“She’d polished up well after 36 years...”
Like Belinda Carlisle or Will Carling, Volkswagen’s Iltis played a pretty big part in my youth.
I studied all three with similar levels of dedication, admittedly with slightly different motivation.
Belinda Carlisle played at Staffordshire University’s summer ball in 1995; heaven was indeed a place on earth and that night it was Stoke-on-trent. I spilled some of my sixth – or possibly seventh – pint down the back of Will Carling’s coat in The Orange Tree in Richmond in 1999. But I couldn’t really say I’d met them.
It was the same with VW’S Iltis, until last week, when I came face-to-face with the thing that changed the sport I love beyond all recognition.
Of course I wasn’t aware of the Iltis at the time, I was more preoccupied with marbles or something similar in the late 1970s. But as the 1980s progressed and Audi’s stranglehold grew ever stronger, I dug deeper and devoured anything and everything I could get my hands on relating to the quattro and its lineage.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t love at first sight for me and Ingolstadt’s union of four driveshafts; I envied Phil Collins his jacket with ‘Four wheel drive’s boring’ on the back. Turns out didn’t make them for eight-year-olds.
Three and a bit decades on and we have to be honest, we have an awful lot to VW for. Today’s cars are special, even if they did come from something resembling an amphibian vehicle with a tent on the back.
Unlike Belinda or a full-flight Carling, the Iltis was pretty underwhelming. Bigger than I thought, she’d polished up pretty well 36 years after Freddy Kottulinsky drove her from Paris to Dakar faster than anybody else, but still…
Looking inside was even more of an eye-opener. It was, well it was just far too comfortable: velour seats, nice three-spoke steering wheel, maybe I even spied some carpet. It all seemed a touch too mundane. And, boy, she didn’t look any prettier in the flesh than she had in the books and magazines I’d pored over in my youth.
I checked myself, nodded to the bolt-upright windscreen, stared the bonnet-mounted spots square in the bulb, patted the bull-bars and said a silent thank you. Clumsy, awkward and ugly it might have been, but this was our history.
Should you find yourself in Berlin with a couple of hours to spare before the end of next month, head for Volkswagen’s 50 Years of Excitement exhibition. Judge for yourself.
The Iltis was a trailblazer for rallying inspiration