Calum Brown: Don't Do What I Did - Audi 90

Calum revisits his time with an Audi 90. In one way, he regrets everything. In another, he still regrets everything. 

Words: Calum Brown
Photos: Richard Gunn


The Audi 90 I ended up with acted like a grumpy teenager. It hated the world and everything in it. No matter the weather, situation or location my Audi 90 refused to do anything I asked of it. Run on all five cylinders? Start on the fourth prolonged turn of the key? Won’t. 

What originally began as a cold start issue exploded into an epic saga of engine investigation – following wires from bumper to bumper in the process, with a few eyebrow raising attributes discovered along the way, such as the white household kitchen switch connected to a mystery set of wires behind the handbrake. I still don't know what they were for... 

Although the engine was far from perfect even after extensive work, when it decided to offer forward motionthe driving experience was far from exhilarating. Powering along the main road and I could feel myself drifting off to la-la land, as the weird combinations of various blues in the cabin swirled together to represent a  dentist's sickly, dated waiting room.

I found myself questioning why I hadn't scrapped it on a daily basis, eventually nestling it away with a friend who would occasionally start the engine up on my behalf.  I would occasionally appear to remove it form his sight for a week or two, use it as daily transport and then drop it off again once it had pillaged my soul of all excitement. 

However, there came a time where I ended up in a spirited jostle against a mate on twisting b-roads, and throwing the Audi into the bends resulted in a stark revelation. Taking a corner on a crest of revs found the whole car came alive. Gripping the wheel and churning it around left me with that fresh Ronin feeling, except that De Niro and Reno had an Audi S8 at their disposal and remain rather more attractive than a Scotsman in a basic 2.3-litre Audi 90E.

As much as the trim colours were never to my taste, I can't deny that the interior was comfortable –  meaning that passengers remained relaxed as the body snaked around, claiming a roundabout in the name of Audis' everywhere.

Then there was the exhaust note, which crafted the same lulling tone a pilot uses to sooth passengers of a Boeing 747 upon kickdown. The boot was quite large too, which proved useful when CCW's features editor took another pot shot at my Austin Allegro, as he ended up eating his badly chosen words upon the boot lid coming down - after being forced to try the luggage space on for size. He eventually apologised and regained his freedom.

In essence, the Audi’s future was always uncertain. I had no space or time for it in my life, but unlike the gruff Saab 9000 I also used as a daily hack, which corners like a demented shopping trolley, the Audi had a twinkle in its eye I simply couldn't ignore. I tolerated it's bad behaviour - the brakes going on strike, the engine overheating, the outside trim falling off - but eventually enough was enough. 

Piloting my Audi 90 was akin to driving John Major. Sluggish, grey and living in the shadow of the previous tyrants before it. I really wanted to like it, but finding affection for its boring, dull, thirsty, cantankerous relic-like behaviour ended up sounding the death knell.

Mine had changed hands more frequently than a five-pound note, and although the model retains its fans, it looks like I’ve lived with the only Audi 90 left that just wanted to keel over and die. And unlike John Major, it didn’t get better with a curry. 

As much as I grew to relish the looks, I didn’t particularly enjoy the engine’s addiction to coolant, oil or my skinned knuckles. Neither did I find the radiator system’s inability to function in heavy traffic a delight. 

However, the biggest problem – by a country mile – was starting the damned thing. Due to a sensor issue it would take everything I could offer to crank the engine into life, flattening the battery in the process. 

Originally intended to alleviate my older, more decrepit classics from everyday abuse, the Audi spent most of its time sat on the street – with the Allegro taking on commuting duties. Which in reality meant I ended up taking the bus. 

With space tight and my spare time non-existent, the 90 was advertised for sale and – much to my surprise – it sold within a few days to Andy Jackson, an Audi enthusiast.

Usually when I sell a car on, I get pangs of instant regret as the deal is confirmed. Yet, with the Audi I never suffered the tug on the heartstrings. Sadly, I felt indifferent – a bit like when an annoying aunt finally stops chomping cake and lumbers out of the front door.

At least, that was until I actually started to reflect on the retro-tastic chunk of German engineering – and I had plenty of time to do so, because I’d agreed to deliver my outgoing Audi to its new owner. 

It wasn’t until the mechanisms coughed into life for our final jaunt together that I started to appreciate what the car was about. I could acknowledge that the cabin was comfortable, but it wasn’t until I hunkered down into the driver’s seat that I could fully register just quite how supple the support was.

The handling, as I have said before, was direct and exciting. The engine hum mixed with that exhaust note left any pop chart ‘song’ substandard by comparison. In fact, for the first time, I was really relishing the driving experience - as I knew this was the last time I would ever see it again. I even found myself scrutinising the dashboard components in a wave of 1990s nostalgia.

By the time I arrived in Bishop’s Stortford, there was an urge to turn back for home and cherish it forever. My grouchy attitude towards the Audi 90 had masked its many merits. I had been  in custody of a brilliant vehicle and never even realised. I sat behind the wheel before turning the engine off and found emotions for the Audi - something that never happened before. I was suddenly ridden with sorrow at seeing it off with someone else. 

After my mistake of parting with my Audi 90, I can easily recommend that you keep hold of one should you be lucky enough to hold ownership.

I wish its new guardian the very best of sporting luck. Just treat it with respect, unlike I did. 

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