The coolest ’80s coupe and the wild rally car it spawned – the fast Audi road car story starts here
THE KEVLAR DOOR swings open with just a flick of your finger, and you climb over the Group B rally car’s broad sideskirt and rollcage, settling into the tweedy Recaro bucket seat that’s set low yet still towers over the co-driver’s. You take it all in: the flight-deck of switches, dials and fuses, the braided hoses, the Meccano-like intricacy of the pedal box, the pipes on the passenger side that flow coolant from the radiators in the boot to the engine out front. Press the starter, try to hold the light-switch throttle at 4000rpm, ease up the fierce clutch… then drive away in the Audi Quattro S1 E2 you watched Walter Röhrl, Michele Mouton, Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist wrestle in the ’80s. Definitely pinching myself.
The first inkling that the Quattro would transform rallying forever came when Mikkola guested at the 1980 Algarve rally and, though his Quattro was ineligible for points, finished 30 minutes clear of the rear-drive opposition.
Co-driver Phil Short remembers the Quattro’s arrival. ‘We’d just come out of the Mk2 Escort. The Quattro had so much more power and grip,’ he says. ‘We knew something had changed when Mikkola passed a Lancia Stratos on the Monte in 1981.’
Quattro’s inception dates to Audi designing a four-wheeldrive military off-roader for Volkswagen. It became the 1978 Volkswagen Iltis, and a young test engineer named Roland Gumpert – later behind the Gumpert Apollo supercar – was in charge of pre-development.
‘During a test, we had about 30 front-wheel-drive Audis, but I was in the off-roader with no roof,’ recalled Gumpert. ‘It was very cold, and on the straights I found it difficult to keep up, but on the twisty sections it was easy because of four-wheel drive. I convinced my boss Jorg Bensinger that we should make a4