It would make for an unlikely twin test. Just six years separate my 1995 Citroën ZX 16v and Darren Leslie’s 1989 Audi 80 S, but in reality the two cars are worlds apart.
The B3 Audi 80 was launched back in 1986, but by the time the Citroën ZX arrived in 1991, Audi had already launched the B4 version. The Audi 80 was a premium saloon, with a premium price tag, built for the discerning buyer. The Citroën ZX was a value-driven hatchback with a utilitation feel to it.
So why on earth would PetrolBlog put this unlikely pair at the top of Zig-Zag-Hill on the Wiltshire/Dorset border at a ridiculously early hour? Well Darren happens to be a good mate, but it’s been a while since we’ve got together. And with the Audi 80 still fresh from its recent hibernation, it was high time I took another look at it.
And whilst Darren is all-too modest about his car, the Audi 80 is a peach. Darren will quite happily spend a few minutes pointing out the bits which aren’t perfect, but they’re few and far between. Seriously, it doesn’t look any different now to when I first ‘met’ it back in the early 90s.
Let us compare and contrast for a moment. Darren’s Audi was originally owned by his father, before he made the sensible decision to buy it when his dad ‘upgraded’ to an Audi A3. I’m led to believe Darren’s father instantly regretted the decision, but welcomed the power steering in the A3, something the 80 lacks.
I probably shouldn’t mention that it was a young Darren who advised his father not to tick the power steering option box when the 80 was ordered at Mann Egerton Christchurch, all those years ago. The sight of a now middle-aged Darren wrestling the steering at low speeds makes me think Darren is now regretting that advice, too.
Fast forward 25 years and the Audi 80 has travelled a mammoth 185,000 miles and yet it still looks as fresh today as it did in 1989. It’s a testament to the love and care lavished on this car that – having emerged from a lengthy period of hibernation last year – it passed its MOT first time, with no advisories.
The Citroën ZX 16v has travelled 135,000 miles fewer than the Audi 80 and has only had two owners prior to me. But whilst Darren’s car is fortunate to have lived in a garage for most of its life, the ZX grew up on the streets of London.
As a result, the bumpers have seen better days and the paint has faded in a way that only red cars from the 80s and 90s can. And despite its low mileage, things are already starting to go wrong. The digital clock no longer works, the radio will only tune-in to BBC local radio stations, there’s a distinct whiff of petrol and the ABS warning light is showing periodically.
Everything can and will be fixed. But whilst Darren has only minor niggles to sort, the ZX 16v is in need of proper care and attention.
There’s a well-worn and best-avoided cliché that argues they don’t make them like they used to. And in the case of the B3 Audi 80, this is so very true. Whilst it may lack the active and passive safety features of modern cars, there’s a solidity and sense of reassurance about the 80 that new cars cannot match.
A year before the launch of the third generation 80, Audi was the first manufacturer to put a fully-galvanised bodyshell into mass production, with the 100 and 200 range of cars. The Audi 80 benefited from this and was the world’s first zinc-galvanised medium-sized production car, with Audi offering a ten-year anti-corrosion warranty.
But it’s not just that. Close the doors on the 80 and they shut with a reassuring thud, the kind of which I’ve only ever experienced on my old Audi urS6 and father’s Rover P6. Make no mistake, the Audi 80 is a class act.
It looks particularly good now it’s back on its original wheel trims and Darren is full of praise for the Avon Ice Tyres he’s currently running. They’re comically narrow, giving the 80 an unusual stance at the rear end, but Darren believes the car is better to drive as a result. He was also quick to point out that the radio aerial on the rear wing is a replacement item, with Audi telling him it was the last one left in the UK.
And matters of the aerial kind are important to readers of PetrolBlog.
For differing reasons, we will never part with our respective cars. For Darren, his Audi 80 is a family treasure. He can still remember the time when – as a 14-year-old boy – he joined his family as they picked up their brand new car from the Audi dealer in Christchurch. For anyone growing up in that area, you may still remember the radio ad from the time – “Mann Egerton, for Audi and VW, we’ve got the edge”.
Sadly, the dealership has long since gone, replaced by a bleeding furniture warehouse.
And I’ll never sell the Citroën ZX 16v, partly because of its rarity, but also because, pound-for-pound, I’m not sure I’ll find a car that delivers greater driver satisfaction. Not enough to warrant parting with the car anyway.
Having spent time chatting about the relative merits of our respective cars and gazing across Cranborne Chase, trying to work out which house formerly belonged to Madonna, we made a leisurely descent down Zig-Zag-Hill, along the old A30, before spending time at the Haynes Motor Museum.
On the way, we stumbled Causeway Garage, a relic of the old A30, having shut its doors for the final time in 2009. Old magazines, maps and oils still lined the shelves of what was once a thriving petrol station, conveniently situated on what was then the main road to the south west. Once upon a time, cars like Darren’s Audi 80 would have stopped off en route to a family holiday in Devon or Cornwall.
Now it stands empty, with few people even giving it a second glance. A poignant reminder that time waits for nobody and that, much like the cars we all adore, none of us are getting any younger.
Enjoy your cars, whatever they may be. And make sure you take time out to catch up with old friends. Especially if they own something as wonderful as Darren’s Audi 80.