Recently I was asked: “Have I ever bought a car that turned out to be a dog?” I tilted my head up and to the left (why do we do that?), gazed into the heavens and remembered my Audi 80 GLE. Yes, that was a dog, but it was all my own fault.
I can't remember the reasons why, but I was in desperate need of a car. I think I had just panicked-sold my Capri 2.8i Special (that's a story for another day) and needed wheels to get me to and from the university. Step forward my sister, who knew of a cheap-as-chips Audi 80 GLE available in Bournemouth.
Some say you should never buy a car from a friend or relative, but given the seller was a friend of my sister's then-boyfriend, that argument didn't really apply. He was a friend of a friend of my sister. He could just as well have been a chap I met in the supermarket.
The B2 Audi 80 was a car I grew up admiring. I loved the three-box styling, not least because it looked remarkably similar to the cars I once drew in the back of my school textbooks. Sure, it was getting on a bit – about 17 or 18 years old, if my memory serves me correctly - but back then the Audi badge was still cool.
Giddy with excitement at the prospect of owning my first Audi
You can see where this is going. A purchase driven by desperation and a recommendation from a mush in Shepherd's Bush, this was a recipe for disaster. But like any self-respecting car nut, I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of owning my first Audi.
So I turned up at the seller's flat in Bournemouth – sister and girlfriend in tow – to take a look at the cheap-as-chips Audi 80 GLE. And I continued to make mistakes.
It was dark: never a good time to view a car, especially one painted black.
It was raining: again, it's advisable to view a car when the heavens aren't open.
I didn't take it for a test drive: hey, the seller's a friend of a friend of my sister. What could go wrong?
I can't remember how much I paid for the Audi, but I have a figure of £300 in the back of my mind. It was either that or face the prospect of public transport, which didn't exactly appeal. So we agreed on a deal and I said I'd return with the money the following day. Sorted.
At first glance, everything looked fine. The black paint - while not exactly gleaming - lent the Audi 80 a whiff of class and sophistication, while the alloy wheels – which I seem to recall were from the GTE – looked ace. I could use words like 'ace' back in those days.
It was as though Fungus the Bogeyman had exploded inside the Audi
But then I opened the driver's door and, whoa... what on earth is that? I have never seen a more green interior. It was as though Fungus the Bogeyman had exploded inside the Audi, with the Jolly Green Giant lending a hand with the cleanup operation by throwing mushy peas at every flat surface.
The seats were green. The dashboard was green. The doors were green. The carpets were green. I swear even the steering wheel was green. Somebody had a field day speccing this Audi 80 back in 1981. Needless to say, he liked green.
OK, what the hell. It still looked great from the outside and I was sure I could come to terms with my new green cabin.
The problems started when we reached the Cooper Dean roundabout in Bournemouth. With my girlfriend following behind in her Rover 114 SLi, I went to adjust the rear-view mirror. Which promptly fell off in my hand. Cue much laughter from my girlfriend who witnessed the whole spectacle.
Never mind. I promptly chucked the mirror in the green glovebox and carried on home, hoping that would be the last of the problems. Only it wasn't.
It was Valentine's Day and I'd arranged a surprise meal for my girlfriend. This was another reason for rushing into the purchase. I mean, I couldn't have my girlfriend driving to the surprise meal. How ungentlemanly would that be?
I remember the night was freezing cold, but even with that in mind, I was keen to show off my electric windows. After a succession of Capris and the Daihatsu Charade, I wasn't used to such luxuries. “Try your window,” I suggested, which was fine, until it was stuck in the down position. No problem in the height of summer, but when the temperates are below freezing and you're trying to impress your girlfriend, not so good.
Having the left the window wide open while we enjoyed an Italian meal, we spent what seemed like hours trying to close the window, me pressing the switch, with my girlfriend attempting to push the window up with her hands. It worked – eventually – but we vowed never to open the windows again. If we needed air we'd simply use the sunroof, which was fine until the handle broke off in our hands.
It's fair to say the Audi 80 GLE was, quite literally, falling apart.
My friends were all too happy to jump into the Incredible Hulk's boudoir
The next day I drove my new pride and joy to university, eager to show my uni chums what I had bought to replace my Capri. At first, it was met with nods of approval, with my friends seemingly impressed with the premium German saloon and its GTE wheels.
But then they looked inside and promptly fell about laughing. It was the green interior, you see. Naturally, I joined in the fun, keen to disguise my embarrassment.
That said, my friends were all too happy to jump into the Incredible Hulk's boudoir when I offered them a lift to our off-site study centre. Every week we ventured to Lulworth in a ropey old minibus, driven by a fellow who put speed above safety. We all had a sense that we were only ever two minutes away from a crash of epic proportions.
A few miles into our journey, my friend Daniel, who was travelling in the front, went to adjust the green front seat. He was then thrust backwards as the seat gave way, leaving him staring up at John, who was travelling in the back. Brummie John wailed as 12-stones of Daniel landed on his knees, much to the amusement of Sarah, who was travelling behind me.
Sadly, Daniel was unable to put the seat back in its upright position, leaving John with the unenviable task of holding it up for the remainder of the journey. Meanwhile, Sarah and Daniel proceeded to identify all the other faults and niggles with my Audi 80, of which there were many. I'd already advised them not to use the windows.
Needless to say, when given the choice of travelling back in the death-trap minibus or the should-have-been-scrapped-weeks-ago Audi 80, my friends took their chances with the Transit. I travelled back alone, with the passenger seat in a rather dodgy looking reclined position.
The term 'death trap' may have been muttered
Did I mention the Audi 80's MOT was about to expire? I'm not saying the friend of a friend of my sister knew what was coming, but I wasn't especially hopeful of my German shed sailing through its MOT.
No matter, because my father had a mechanic friend who offered to give it the once over before I sent it for testing. That signalled the end for this particular Audi 80 GLE.
Once the mechanic had finished laughing at the green interior, he reeled off a list of faults as long as your arm. The term "death trap" may have been muttered as the 80 was condemned to future of 'spares or repair', with the emphasis very much on spares. The mechanic even insisted that my dad shouldn't risk the 10-mile journey home, as it would be too dangerous.
I think I managed to sell it for scrap value, with my classified ad failing to mention the green interior. What became of it I'll never know, but I'll never forget my time with the Audi 80 and its green hell interior. Cheap cars aren't as rubbish as they used to be.
Edited February 2018, to include a photo of the death trap Audi 80.