro for more camber adjustment. You can go as far as swapping a complete front subframe from a B4-chassis car, which will also get you a 30-percent stiffer front anti-roll bar. Also, most parts are interchangeable from the 4000 Quattro and the 80 and 90 Quattros from 1979-’95, as the chassis are very similar.

Ground Control makes coil-over sleeves. Bilstein shocks are made for all four corners.

Recaro Trophy seats from a 16-valve Jetta or Golf will fit if you massage the rear slider brackets a little.

The interior plastics are easy to break, and replacement parts are hard to find. Though initially well built, the interior will become a rattletrap as these pieces come loose.

The odometer will stop working thanks to a gear that’s either broken or slipping on the shaft. Replacements are available on the Internet for around $18.

The hardcore ür-Quattro guys will pay top dollar for OEM parts in good condition–all the way down to seat belt covers and dash buttons. If you’re building a race car, you can make decent money by selling these bits.

The door handles are problematic. Keep the latch mechanisms lubricated, or they’ll break every few years.

Electrical issues do pop up. In later cars, relay the lighting circuits to protect the rotary-style headlight switch. Wires going to the doors will eventually break from years of flexing.

Avoid the digital dashboards. They’re problematic. You can convert them to analog dashes, but the job requires access to a complete wiring harness.

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