Our resident Oldie, Jeremy Walton, admired Audi’s first generation TT for a decade: now he has found a Special One to own…
I confess, since 1970 I have developed a serial coupé ownership habit. There is no logic to paying more for a 2-door version of a saloon, so often the coupé case, but I am shallow enough to appreciate a crisply executed fastback. Plus, there are often territorial benefits such as improved handling/performance, boosted by lower weight and roofline.
My coupé CV covers Ford’s Capri in all editions, through Italy’s Lancia Beta coupé and Alfa Romeo’s GTV. BMW’s first generation 6 Series was mine for 16 years and many more 2-doors were simply the highest performance iterations of hatchbacks or saloons, particularly BMW M-cars or Ford Escorts. I listed Audi’s first TT (1996-2006) as part of a three-way short list, finally selecting the focussed charms of Lotus Elise in 135 Sport format.
What was special about the TT I bought? Among over 275,000 such Audis assembled in 1998-2006 Hungary, my quattro sport run-out edition of 2005-06 was a comparatively low production item, just 800 delivered to RHD UK. I had driven an Abt-tuned version of TT (the German specialists represented Audi and TT in the German DTM series) and a 3.2 (VR6) version with quick-fire PDK transmission, which had a gorgeous engine soundtrack, but actually only generated another 10 bhp over sport.
I toyed with simply tuning a cheap 225 hp TT, but decided to stick with ex-factory option as safest for resale value, because I was unsure I’d keep the TT long. TT is a fashionable vehicle, a slave to image and dull underpinnings. Hostile comments on forums like PistonHeads were another counterpoint to this Audi’s ownership.
The clincher was a committed cross-country run in the Elise on damp tarmac with a random 225 TT up ahead. That Audi stayed honourably in front, defying all those forum comments about its dynamic abilities. A TT is not a ‘proper’ quattro (it mechanically shares most with VW group front drive performers), but it does the job. Also, I could afford it and – obviously – it would be a lot easier to live with than the similarly swift Lotus!
Unexpectedly, when the Elise sold, I fell for a £1,000 BMW Z3 (see our projects…), which was fine for little over a year. By then I wanted more than 150 horsepower, even if it was suavely delivered by a 2-litre straight six. The Audi’s sharp lines swam back into focus as a colleague let me have a track ride in his £500 bargain basement 225 hp S-line example. The Lotus had financially done well and I fancied something that similarly kept (or even improved) over the secondhand purchase price, plus a splash of speed. After all, TT sport’s 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds and a 155 mph max. are not too shabby.
Like the Elise I chose, the quattro Sport featured a noble attempt to reduce weight (officially minus 75kg/165 lbs.) and a mild (plus 15 PS) horsepower boost from the turbocharged 1.8 litres. Additionally, those limited edition TTs offer a strong identity, especially in the Recaro Pole Position race-seats that I went after, rather than the option of Comfort (production) seating. Other weight saving moves aft of the racy seats included deletion of tiny back seats, a hidden harmonic damper, parcel shelf and spare wheel. That left space for a self-consciously styled rear strut brace to be added, hopefully stiffening body torsional strength along with the production steel braces in the 5-valve per cylinder engine bay.
Underneath 3.2 TT’s aero body kit, the battery was moved into the hatchback boot and there were tauter suspension springs, firmer dampers as part of a low ride height. Plus a set of 15-spoke 18-inch cast aluminium wheels, a half inch wider than standard at the rear and carrying small ‘eyebrow’ wheel arch extensions for legality, plus a matt black finish for the twin tailpipes. The duotone paint leads some to assume it is a convertible in the Phantom Black Pearl black/Avus silver combination I have, but this Sport derivative was not available as a convertible. Additionally, Alcantara leather part-trims that pair of competition-oriented Recaros, steering wheel, plus similarly grey suede-look gear lever knob and handbrake trim. All accompanied by quattro Sport badge within the style-conscious TT cabin.
Back in 2005, a TT quattro Sport cost £29,360 (equating to £45,000 in 2019). Today, I found most such TTs bunched between £6,500 eBay 100,000 milers and £12,500 for tastier sub-60,000 mile dealer offerings. I had the Z3 to trade, improved at low DIY cost to the point where I felt confident to try dealers instead of private sales. Following many online searches, I selected a target TT sport listed at a sniff under £8000 by Portfield Car Sales in Christchurch.
Fortunately, a trusted colleague, Chris Adamson, Hon. Secretary of the Guild of Motoring Writers, lives within walking distance of Portfield and inspected this Audi to see if it was worth a south coast journey. TT passed, with some valid reservations on interior condition at 85,400 displayed miles. Portfield then reduced the asking price to £7490.
I drove south with my 142,000 mile BMW and understood Adamson’s conscientious reservations. Cosmetically the exterior and engine bay were excellent, only fitment of a different brand tyre to the rest of the set a black mark on previous ownership maintenance standards. I was not enamoured with the state of the worn and grubby Alcantara trim to that unique steering wheel. Although the TT had two remote ignition keys, service records were patchy and there was not even an owner, service or radio manual or booklet to hand.
It was obvious the car had sat some time, but then my leggy BMW was hardly the epitome of a forecourt attraction. A little haggling saw the BMW on a modest profit on its 2017 purchase price and left £6240 to pay. The dealer agreed to supply and fit a matching Pirelli high performance tyre to the rear, offering receipted service for Air Conditioning, Haldex 4x4 clutch system, a replacement cam belt and three months warranty.
A few weeks later the Audi was ready and I apprehensively drove it 42 hot miles home. The omens were not great: on the forecourt, I could see the windows were dropped: sure enough there was no trace of air con on this 23ºC Summer day. The brakes seemed inert with long travel, but this Audi was a good-natured drive at a modest pace.
Surely sorting out some scruffy cockpit detailing, air con and brakes were minor snags compared with what I took on Lotus and BMW? At this press time I have covered only 800 miles in the TT, but I am a lot happier than I was on that first drive and hope the Audi is here for the long haul.
For Part 2 of JW’s Audi story click