The coolest ’80s coupe and the wild rally car it spawned – the fast Audi road car story starts here

CAR (UK) - - Car Interactive - Words Ben Barry | Pho­tog­ra­phy Barry Hayden

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


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