Audi80 and patriotism…

It’s funny how some things in life can change your point of view. Not just any old view, but long held beliefs, things you didn’t think would ever change.
Many years ago I was a teenager, honest. As a child I had it drummed into me to ‘buy British’, after all it was vital to the state of the nation that we all avoided imports and supported our indigenous industry, blah blah blah. But as a teenager I rebelled, I was an individual (just like everyone else) and decided that if the best product happened to be Japanese or German then that’s what I wanted.
Then something happened that involved a Ducatti. I had started earning a proper wage and wanted to upgrade my motorbike, my horrific old Suzuki XS was deeply shagged, both the headstock and trailing arm bearings were shot, it was like riding a hammock. So I looked in a range of voluptuous bike mags for inspiration and was very taken with the fantastically gorgeous Ducatti Monster, so off I went to the friendly local bike dealer to buy one.
Heartbreak awaited me, the salesman dutifully showed me a gleaming red example which I attempted to take for a test ride. But I didn’t fit.
I am just over six foot tall. I don’t think Italians are. It was like sitting on a child’s toy, my knees tucked into my armpits, this was a tragedy of epic proportions! But salvation was at hand, in the shape of a luscious green Triumph Trident 900 which not only fitted me but actually fitted perfectly. Cash leapt as if by magic from my hand, not only did I buy the bike but I also bought the dream, along with matching Triumph branded leathers, gloves and random Hinkley trinkets.

Triumph 900 Trident - Something to be proud of

It was, and still is, a fantastic machine. The sheer thrill and exhilaration can only be understood by fellow riders, its that good. Now sure there are other bikes that are either faster or more powerful, some might say better based on their own scale of good and bad, but for me it’s the best.
The reason is not just technical either, some of my friends at the time worked for Triumph, I learned stories about the development of my bike, met some of the people who did it and even took the factory tour. Twice.
The bike was good, the people were good, and slowly I started to feel pride in the little British flags on the back of the lustrous green and cream bodywork. So many times I have heard people say negative things about British industry, but here was solid proof that we could design and build a fabulous world class product. In fact this is the very reason John Bloor bought Triumph and built the new company in the late ’80s; just to prove that the Brits still had the ability and put all the nay sayers in their place.
Looking around I started to see a whole range of excellent British products, I bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner, Britool spanners and looked for locally produced food. All good.

My love of British engineering continued with buying this Alvis

In my career I had to drive a great range of cars, but for my own cars I started only buying British. As I have never been rich these were generally ten year old bangers, including no less than seven Rover SD1 V8s.

My first Rover SD1 racing at Cadwell Park 1992

Fast forward a few decades and I am searching for a very economical banger to carry me over 600 miles a week. So last year I bought a £500 Rover 420 SDi which regularly returned 55mpg and was generally borderline acceptable. But unlike my previous Rovers the drive experience was strangely un-involving, competent but dull. It went round corners well enough and the engine pulled well, in fact it could even be described as nippy, but never raised a smile. This annoyed me.

A good car but un-involving

Of course it is not an entirely British car, the floor-pan and suspension is Honda, similar to a Civic. And maybe it’s something to do with the perfect yet soulless way Japanese cars were designed back then.

Although thrashing the 420 round the Top Gear test track was fun 🙂

Anyway, eventually the little Rover had to go and as usual I started looking for a British replacement, but then Keith suggested I buy his old Audi 80 diesel. This sort of went against the grain, but maybe it was time for a change, after all Keith had frequently talk about how these old Audi’s were amongst his favourite drives.
So the deal was done. The first few thousand miles went by without too many worries, it’s returning an average of 50mpg and is reasonably comfy. The little rear wing and a lovely sports steering wheel hint at performance, but this is sadly lacking. It is much slower than the old L Series Rover, ponderous almost, but the steering was very vague with a tendency to wander on motorways. But on the whole a good solid car.
As you would expect with a 500 quid bargain banger there are a few ‘issues’; there is a curious whining noise which is road speed related but not load related, the odometer doesn’t work so I have no idea what the true mileage is, but the main problem was very heavy tyre wear on the front inside edges. This was obviously due to the tracking being too ‘toe out’ so I set about winding in the cunning German adjusters. This is were it started going wrong as they were rusted solid and quite difficult to access with big tools. Not so cunning after all.

Audi 80 proved German and British engineerg is similar

So drastic surgery was called for, out came the steering link rods, getting to the bulkhead mounted steering rack is very awkward and involved a complex array of universal jointed socket drives and some degree of swearing. Once removed it was clear to see where previous grease monkeys have tried in vain to force the adjuster round, the drive flats being badly rounded off and marks from pipe wrenches in evidence. But with the rod in the bench vice, the rust wire brushed away and a good dose of penetrating oil the lock nuts came free, then a heavy whack loosened off the clamp collars. But even then the adjuster was very stiff because the design has small slots in the rod ends that trap moisture and corrode the threads from the inside! Don’t talk to me about German engineering….

The only way to adjust the tracking was to strip out the rods!

Anyway, referring to the official tracking figures showed a fairly traditional (for that time) modest toe out setting. Back then the theory was to make all family cars under-steer so they were safer to drive by incompetent drivers, but I wanted something a bit more fun so I have set a modest amount of toe in instead.
The transformation was immediately noticeable, with a much sharper turn in to corners, a little more feedback and greater stability at high speeds, well relatively high speeds for a tractor engined barge.
And here’s the thing; it is now fun to drive, honest. Its involving in a way that the poor old Rover never was, even though the Rover went round corners faster. The feeling that a driver gets is a complex thing, highly individual and largely a mystery. Over the years I have developed a set of tweaks that suit my own personal taste, but other drivers may well not like it; soft springs, hard dampers, sharp turn in with progressive over-steer. I am perfectly happy with lots of body roll, I just set the suspension to give good traction when cornering hard with what ever degree of roll the car has, it’s not rocket science but makes a drive much more involving being able to feel the car moving about under me. The Rover didn’t really have that much roll, it cornered relatively flat, it was good but didn’t require much from the driver, maybe that’s why I never liked it that much despite desperately trying to.
But the Audi is now giving me all I ask of it, involving me in every manoeuvre in a most rewarding manner. So now I own a non-British car (as well as several other cars that are very British of course) and my state of mind is being questioned. It’s a foreign car and its fun, reliable (ish), economical and safe.
So there is only one thing for it, I will just have to make my own British car that works just as well. Current thinking is an Allegro with an L series diesel engine in……


About Ralph Hosier

I love exploring everything the world has to offer, the fabulous beauty and intricacies of nature, the stunning majesty and grandeur of the universe, and the fascinating range of chocolates available from the local sweety shop. I have led a charmed life, sure there has been extremes, but the highs far outweigh the lows. I get paid for arsing about in very fast cars, I get to write about them and amazingly get paid for this too. My days are usually filled by making prototype and concept cars for car companies, a dream job. I have lived many of my dreams, worked all over the world, raced cars built by my own hand (and hardly ever crashed really badly), seen things and done stuff. But nothing compares to the love of Diana and my son Peter, beyond my greatest hopes. I am a chartered engineer, a member of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), and of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) and I am a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers. A pleasing fact is that there are now more letters after my name than there are in it ;) R.Hosier B.Eng(Hons) C.Eng MIET MIMI MGoMW
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2 Responses to Audi80 and patriotism…

  1. Keith Adams says:

    Glad you’re enjoying the Audi. Shows I’m not quite irrational in my love of ald barges like this 🙂


  2. Rob Smith says:

    Like the post! I have a fondness for old barges as well. I occasionally browse the car ads for old V12 Jags and even owned a (thoroughly non involving) Rover 75 diesel for a while. As for British engineering, it’s a good job Mclaren’s back at full steam!

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