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Audi 100 Is this the cleanest retro saloon on the planet? We’d certainly bet our last couple of Deutsche Marks on it!
Ruben Mellaerts’ Audi 100 is as clean as a surgeon’s slab and as sharp as his scalpel. But there’s so much more to this build than just rims, altitude and a dab of polish…
RETRO RIDE: AUDI 100
“The closer you look, the more delicious details you find”
Running a retro car means different things to different people. For some it’s about reliving the honest simplicity of a lost age; of maintaining an old car as a sort of rolling time capsule, keeping every element true to its original state. For others, it’s about using a cool old motor as a base to build something thrilling, optimised for modern use in a form that pre-dates moulded plastic bumpers and catalytic converters. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the former are all concours pedants and the latter are bloodthirsty jigsaw-wielders with no sense of heritage – us car geeks can’t be pigeonholed that easily. What it basically comes down to is that we all like driving old cars, and we all have different ideas about what happens under the skin. Right?
With that in mind, Ruben Mellaerts’ mission statement is clear: “I wanted to retain the classic look,” he explains, and it’s just as simple as that… except that, no, this ’1975 Audi is very far from simple. Ruben appears to be some sort of dark master of artifice, hiding in plain sight while he mischievously wisps a cloud of retro magic before your very eyes. Sure, at first glance this car may appear to be a shiny, original mid-seventies saloon that’s sitting artfully low, but the closer you look, the more delicious details you find yourself unearthing. If he just wanted to ‘retain the classic look’, he’d have carried out a straight resto, wouldn’t he? But these still waters, they run deep.
Ruben’s hoodwinking you with details, and you’ve inadvertently sleepwalked right into his cunning scheme. Don’t feel bad though, we all did just the same. But as the myriad tweaks unfurl, you’ll be so glad you did.
“I bought the Audi on the internet from two old people in Peer, here in Belgium,” he begins, with the world-weary look of a man who’s, y’know, seen things. “It was completely rusted on the inside and underneath the car, but it looked very good at the outside… that was the biggest problem!” He uses the word ‘problem’, but Ruben’s evidently not fazed by such trivialities – there’s no more mention of rust throughout the remainder of the conversation, it’s just implicit that he dealt with it in the manner of a mobster with a leaky informant. He just settled it, no questions asked.
“I did the deal with the old folks, poured in some fresh oil, drove it home, sorted it out,” he says, brilliantly enigmatically. The dude’s a pro.
Well, in fact that literally is the case, as the name RM Concept should demonstrate – for that is the name plastered across the bespoke air-ride setup. Yep, Ruben doesn’t just dabble in retro tinkering, he develops systems for others to buy too. And yes, that low-slung stance is indeed thanks to air-ride. “It’s running a custom RM Concept system,” he elaborates, “with shortened Bilstein dampers, my own bespoke uniball topmounts, twin Viair compressors and AccuAir valves.” The rear axle’s been shortened as well, owing to the fact that he’s bolted on some uber-scene-friendly rims that rock quite a lot more girth than stock; the fashionforward #BBS RS sixteens measure 7.5-inches apiece on the front axle, and a robust 8.5-inches out back.
Of course, any chump can pull off the simple ‘stop, drop and roll’ trick, jamming natty rims and suspension onto a stock old motor and letting that be that. But that’s very much not Ruben’s style. You know how we were talking about this car revealing more and more swanky details? Well, let’s dive in.
For starters, there’s the paint. It may look factory stock, but there’s a twist: “It’s a little bit different to the original,” Ruben grins. “It’s a bit of a secret, couple of shades of blue, little bit more iso green...” The exterior chrome has been refinished, with the bumpers neatly contemporised with carbonfibre end caps, and have you clocked the roof? Gorgeous bit of hot-rod lace paint there – it’s an old trick whereby you stretch a sheet of lace over the panel, fog it with a few light coats of contrasting paint, then remove it and enjoy the adoring gazes of passers-by. Lace paint is for winners.
Another mind-blowing element of the build resides beneath the bonnet. Now, your eyes may well already have flitted to the filthy shots of the spreadeagled bay, in which case you’ll have an inkling of what’s gone on: in essence, Ruben’s retained the stock 1,900cc motor (albeit fully rebuilt and treated to some shimmering chrome accoutrements), and focused on giving it the most sumptuous home it could possibly desire. The whole bay’s been shaved, smoothed, wire-tucked and painted to resemble the kind of scene you’d encounter if you dropped the engine from your 1/24-scale Airfix model into the bizarrely smooth lap of your unclothed Action Man figure. It’s all just improbably unadorned, aside from the all-action classic four-banger. Impressive, no?
But despite the huge amount of effort that’s been expended beneath the hood, that’s not actually Ruben’s favourite part of the build. “I just love the interior,” he smiles. “It was trimmed by R&R Autbekleding; the headrests and rear armrest were removed, and the seats covered in leather along with the centre console and doorcards.” It’s a magnificent job, the door trim wearing Bentley-style diamonds to imbue an element of the louche, while the seats feature studs that call to mind a wingback chair in the smoky corner of a 1920s London gentlemen’s club. It’s sort of meta-retro really, and the diamond/leather interface seemingly can’t be contained either, spilling across into the engine bay like some vast swarm of irrepressible opulence.
“It took about three or four months to get the car this way, working day and night on it, and in total it’s probably cost me about Ð12,000,” says Ruben. “But if customisation is in your blood, you cannot resist, can you? I had some ideas, and once I started working the ideas kept coming. In fact, I still have ideas, it’s not done yet; I’d like to have a completely new and much younger engine in there for more power, and do further work with leather and chrome.”
This is all entirely understandable. For people like Ruben, such things are never finished, they’re relentlessly subject to improvement. Which seems like an odd thing to say, because from the current standpoint, we reckon it’s pretty much perfect already. “I built the car with a lot of love,” he smiles. “She’s an old lady, and I treated her with respect. And people like the results, she’s a proper neckbreaker now!”
Observers certainly get a lot of time to check out those crisp lines, as Ruben loves to cruise low ‘n’ slow in this slick old-school barge. He may say that more power’s on the cards, but for now it’s exactly what it needs to be – a casual, low-slung badass, built unpretentiously to rumble as an art piece in the sunshine. Ruben’s definition of ‘retro’ is hard to argue with.
TECHICAL SPECIFICATIONS: ‘1975 Audi 100 C1
TUNING: 1.9-litre four-cylinder petrol, fully rebuilt, #Weber carb, optimised cooling, engine block painted, chromed air filter and cam cover, fully shaved, smoothed and wiretucked engine bay, 5-speed manual ’box
CHASSIS: 7.5x16- inch (front) and 8.5x16-inch (rear) #BBS-RS ceramic polished 3-piece split-rims with black hardware, #RM-Concept custom air-ride system with shortened #Bilstein dampers, bespoke uniball top-mounts, #AccuAir valves and 2x Viair 480c compressors, shortened rear axle, stock brakes painted in high gloss black
EXTERIOR: Fully repainted, chrome refinished, lace paint roof, carbon-fibre bumper end caps
INTERIOR: Custom leather retrim by R&R Autobekleding, headrests and rear armrests removed, period wood trim, new carpets, centre console trimmed in leather, sills trimmed in wood, custom leather doorcards, retro-styled MP3 stereo with Rockford Fosgate speakers, custom boot install comprising wood floor, compressors, air-tank and plumbed-in retro toolbox
Retro headunit is a master stroke! As is the classy retro toolbox.
Good job Ruben likes blue eh?
You could eat your waffle off that!
DRIVER: Ruben Mellaerts
You’ve got form with this sort of thing, then?
“Yes, my first car was a Mk3 Golf, and since then I’ve had a 3C Passat on air, a custom Mk5 Golf, I completely restored a Mk1 Golf, some scooters… and, of course, motorcycles. I love motorcycles.”
Why did you choose an Audi 100 C1 this time?
“It was love at first sight, and I wanted something unique.”
Anyone you want to thank? “Just me, myself and I…”