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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.

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