My choices in vehicle ownership spawns lots of commentary from my friends and family. They’re always asking me “why on Earth” I choose to drive such odd cars, instead of a “normal” car. If you know me at all, you know that I have owned some pretty random vehicles. I’ve owned a few Maserati Biturbos, multiple Audi 5000 variants, a turbocharged first generation Ford Probe, and that’s just a basic start.
The truth is, I always idolized the quirky cars as a child. Most kids had a Corvette or Porsche 911 poster growing up. I had a Lotus Elise Sport 190 poster. I dreamed of owning a Maserati Biturbo. Instead of a common Porsche 911, I’d fancy a Lotus Esprit instead. While this doesn’t make sense to the general car population, it does for me.
Flashing way back to my very first car which was a 1986 Audi 5000 S, I immediately fell in love with the rarity and mystique of a quirky car. People would often gaze and try to figure out just what in the hell it was. In a small town flooded with Ford Escorts, SUVs and Mustangs, I had a very weird looking sedan in an abysmal color. I became hooked on the idea of not following trends, and not being a part of any certain group. I’d decided at a young age that I would do my own thing and just run with that.
It wasn’t very long after owning my old 5000 that I had moved on, a few vehicles later I had acquired a rather clean 1990 Ford Probe GT. This particular car was pretty cool to me, instead of the common second generation Probe, I’d had the more rare turbocharged model. Not much really happened with this car since it had developed a catastrophic transmission failure, and once again I had moved on. However, that car stuck with me for years in my head. I longed to own something odd like that again someday.
Several years later, I’d purchased another Audi 5000, this time I had found the very rare Turbo Quattro model with a manual transmission. I was sold on the car before I ever even went to look at it. I truly had no idea what I was getting into, and this Audi had changed my way of thinking for a very long time. I had heard all the maintenance horror stories with old Audi cars, yet I’d covered 200 miles just to bring it home through a blizzard. I had covered almost a year of daily driving, and the only problem the car had was a bad battery. Sure, the old CIS fuel system was finicky at best, but reliability was absolutely a strong suit for that old car.
Regrettably, I had sold the 5000 due to several electrical issues that seemed intimidating. The power windows did not work and a hot Tennessee summer was coming. The heater did not work, yet I’d made it through one of the coldest winters in Tennessee history. The Audi served me admirably and went on to a great home. I’d go on to miss that car for many years.
Flash forward to a few years ago, I’d owned my second Maserati Biturbo, this time a fuel injected model. My previous Biturbo was carbed and never really gave me much reliable service. I’d found an opportunity and jumped on it right away. I traded my beloved 1989 Jaguar XJ6 (a finicky car in it’s own right) straight up for the 1987 Maserati. The Jaguar was in need of a head gasket, but save for that issue, was an extremely reliable car for me. I was nervous, obviously the Biturbo has a horrible reputation for unreliability. However, that was anything but the case for me.
Now I’ve written a separate article about this particular car I’m referencing, but for the sake of this story, I’ll recap quickly. The Maserati was the single most reliable car I’d owned in a few years. There was never a single occasion in which I needed to get somewhere that the car didn’t oblige. Quite literally, it was without flaw. Everything electronic worked, the heater worked, the windows, I mean everything. On a -50 degree winter day, my Mother’s two year old Chevrolet Impala would not start. The Biturbo jumped it and gave it the chance to run. No, I’m not joking.
Once again, regrettably, life circumstances happened, and the Biturbo said goodbye to me, and went on to a new loving home. With that being said, owning that car gave me the confidence to tackle quirky car ownership. I’d serviced it myself, I’d kept it reliable with minimal fuss, I thought I was the man. So when the opportunity presented itself around six months ago to purchase my 1986 Audi 5000 Turbo Quattro, I did not think twice. It had a manual transmission, it ran and drove. The body was pretty well straight, and the frame was clean. I’d reminisced on my days of owning my other 5000 in Tennessee. What could possibly go wrong? For $1300, I figured not too much could.
This ladies and gentleman, is where things get sketchy. I still own this 5000, and let me tell you something right away. Be smarter than me, and buy a normal car. Want the Audi badge? Buy an A4. Want a turbocharged all wheel drive car to have fun with? Go buy a first generation Talon. Do anything, but don’t do what I did. Now that we’re getting to the point, I’ll break this down into segments for dramatic effect.
Cost Of Ownership
Seems cut and dry, doesn’t it? I paid $1300 for the car. In reality, it hasn’t REALLY broke down, but it hasn’t exactly been safely road worthy since the beginning either. I had purchased a set of RS6 wheels for a very cheap price, and was pretty excited to put them on. Except, 18 inch wheels don’t work on a 5000. So, we grabbed a fender roller and got to work. That is when we discovered the first of many major issues. The rear upper control arm on the passenger side was snapped in half, and the rear strut was also broken off at the mounting point. Seems easy enough to fix, doesn’t it? That is when we get into:
Not to be immodest, but I’m proudly at a point in my life that I can afford to fix major repairs, mostly because I sold my soul to truck driving. So, being the overly thorough person I am, we inspected the rest of the rear suspension. What we found was what we expected, thirty one years and over a quarter million miles made for a very sloppy suspension. My best friend Nathan works at a major auto parts retailer, and I had him order all new bushings for the lower control arms, since the lower control arms went “no longer available” many years ago. We went ahead and ordered new upper control arms, all four struts, some bushings, and we figured that would be easy enough.
So here is the sad news folks, it’s NEVER that easy with rare vehicles. For instance, I get the call from Nathan, he tells me that two of the bushings we need are discontinued. There is no stock anywhere. A few days later, he calls and tells me the front struts arrived, but unfortunately, the rears did not. They were also discontinued and nobody could source them. Frantically, I started searching high and low. Even the almighty parts giants at ECS Tuning told me in a very polite way, “Sir, you’re shit out of luck” and I began to freak out.
By some miracle, the rears arrived. Turns out, I got the last rear struts in existence for my car. The only others I have found are the OEM Sachs for $200 each, and there are only a few sets available. I said a quick thank you to the Gods above, and figured it would be smooth from here. Another newsflash, it’s NEVER smooth from here. I still did not have bushings for my lower control arms, and the bushings in the ones I have were absent. Reluctantly, I hit the forums and found a set of control arms off of an Audi 200, which is a similar car. They were in good condition, and beat what I had by a long shot.
I told myself, since we are already in there, better order the parts to replace my brakes at all four corners. By some miracle, the parts were in stock. A couple clicks later, I had the parts coming. What started out as a simple upper control arm replacement quickly snowballed into a repair costing over a thousand dollars to do correctly. Even then, everything wasn’t smooth.
I had ordered my components based off of my VIN number to insure accuracy, since there were parts changes in 6/1986. When do you think my Audi was produced? You guessed it, 6/1986 and my font brake pads were very incorrect. The vendor did not do much to help, and I ended up having to reuse my old pads on expensive brand new rotors. This did not make me happy, obviously since I frown upon this. Also, the control arms I had received had differences we ended up having to address. This theme had followed the car since day one. Everything from spark plug wires, to control arms arrived incorrectly.
It gets even better. My rear axles seals were also leaking, allowing the oil to leak from the rear differential. The rear driver side wheel bearing was toast. I ordered two new wheel bearings and axle seals. Now, before I even open that can of worms, you know what comes next. The parts arrived incorrectly, and the correct ones are no longer available. I by some stroke of blind luck found a rear wheel bearing that was correct, and Nathan cross referenced the axle seals by size, and we finally had what we needed. A simple weekend repair turned into a stressful two week ordeal, simply because of parts scarcity.
Working On An Obscure Vehicle
Admittedly, Nathan has the horrible job of doing the repairs. Honestly, he is far more skilled than me, and I sleep better at night knowing things are done correctly. With that being said, this comes with many challenges of its’ own. For instance, that basic Craftsman tool kit you got as a wedding gift years ago, well, it’s not going to cut it. Ever heard of a triple square fastener? If you haven’t, get familiar before you buy odd ball European cars, and be prepared to spend a lot of money in specialty tools just to do even basic repairs. You may think I’m exaggerating a little here, but I promise you, I’m not.
Also, very little information exists about even basic torque specifications and repair procedures. You’ll find very quickly that Facebook groups and model specific forums are your best friend, without them, you will fail, bank on that!
Insuring An Odd Non-Exotic Car
Let’s see, Geico says if I wreck my car and it becomes “totaled” I would receive $3200 for it. I surpassed the $3200 investment mark a while back. You can see where I’m going with this.
So Why Do You Own Something Like This?
This question never has a good answer, and now you see why I say to stay away from cars like this. I do it because it is my passion. You’d think finding parts for a nearly extinct Maserati was hard, but you’d be wrong. In comparison to my Audi, the Biturbo is a Civic in terms if ease of acquiring parts. If and when I blow out a rear strut, or need another rear wheel bearing, I’m going to be in trouble again, and the stress of finding parts starts all over. This is only the beginning as well. This is a low production car that is now 31 years old, and there isn’t exactly a huge following for them. So when you do finally find parts for them, you’re going to pay premium prices for those items.
What I’m trying to tell you is this, buy a car like mine because you truly want to own it. Do not buy it because it is “different” or “cool” because I’m being brutally honest with you, it is not worth it, and it is never going to be worth it. Resale value isn’t terrible, but the resale market is. Need to sell a car like this in a pinch and I assure you, not going to happen. When you own something like a Biturbo, or an old Audi, you own it because you embrace the quirks, you respect the heritage it has, and you love the nostalgia it brings.
For many people, they want to get noticed. Admittedly the Biturbo was good for that, it sparked conversations constantly. However, nobody is going to come up to you and say “dude cool car” or even respect the hell you have been through to own and maintain that car. The positive to this is, when someone does approach you about your odd car, chances are they know it, own or have owned one like it, and you form some pretty cool friendships because of it.
It is very easy to drop $5000 on that cool car you like, but the question you have to ask yourself isn’t whether you can afford the car, it is can you afford to maintain it, are you resourceful enough to spend hours trying to find something as stupid as a wheel bearing, and are you really prepared to be asked constantly why you won’t just buy an A4?
My Name is Matthew, and I’m an author of mediocre articles. If you’d like to follow me and read more of my thoughts on random vehicles, you can do so on my very mediocre and very new website www.powershiftautomotive.com we also upload podcasts each Sunday.
Thank you so much for taking time to read my article, and hope to see some feedback from each of you!