“She’d pol­ished up well af­ter 36 years...”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

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

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