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This Audi Heralded a New Car Segment 50 Years Ago, and Its Siblings Are Still Around
50 years ago, Audi launched the 80, a car that established the B-segment vehicles and marked an important step in the carmaker's history; it was also the first Audi to get the coveted "Car of The Year" award for 1973.

This Audi Heralded a New Car Segment 50 Years Ago, and Its Siblings Are Still Around

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When Volkswagen bought 50% of Audi's shares in 1964, it had only one intention: to use the production facilities to build more Beetles. By 1966, the Wolfsburg-based carmaker had filled the Ingolstadt factory lines and was producing 60,000 units of its most important vehicle, the VW 1200.

But the story didn't end there. Audi already had stubborn engineers who secretly worked and proved to VW's management that they could still do something better, and that was the 1968 Audi 100. That model was a huge success, and Heinz Nordhoff, Volkswagen's CEO, approved the brand's continuation. The man who had tried to axe Audi was the one that gave it the green light.

Fast forward to 1972, and Audi was already a successful brand. Its front-wheel-drive vehicles were easy to drive and spacious enough to accommodate up to five people inside. But the carmaker was on the verge of something more important: the Audi 80 B1. Moreover, this time the car was not developed under a complete secrecy, like the Audi 100. The project was led by Ludwig Kraus, Head of Development, with the agreement from Volkswagen in the late '60s.

His idea was influenced by race cars, forcing engineers to find more ways to save weight. Moreover, he demanded a unibody vehicle in an era where many sedans still relied on body-on-frame construction. Thus, at the car launch in July 1972, the base, two-door version weighted just 835 kg (1,841 lb).

Sales started in October that year, but without being so spectacular. Yet, the car created a new segment: the compact sedan, or B for short. It was just 4.18 meters (164.6") long and featured a 2.47 meters (97.2") wheelbase. By today's standards, that's too short for a compact-segment sedan. Still, it was just about the right size in those years, especially for the European market.

Fast forward one year, and the first Oil Crisis had started. It had a massive impact on the car industry. In the U.S., carmakers had to comply with new emission regulations apart from rising insurance costs and the CAFE agreement. On top of that, gas prices skyrocketed, and the once looked-after big-blocks V8s were parked. Some of them were forgotten in barns for years only to be discovered nowadays by enthusiasts. But the Audi 80 was the right car at the right moment. Thanks to the newly-developed OHC (on-head camshaft) engines, the 80 had excellent fuel efficiency. It could sip, on average, just 9.6 l/100 km (29.5 mpg-U.S.). What's not to like about that?

The EA 827 engine family was developed by Franz Hauk and his team. Besides the base, 1.3-liter version, they also built up to 1.6-liter units, which produced up to 100 PS (98 hp) and were paired to a four-speed manual gearbox. Later, the carmaker also provided the vehicle with an option for a three-speed automatic.

Another significant advantage of the car was the independent, McPherson front suspension that provided excellent comfort. At the back, there was a semi-independent torsion crank axle with coil springs and shocks. Last, but not least, the braking system featured a diagonal braking diagram, with discs up front and drums out back. Audi had tried and managed to create a safer car than most of its competitors. That's why it grabbed the 1973 "Car of The Year" award.

The story didn't end up there, though. Audi improved the car's platform. After over one million units were produced in almost six years, in 1978 came the second generation of the Audi 80 (B2). While it was unusual for those times to have a sedan replaced that fast, the carmaker didn't want to wait. Instead, it understood all the downsides of the first-generation and created a better vehicle.

Even though it kept a similar appearance, it was a completely new vehicle. And yet, the 1978 model still relied on the same suspension setup, although more evolved, with a longer wheelbase, and more engines in the lineup. That car went on to be known in the U.S. as the Audi 4000.

But it was the B1 that changed the car industry forever, heralding the B-segment half a century ago. In 1996, Audi retired the 80 nameplate replacing it with the A4. A name that might sound familiar to many of you.

 Download: Audi 80 celebration (PDF)


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