The uncrowned King of Group B rallying
The car that brought four-wheel drive to motorsport and established itself as an icon in the process, was not the most successful in the legendary Group B championship. Among the homologation specials meant for a life on public roads however, it was by far the most impressive and most powerful. But that was more than three decades ago, so how does a hand-built, supercar challenging rally hero hold up in this time, where even diesels and hybrids easily surpass its maximum power and torque figures?
When sales started in 1984, after the launch at the 1983 Geneva Motor Show, the Audi Sport Quattro was the most powerful and most expensive German production car at the moment. The price was a whopping 198,500 Deutsche Mark, an amount that was enough to buy not one, but two Porsches 911 Turbo. With 306 PS, four-wheel drive and a weight of only 1,300 kilos, there was nothing else like it. On top of that, it was also extremely exclusive, with Audi claiming a limited production of 200 examples; the minimum required by the FISA to enter Group B rallying. The so-called Ur-quattro was launched in 1980 and entered rallying as a prototype. The car was officially homologated for Group 4 in 1981, but Audi was struggling with reliability and at dry tarmac stages the four-wheel drive system was slower than rear-wheel drive competitors due to heavy understeer, a result of the engine sitting all the way in the front. As per the rules, the Quattro was allowed to enter Group B without modifications when the new class was launched in 1982 and at the end of the season Audi grabbed the world title. In 1983 the car was homologated again and this A1 can be recognized by its square fender extension instead of the regular round ones as used on the first rally Quattro. A few months later though, the A2 followed in a move to get the most out of the rulebook.
The FISA declared that cars with forced induction were required to use an engine capacity multiplier of 1.4 to give naturally aspirated engines a fair chance. With 2,144 cc, that meant the Quattro A1 ended up in the 3,000 to 3,999 cc category, where a minimum weight of 1,100 kilos was allowed. By shortening the stroke from 79.5 to 79.3 millimeters, the theoretical capacity dropped to 2,987 cc, landing the Quattro A2 in the 2,500 to 2,999 cc category and allowing it to have a minimum weight of 960 kilos. Peugeot was even better at this game, because they chose a capacity of 1,775 for their 205 T16, giving it access to the 2,000 to 2,499 category with a minimum weight limit of 890 kilos. A tactic that would help them to conquer the title in 1985 and 1986.
For the 1983 season Lancia had the Audi team cornered though, grabbing the title with their rear-wheel drive 037. With this purpose-built rally monster, Lancia reversed the traditional way of creating rally cars. They first developed a competition car and then built 200 copies, with only just enough adaptation to make it street legal and thus complying with the FISA regulations. In 1984 the competition from Peugeot with their fierce 205 T16 intensified and Audi knew they had to step up their game. Work started on a shortened Quattro, hoping to improve the 60/40 weight balance. With the engine sticking out at the front, this was an impossible task as was proven by a prototype that was shortened by 40 centimeters (15.7 in) and turned out to be virtually undrivable. In the end, 32 centimeters (12.5 in) was cut from between the B and C-pillar and the front and rear track were widened.
The use of composite materials did not bring any relief and the weight balance ended up at an even worse 62.1/37.9. The idea was that a shorter wheelbase would improve turn-in, so understeer could be compensated with the proper driving style, but the car still suffered from terminal understeer. With the new engine delivering peak power at the top of the rev band, the Sport Quattro became even more difficult to drive. Especially works drivers Michèle Mouton and Stig Blomqvist had a hard time adapting to the S1 and preferred the long wheelbase A2. Blomqvist managed to grab the world title in 1984 and Audi won the manufacturers trophy and the decision was made to only field the S1 for 1985. Competition from Peugeot became too strong and the S1 could not keep up with the 205 T16. Audi was forced to hand the title to Peugeot for 1985 and Blomqvist lost to Peugeot works driver Timo Salonen. In 1986 Juha Kankkunen grabbed the title in the improved 205 Turbo 16 E2 making Audi’s evolution from the Quattro S1 to the fire spitting E2 a wasted effort. In the history of Group B rallying though, the Audi E2 is still the face of this era and will always be remembered as one of the most outrageous rally cars with over 600 horsepower.
At our rendezvous on the edge of a national park in the east of the Netherlands, we can hear the Sport Quattro approaching from a distance. The 5-cylinder rumble, mixed with an occasional faded whistle from the blow-off valve, reverberates through the dense forest. When it turns onto the corroded gravel parking moments later, the Sport Quattro doesn’t bounce on its suspension and actually looks quite comfortable. All wet and dirty, parked casually between nondescript family carriers, it looks completely out of place. Small water drops run down the bulging, dark blue, polished body and the hot engine and drivetrain tick franticly in the cold damp air.
This is production number 205, delivered in Switzerland in 1985. That makes it one of the last Sport Quattros, as only 214 were built in 1984 and 1985
The condition of this example is flawless and after opening the lightweight door the interior turns out to be in the same brand new condition. This is production number 205, delivered in Switzerland in 1985. That makes it one of the last Sport Quattros, as only 214 were built in 1984 and 1985. A majority of 128 cars was delivered in Tornadorot (red), 48 were in Alpinweiß (white), 21 in Kopenhagenblau (blue), 15 in Malachitgrün (green) and two were delivered in black, as a special order from company executive Ferdinand Piëch. A total of 168 cars were sold to private individuals while the rest was used for motorsport purposes, but that does not include the run of twenty E2 evolution models.
Porsche Classic Center Gelderland
With less than 32,000 kilometers in the past three decades this car has not been used a lot, but owner Mark Wegh (the man behind Porsche Centrum Gelderland and Porsche Classic Center Gelderland in the Netherlands) does not mind adding a few more. I hop into the firm but supportive Recaro seat and awake the straight-five turbo. Clutch, transmission and steering feel pretty normal and I drive off without any drama. At regular speeds, it feels like any other Quattro. Below 4,500 rpm the engine pulls decently and I could make this a relaxing drive in the woods. Pressing down the throttle for a few bursts until the turbo spools up, gives an impression of what the Sport Quattro has in store.
Where cars like the Renault 5 Turbo or Peugeot 205 T16 are raw, recalcitrant and sometimes downright unpleasant, the Sport Quattro has that typical feeling of a comfortable premium car
With the engine and drivetrain at proper operating temperatures, as shown by the two dials in the center console, there is no reason to hold back and the throttle goes down in second gear with the tachometer at 3,000 rpm. After a slight hesitation, the turbo spools up and the full force of 350 Nm makes the Quattro jump forward as the four tires dig into the wet tarmac. Acceleration is surprisingly quick for a car of this age, but the driving experience is different from that of other rally homologation specials. Where cars like the Renault 5 Turbo or Peugeot 205 T16 are raw, recalcitrant and sometimes downright unpleasant, the Sport Quattro has that typical feeling of a comfortable premium car.
The wet roads are covered with leaves, so great care needs to be taken when entering corners. Four-wheel drive doesn’t do much while braking and diving towards the apex. The only electronic safety net this car is ABS and that can be turned off with a switch on the center console, next to the one for the differentials. Pulling the lever to the first click locks the rear differential, pulling it slightly further locks the middle differential as well. Under the current circumstances locked differentials are not going to be beneficial, but on unpaved roads dividing the torque equally between front and rear and the left and right rear wheels, makes sliding through corners much more controllable. Understeer is the initial reaction of the Sport Quattro on these wet forest roads, but there is a way to enjoy this rally weapon without flying sideways into corners on public roads.
Corners follow in quick succession, threes morph into a blurry green and brown colored fence and there is the enchanting whistle when heel-and-toeing down the gears
When slightly reducing the entrance speed, understeer disappears and the bite of the front wheels is enough to dart towards the apex. With the engine growling above 4,500 rpm and the big turbo spooled up, the Audi takes off aggressively and thunders down the short straights at alarming speeds. Corners follow in quick succession, threes morph into a blurry green and brown colored fence and there is the enchanting whistle when heel-and-toeing down the gears; the whole experience becomes exhilarating and the desire for more speed increases with every step on the accelerator. The temptation to pull the lever and push the Audi sideways becomes bigger and bigger and I decide to call it a day while I can return to the rendezvous with both the Sport Quattro and my dignity still intact.
Wringing out a Group B homologation special to the last drop on public roads is madness, but luckily the roads in my local forest are quiet enough to delve deep into the Quattro’s potential without endangering or even upsetting anybody. To some it might also be madness because the value of these rare beasts has risen to about 400,000 euro, but this increases the risk of these cars becoming garage queens. The thought alone makes me shiver, because hiding a world rally champion in a garage is a sin. It is almost like locking up Stig Blomqvist himself, only to let him out once or twice a year so a bunch of car enthusiast can have a look at him while sipping Champagne and some judges can pin a ribbon on him.