Given the relatively small number of Audis exported to America during the 1970s and early 1980s, and also the fact that there really weren’t any Audis to speak of during the 50s and 60s, the following for vintage Audi models in America is markedly thin. Parts for early cars, even those from the more popular early “quattro” era, are quite regularly obsolete. Collectors with these cars are often left to discovering them in some hidden trove or perhaps to order them from Audi Tradition in Germany. Perhaps they might get lucky with some of the number of specialists in the UK. As far as restoration, you’re on your own either in finding a capable shop or performing the work yourself.
For other brands, the landscape is a bit different. Larger sales numbers back in the day translates to greater availability for vintage-focused enthusiasts today. As a result, marques such as Audi’s sister brands Porsche, Lamborghini and most recently Volkswagen Commercial, offer restoration facilities in their own home towns back in Germany and Italy, and wealthier American collectors of these cars can but seldom do ship them across the Atlantic in order to take advantage of this service.
Another approach to demand for classic cars and restoration is that of Mercedes-Benz. That German brand maintains a facility in Stuttgart, but it has also opened a facility in Irvine, California to better and more conveniently serve its large group of American clientele.
Back in the pre-quattro era, Audi cars weren’t quite so exotic as those from Mercedes. Combine that with smaller sales numbers and little to no four-ringer presence at classic car shows in the USA, and most anyone would have to readily admit that there’s little business case for a restoration facility for vintage Audi automobiles… or is there?
A key advantage for Audi in today’s overall automotive marketplace is that it is an anchor brand in a much larger portfolio making up the Volkswagen Group. What if, instead of an Audi restoration center, the Volkswagen Group opened one or two facilities tasked with factory-quality restorations of all Volkswagen Group cars? Imagine a group-run facility that might restore everything from an ur quattro to a ’73 911 RS, a 21-window Microbus, Lamborghini Miura, Blower Bentley or even a pre-war Bugattis and four-ringed Horchs.
The Volkswagen Group has a keen eye for history. Classic parts divisions have been established at most of its brands, while Porsche, Lamborghini and even Volkswagen Commercial already have the aforementioned restoration framework of their own in their hometowns.
What if one or two facilities in the USA had a direct line to each of these brand-specific classic parts and/or restoration businesses back in Europe. They could put one in the west, say Southern California or Las Vegas, and another in the Volkswagen Group’s American home town of Washington, DC. Staff present could be trained to know the cars and know who to call at the various classic parts divisions. Higher-value jobs might see mechanics or specialists from the European hometowns travel and operate temporarily at the US facilities as needed on any given restoration project.
The idea hit me on a visit to the new Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. If you ever go for a visit, you’ll be immediately awe struck as you pass the entrance and enter their café. Hidden above the space are the fabled Porsche Archives, but more obvious to visitors is the restoration center seen through a large glass window. Sip a cappuccino and you can watch craftsmen work on any and all sorts of vintage Porsche models that have come here for the best possible restoration by those who originally built the car. The effect is magical.
So, what if this multi-brand Volkswagen Group of America restoration facility or facilities took on the same level of spectator enjoyment. Imagine a glass-walled shop in the heart of a busy Las Vegas Boulevard Casino or in a hip post-industrial neighborhood in L.A. much like the space Magnus Walker currently uses to build his outlaw 911s. Now imagine the same happening next to a busy restaurant within the bustling Reston Town Center in Northern Virginia, just minutes drive from Volkswagen Group of America headquarters in Herndon.
Of course there are other uses for such facilities. Mercedes uses their California location to buy and sell classic Mercedes-Benz models and to host car shows. The space might also offer the brands a place to house some of their American-based classic car collections – cars that are often hidden away and only seen at special events.
I’ll readily admit that I’m not sure of the economics of it all. Could the company make a profit on restorations, even high-budget jobs, in expensive locations like the Las Vegas Strip or Reston Town Center? Certainly exposure alone has value as the Audi Forum New York once proved, but this concept would offer a much better spectacle for people to see and interact with. If not, would the numbers make sense at more of a dedicated museum and restoration facility in one of those commercial complexes often located at tracks, much like the one that exists just a few steps from the Audi sportscar experience at Sonoma Raceway.
Whatever the case, it is Audi’s association with the Volkswagen Group that would be its asset within such an idea. Alone, an Audi restoration facility wouldn’t make sense. Together with its brand brethren, it would be a totally different equation.