Classic Drive: 1984 Audi Sport Quattro – I Drove My Hero

audi sport quattro

September 2003 – outside of Paris, France, approx. 12:30am, pitch dark, drizzly.  After a brutal clutch-dumping launch from the stop sign and a quick run through the first two gears well into third with speeds rapidly approaching 160km/h on the narrow road, Norbert turns to me and says in very broken English: “Now, your turn, ok?” and I rapidly think “Uh, only 214 ever made, every one by hand, virtually priceless, met this guy half an hour ago, how good an idea is this?” before answering “Are you sure? Really? OK!”…

The backstory – We (my wife, 4-month old daughter, a couple of good friends – Don and Jim – and myself) were on the tail end of a trip wherein my two friends and I had toured the car museums of Germany, driven the Nürburgring in our rental Audi A4 TDI Avant, and spent a couple of days at the Frankfurt Auto Show.

Then Don flew back home and my wife and child came over and along with my other friend Jim we headed to Paris. While in Paris we hooked up with our old online friend Frederic that Jim and I only knew from the Audi S-Car List (an online forum) and had communicated with online for a couple of years.

Jim Klein's Audi S4

Jim and I both owned 1993 Audi S4’s at the time (COAL here), mine pictured above, and Frederic owned an Audi S6 plus Avant (basically the same as our C4 generation S4 but a bit newer and with a V8 that was built by quattro GmbH, Audi’s in-house subsidiary that nowadays builds their RS top of the line models).

He toured us around Paris at ludicrous speeds one evening before Jim had to catch his flight home.  Frederic asked if I would be around for the weekend and I said yes to which he responded that if I was around late Saturday night he would have a treat in store for me.

Since I couldn’t pass this up, we made arrangements for him to pick me up around 11pm at the hotel and after doing so, we drove for about 45 minutes to the outskirts of Paris (actually Versailles) into the yard of a small industrial estate and showroom of a small company.  Here, Frederic explained, was the headquarters of the French Audi Club and the showroom of the company of their president, Norbert.  Norbert, he further explained, spoke next to no English but I would enjoy meeting him.

Well, we knocked on the door around midnight, it opened and in we went.  Norbert greeted us and showed us to his showroom and then took us around the corner where the French Audi Club had a space that was filled wall to ceiling with Audi memorabilia, scale models, and all kinds of other stuff.  To me, being knee-deep into Audi’s since childhood (The first car I recall riding in was my dad’s Audi Super 90 in the early 70’s and I’ve owned five myself) this was nirvana.

We chatted for a while with Frederic translating, then I was asked if I’d like to see Norbert’s cars which were in a warehouse a short drive away.  Yes, the whole thing seems super sketchy when I read it now but at the time, in the moment, what the hell, my life insurance was paid up, let’s go!  I would ride with Norbert while Frederic followed in the S6 plus.  We went outside and walked around the corner of the shop and then I saw Norbert’s car and had my Wayne and Garth “I’m not worthy” moment when I realized I was looking at a dark blue Audi Sport Quattro, apparently belonging to Norbert.

The Sport Quattro was the result of Audi’s rally team starting to fall behind the competition with their original Group B Audi Quattro rally car.  Within a couple of very successful seasons the competition had caught up with their own AWD machinery, and was starting to surpass it with smaller, lighter mid-engine designs.  The Sport Quattro was Audi’s first attempt to fight back with a car much different from the original regular Audi Quattro that readers may be familiar with.

Audi Sport Quattro

This image shows the difference between the standard Quattro and the Sport. Note the difference in rear side windows due to shortened body; and a different hood, fenders, and front end as well as windshield angle.

The main (and significant) visual difference is a reduction in wheelbase of 12.6 inches, taken out of the midsection of the roof between the B and C pillars to improve maneuverability on tight rally stages.  Further, the doors and windscreen were replaced with items from the Audi 80 sedan as that windshield is more upright than that of the Coupe and Quattro body, reducing reflections as experienced by the drivers.

The body is made mainly of carbon Kevlar with many pieces literally handformed and the fenders widened even further than a standard Quattro.  Sitting on squat 15×9 wheels the impression is of brutish strength, perhaps a bit ungainly like a bulldog but massively solid.

Audi Sport Quattro engine

This was also Audi’s first use of the 4valve per cylinder version of their turbo-inline 5, good for 302hp and 258lb-ft of torque from a 2.1 liter engine with a KKK K-27 Turbocharger for the road-going models with competition versions producing significantly more power than that.

With the street car’s weight of around 2600lbs, it made for a car faster than a Porsche 930 Turbo of the day (which has a much larger engine).  Keep in mind this was developed and produced in 1983!

Audi Sport Quattro

Audi produced 214 models for sale to the public with a further 20 for “evolution” purposes kept in house as a minimum of 200 had to be produced (and sold) in order to comply with the Group B rules.

Most manufacturers produced and sold these cars at steep losses merely to be able to compete with them.  In 1984 Audi Quattro won both the Group B World Rally Championship  for drivers as well as manufacturers with Stig Blomqvist behind the wheel, although, it must be said, he drove the standard Quattro (A2 version) more often than the shorter Sport.

However, the car was not universally loved, it is said to be difficult to drive at the limit with the short wheelbase producing a very nervous chassis, fine for a skilled top-notch rally driver but not so much for mere mortals at the limit.  The engine still hung way too far out in front making it a bit of a pig handling-wise, this being the main reason Audi was developing a still-born mid-engine car before the Group B era came to a close.

So Audi’s new car (the Sport Quattro) was still very much based on a production car (at least conceptually), but the most successful competition by now had developed cars that in passing resembled production cars, but were really tube frame racers with a center section that was weather proof and and used mere shells to cover the front and rear with engines placed amidships, namely the Peugeot 205T16 as well as the Lancia Delta S4.  Ford was about to introduce its RS200 which was nothing like any production car of theirs (2 seats, mid-engined) and the next Audi car under development would actually follow the Ford’s formula fairly closely.  But that’s a story for another day.

AudiServiceCorsica1984

Audi Service area, Rally Corsica, 1984 – Standard rally car in back, shortened one in front, standard road Quattro in middle.

When the Sport Quattro was introduced in late 1983 I was 14 years old and I read everything about it that I could lay my hands on (and still do in fact).  On a trip to Germany the following summer Audi had a driveline of one (wheels, engine, transmission, suspension but no chassis or body) on display at Frankfurt Airport.

I drooled over it and took the brochure that was there which to my horror was accidentally discarded by my mother during one of her “closet purges” while I was away at college some years later.

Audi Sport Quattro Interior

When new, the cars were available (in Europe) for the equivalent of just over US$60,000 (DM200,000).  As a teenager I thought this a bargain and hoped my dad would do the sensible thing and purchase one.  He gave me that look, you know the one.  Of course, even if remotely affordable it would have been useless here in the U.S.  Ah, the innocence and optimism of youth.

While they were all sold, it apparently took a couple of years to do so, a common fate with Group B homologation specials, many of which were admittedly rough.

The Audi however, was extremely well finished with a beautiful 4-seat interior (even if the back seats actually touched the backs of the front seats due to the wheelbase reduction) and a very high quality level overall.

Audi Sport Quattro

They were produced in several colors, with Tornado Red (128 cars produced) and Alpine White (48) being the most popular.  Malachite Green (15) and Copenhagen Blue (21) were available as well and there were two Black ones – one for Ferdinand Piëch who took all his company cars in Black and another for Walter Röhrl, Audi’s lead driver in their rally program before he left for Porsche after Group B was banned by the FIA.

Audi Sport Quattro

For Audi fans of the Group B rally era, these cars are pretty much the holy grail.  I saw my first one (red) at the Monterey Historics years ago, where one owned by Steve Beddor in Minnesota was on display at the Audi tent.

I then saw another at a Quattro Club driver’s event at Sears Point Raceway that I attended with my S4.  That one was imported into the US from Oman by a very casual acquaintance of mine that resold it another gentleman in the club that now drove it at the track.

It was originally green but had been repainted white.  Both were in exceptional condition but I did not have any real access to either beyond just looking at them.  Then I saw another red one at Wolfsburg’s Autostadt Museum during the trip we are discussing now.  After that it started getting real.

AudiSQ2

During that trip to Germany we also visited MTM (a very well known Audi tuner founded by Roland Mayer, commonly considered the father of the Audi rally turbo-5 engine program) and they very graciously let me sit in a competition rally car version of the Sport Quattro known as the S1 (pictured above).

This was after taking us on a tour of their facility (which was already mind-boggling, we saw several raw Audi RS6 Avant bodies – a car which had just been released by the factory, what looked like a total beater parts-runner Audi RS2, their partially built twin-engine Audi TT that we would read about in the press a couple of years later along with dozens of other interesting cars) – it was obvious MTM still maintained close ties to Audi AG which was located just a few kilometers away.

Audi Sport Quattro

Anyway, back to the car behind the shop at night…  I was looking at Norbert’s Sport Quattro, finished in Copenhagen Blue, I am certain the image above is of that actual car.  He got in and motioned for me to do the same and we drove off with Frederic behind us. This brings us full circle to the beginning of the post which I will repeat so you don’t have to scroll up:

September 2003 – outside of Paris, France, approx. 12:30am, pitch dark, drizzly.  After a brutal clutch-dumping launch from the stop sign and a quick run through the first two gears well into third with speeds rapidly approaching 160km/h on the narrow road, Norbert turns to me and says in very broken English: “Now, your turn, ok?” and I rapidly think “Uh, only 214 ever made, every one by hand, virtually priceless, met this guy half an hour ago, how good an idea is this?” before answering “Are you sure? Really? OK!”…

After I agreed, Norbert pulled over and I nervously got behind the wheel.  I could tell you that I drove it like a man possessed and impressed Norbert with my skills but I’d be lying.  In reality I was well aware that it was late, dark, drizzly, I’d never driven one of these before and I was already sweating nervously.

I drove off without stalling it and accelerated while in gear but didn’t drive it nearly as hard as he did.  I looked over and he was sort of waving me on from the passenger seat so I gave it more gas and then the road went around a series of S-bends and I kept on the throttle lightly.  We slowed and he indicated to turn right at the next turnoff, which I did and accelerated as hard as I dared through the gears.

Looking to my right I saw him smiling which relieved me and then we drove for another ten minutes or so until we arrived at a warehouse and he said to stop and we got out.

Audi Sport Quattro

Locking front and rear differential and switch to turn ABS off/on. And seat heater!

It was a very solid car to drive.  It was also quite light.  It went around the corners very well and accelerated much faster than my Audi S4 which was chipped with an MTM chipset and had an Audi RS2 turbo and exhaust manifold setup making significantly more power than stock but was obviously much heavier.

In short, I had met my hero and was NOT disappointed at all.  Driving the Sport Quattro was everything I had ever hoped it would be.  Before I started actually writing for CurbsideClassic, my screen name on here was WalterRohrl.  Now you know why.

So at the warehouse, we got out of the car, Frederic pulled up behind us and Norbert opened the overhead door.  Housed within was pretty much an Audi fan’s candy store.  Two Ur-Quattro’s sat off to one side, an actual early 90’s French Touring Car championship Audi 80 was in the middle as well as a couple of other Audi’s.  Stacks of wheels, tires, and pallets containing engines, suspensions and various parts were all over the place.  I specifically recall a new Audi RS2 engine in a factory crate.  Frederic and Norbert were explaining what everything was while I was just agog over it all.

In short, it was a fantastic late evening.  Eventually we realized it was very late and it was time to go.  Norbert and I shook hands and Frederic drove me back to the hotel where my wife and daughter had been asleep for hours.  It was a fantastic ending to a great trip and one which I will never forget.

Audi Sport Quattro

Recently I was thinking about this again and trying to figure out how to tell the story when I was searching the internet and came upon a French article about a blue Audi Sport Quattro.

Since only 21 were built in blue I thought it might be familiar, reading through the article using Google Translate I realized it was the same one I drove and told the story of Norbert acquiring it after finding it neglected and restoring it to its present excellent condition about a year before I drove it.  Apparently it originally belonged to the head of VAG France.

The picture above is Norbert’s car when he acquired it prior to restoration.  The link detailing the restoration is here if anyone is interested: http://rocracinghistoric.fr/restauration-sport-quattro-01.htm and here is another article (also in french) from another publication: http://www.urquattro.fr/Web/Pages/Journaux/sportauto/sportauto07.html

Audi Sport Quattro

I still pine for an Audi Sport Quattro of my own but realize that it will never happen.  Recently one came up at Bonham’s auction and sold for $427,000 which is much more than a bit out of my reach.  So I still read everything I can about it and think about my own experience actually driving one for the short opportunity that I had. I am also very thankful that a Frenchman who does not know me and with whom I could barely even communicate entrusted me with his treasure of a lifetime.