Created by Ferdinand Piëch in the early Eighties, Audi V8 took on Mercedes, BMW at their own game, forged path for A8, S8.
Go to any Audi dealer today, and you’ll be surrounded by luxury performance. From the S3 to the R8, nothing in the showroom will leave you wanting for excitement behind the wheel. Even Audi’s crossovers and SUVs can go off the line at a moment’s notice.
It wasn’t always the case, though. Audi had to work to get to monsters like the RS 6 Avant and S8. Andy of Big Car has the story of Audi’s start towards performance, a short-lived machine known as the Audi V8.
“The V8 is an almost-forgotten luxury car from Audi’s late 1980s lineup,” said Andy, “like the Audi 200 before it. It’s easy to get it confused with the A8 that came after it, a car that drove Audi to new levels of opulence that allowed it to compete with the likes of BMW’s 7 Series and Mercedes’ S-Class.”
Before the V8, though, a foundation had to be built. Funnily enough, Mercedes laid the first stones when it bought Auto Union, pumping up the performance by dropping inline-fours into the engine bay. However, it would be Volkswagen who would take the reins in 1964, leading to the rebirth of Audi itself. From there, Ludwig Klaus fired the first shot at Mercedes with the Audi 100. Yet, more needed to be done before Klaus’ former employer and BMW finally took notice.
“Ferdinand Piëch, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, was a rising talent in Audi,” said Andy, “having led the work to the design the five-cylinder engine. But in Audi’s mind, it was that five-cylinder engine that was holding back Audi’s aspirations to move upmarket.”
Thus, Piëch took on the task of building Ingolstadt’s first V8 back in 1984. The result was an aluminum 3.6-liter, 32-valve V8 resembling two of the Golf GTI’s 16-valve inline-fours fused together. Its home, meanwhile, received tons of luxury touches, from walnut trim to heated rear seats in Connolly leather. Meant to be the Audi 300, it hit showrooms in 1988 as the Audi V8.
“Piëch launched the car with typical German understatement,” said Andy, “but the V8 itself was the epitome of understatement: a car that looked like Audi had simply fitted a couple of Golf engines to a warmed-over Audi 200 that didn’t look much different from an Audi 100 launched six years earlier.”
Alas, the Audi V8 struggled to gain traction with fans and against the competition. The 100 and 200 possed a lot of the V8’s luxury features for a lower price, for one. Not to mention the V8’s V8 falling short of the performance mark at the start. And, of course, Audi was still thought of as a nicer Volkswagen, not a luxury car builder. Yet, despite the V8’s failures in the marketplace, it did pave the way for the A8 and S8, and Audi’s final step into the company it is today.