The Audi 50 was a three-door hatchback available from 1974 to 1978. It was internally known as the Typ 86 at Audi.
Audi 50 Design and Development
In the wake of the oil crisis, many auto makers turned to lower displacement engines and smaller vehicles. These achieved increased fuel economy and decreased consumer apprehension about fuel. Some of the first on the scene in Europe included the Fiat 127 and Renault 5. Audi looked to break into this growing supermini class of automobiles with the introduction of the Audi 50 in August 1974. Development of the Audi 50 began in 1971 under the head of Volkswagen Group’s leadership Rudold Leiding, with Audi design’s Ludwig Kraus and Audi engineering team. Reports indicate the Marcello Gandini from the well-known Italian design house Bertone was also consulted during the process, and some of his notes were accepted but others not. It was set to be no longer than 11 feet 6 inches long with a maximum weight of just 700 kg. The length met the 11ft 6in mark precisely, while weight was kept to just 685kg. It was only available as a left-hand drive vehicle. The design of the Audi 50 strayed away from the usual Audi style. The hatchback design was unique for Audi, exchanging their usual boxy-saloon design for a sloping tail and rear hatch.
The Audi 50 was powered by a 1.1L engine. It was available in a 50 horsepower (50 PS) LS version and a 59 horsepower (60 PS) GL version. By no means was this a powerful or spirited driving machine, but it could zip around the city and sip fuel at a low rate, exactly what is was designed to do. This new engine, developed by Audi engineers, used a cross-flow cylinder head with an electrically-warmed carburetor that automatically controlled choke upon startup. It also featured a direct camshaft connection to the distributor and fuel pump. The Audi 50 underwent rigorous testing prior to its launch. The engine, drivetrain, and suspension were put through long rounds of bench and rig testing. And fifty prototype vehicles were constructed and covered 100,000 km each.
Features and Options
McPherson struts were used in the front suspension, while a torsion beam took care of the rear with trailing arms placed close to the hubs. The LS version used softer suspension while the GL’s handling was more sporty. Both LS and GL models of the Audi 50 were very well equipped for vehicles in the price range and size. The lighting controls were placed on stalks attached to the steering column, while a full bank of instruments including temperature gauge were displayed inside. Since the vehicles came standard as fully equipped, options were few but included a rear window wiper and wash system and a brake servo. The overall quality was found to be much superior to other in class rivals. Some critic reports indicated that even though the pubic had loved the VW Beetle and it was a difficult act to follow, the Audi 50 did an excellent job and might take the lead.
Fading Out into History
Many of the same features and platform as the Audi 50 were shortly introduced as a rebadged Volkswagen Polo. By 1978, the very similar yet cheaper Volkswagen Polo began rapidly outselling the Audi 50. Due to this, plus Audi’s desire to refocus on larger luxury vehicles as the energy crisis’ impact faded slightly, they discontinued production of the Audi 50 after a total of 180,812 units were produced. Audi kept its space from the ultra-small vehicle market entirely for multiple decades, until they launched the larger Audi A2 in 1999. But it wasn’t until the 2010 launch of the Audi A1 that they stepped into the truly small vehicle class once again.