Project Audi 90 quattro: Introduction

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December 12, 2007

By: Dave Hord

Following the same vein as the Audi UrS4 Project, AudiWorld considers another old-school project. This time around, we’ve got a 1988 90 quattro.

The 80 and 90 series of Audi’s replaced the 4000 series, starting with the 1988 model year. The cars featured a large step in both body and interior design, moving away from Audi’s famed square-cut look from the 80’s. Both the interior and exterior featured massive changes that would have appeared vastly different to customers walking into a showroom in ’88. Cosmetically, design and engineering points from this series of car can be seen right through to the current A4’s.

Mechanically, 1988 brought forth a number of significant changes to the Audi lineup. The new 80/90 series featured the next generation of quattro. Previous owners of Quattro vehicles were familiar with the diff-lock switch which allowed them to lock the center differential, center and rear differential or leave all the diffs running in an ‘open’ state. The new generation of Quattro replaced the center differential with a ‘Torsen’ diff, named for its “TORque-SENsing” abilities. With the new system, engine power was delivered to the drive axles with the most traction, without the need for driver intervention. The rear locking differential was retained, but a new electronic module unlocked the diff at speeds over 15mph.

The engine size for the new models was increased to 2309cc and they now made 130hp. Rounding out the changes for the mechanical side were ABS brakes, Procon-10 automatic seat-belt tensioners, improved crumple zones and fully galvanized bodies to resist corrosion. The ’88 Audi’s were the first Audi models to feature the now standard “10-Year Corrosion Perforation Warranty”.

This series of Audi 90, known by its chassis code ‘B3’, was sold from 1988 to 1992. In late 1989 the naturally-aspirated 20 valve engine was introduced, featuring an additional 30hp and 17 foot-lbs of torque. 1991 brought the introduction of the “Coupe Quattro” model, a two-door coupe version of the sedan. Besides the introduction of the new 20 valve engine, mechanically and cosmetically the sedans remained virtually identical throughout all the model years.

Financially, stock 80/90 series quattros range from about $1000 to $6000, with the Coupe Quattro versions and the 20v sedan versions commanding the higher prices. Generally very inexpensive to maintain, they are also fantastic platforms for modification with a variety of Audi engines fitting without too much difficulty. Recent years has seen an increase of support of these models from many companies such as 034 Motorsport, creating and even greater assortment of aftermarket part options.

Our 1988 Audi 90 was purchased two years ago with just over 300,000km on the clock. As is typical for this generation of Audi, the odometer stopped at 360,000km. The car is currently running with an estimated 400,000km on the body.

The original engine, still equipped when we bought it, was using a drastic amount of oil and soon afterwards gave out in a spectacular smoke show. The 5-cylinder engines are well known for being very strong, so some abuse early on must have been its demise. Wanting to keep the vehicle running, another 10-valve non-turbo motor was quickly installed to keep the car on the road. A recently failed radiator fan may have done some damage to the engine, but it still drives and pulls as hard as you’d expect, for a 19 year old motor with 450,000km. It does move the car, but not with anything resembling what we’d call ‘power’.

In fairness, this particular Audi may not be receiving the love and respect most Audi owners would provide to their cars. The purchase price was a mere $600, exactly the same price we’d expected to pay for a transmission to replace the worn unit in our rallycross car. In the last year we’ve replaced the oil once, loaned it to any and every friend who needed a car for a few days, ice raced it and generally abused it using any manner you could think of.

Need to move 8 mountain bikes without a pick-up truck? No problem, the ’88 90 quattro is available. Despite being a luxury sedan, it’s hauled firewood, building supplies, complete engine assemblies and piles of teenagers…all without a breakdown.

With its refusal to die and donate its transmission, we began to wonder if this car wasn’t destined for bigger and better things. Perhaps, just maybe, we’re sitting on the next project car?

In our next installment, we’ll take a look at three options for this project direction, and assess how far away from the goals this particular car might be.


  • Main Page: Project Audi 90 quattro
  • Photo Gallery: Project Audi 90 quattro
  • AudiWorld 80/90 Discussion Forums
  • AudiWorld Model Guide (links to Audi 90 info)
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