My first import was my best — and worst — car

My first import was my best — and worst — car

Remembering the glories and the griefs of owning that Audi

Editor’s note: November is Import Month on the Journal. Get all the news you could ever need about Italian, German, English, French, Japanese and lots of other cars at our dedicated page.

As a kid, I dreamed of owning one of those cool sports cars advertised in the classified section of the Chicago newspapers each weekend. But when it came time to buy my first new car, I bought a Rambler Rebel, primarily because my grandparents had been well treated by the local dealer. 

Fast forward a couple of years and my next new car was my college graduation present to myself. I visited the Pontiac store to see the GTO, but it was too pricey and I didn’t want the lesser/standard Tempest, so I went down the street to the Ford store and bought a fastback Mustang, a car enjoyed until it was broadsided by a man who ran a stop sign.

At the time, I was a couple years into my first post-college job and was determined to replace the Mustang with a car that would earn me membership in The Furrin Group, the local import owners club. (Back in the 1960s and early ‘70s, they weren’t called “imports,” they were foreign cars, and that adjective meant both “not from around here” and “strange and exotic,” and, yes, even “weird.”)

Audi introduced its 100 LS as a 1968 model, its first venture in what its called the “upper executive” segment

So my bride and I set out to do test drives, only to discover a Goldilock’s dilemma. We tried an MGB-GT. Too harsh. And then a Porsche 914. Too small. But we finally found one that fit just right, a 1971 Audi 100LS, a two-door sedan in a dark forest green shade with tan faux-leather interior.

That 100LS was best and the worst car I’ve ever owned. 

Best because, with proper cold-weather tires, it drove like a snowmobile through Michigan winters. Worst because of an ignition flaw that had me pulling the spark plugs (and her cleaning them while I ate breakfast) every morning when the temperature were below freezing, which was pretty much every day of the Michigan winters.

Years later, when my career had taken me from writing about sports to writing about cars, I was at a dinner with a group of Audi engineers and mentioned my experience with the ’71. 

They gave each other a knowing look. 

“Yah,” they responded, almost in unison. “We have a problem with that car.” 

Mine had two fewer doors, but was the upscale LS model

And then they explained the mistake they’d made in the development of the car’s electrical system and its cold-weather starting problem.

However, they never did explain why, during a prolonged rain storm, the headlights would go dark for a second or two, then come back on, and a few miles later would repeat the Lucas-like terror. 

Nonetheless, to this day, I’ll always think of that Audi as my best — and worst — car. I put car in italics because lately I’ve owned, back-to-back, Nissan Frontier crew-cab pickup trucks (import brand but American made). They are the best motor vehicles I’ve owned. Thirteen years and nearly 180,000 miles on the first one and five years and 150,000 miles — and counting — on the second. 

My 100 LS was wonderful when the weather was wonderful, but a cold-start nightmare during Michigan winters

By the way, our plan when we bought the Audi was to drive it for a few years and then move up to a Mercedes-Benz. But by the time we needed to change cars —  tiring of  trying to wedge a baby seat into the back seat of a two-door vehicle — car prices had escalated to the point that not only could we not afford a Mercedes, we couldn’t afford a new Audi. 

What did we buy? A Volkswagen, a Dasher station wagon.

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  • automobile editing
    November 6, 2018, 2:01 AM

    Your work outstanding! Great job as well as imagination. Thanks for sharing this image


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