"If someone hadn't invented Group B rally at the start of the eighties, the times would have defined the form and it would have happened anyway. All of a sudden, what had been a relatively worthy, moustached and tweeded form "
Audi QUATTRO: REVOLUTION
The revolution happened in 1980 and its effects are still rippling through car culture. We spent a couple of days with one of the main protagonists. Forty years of here and now.
Take On Me. Ah Ha. I prod the Blaupunkt. The audio brand itself seems transposed from another dimension. Could it be that somewhere deep in the stereo’s analog wiring, lodged in some dusty circuitry – a mulletted Scandinavian male model’s lilt is freeing itself from thirty plus years of entrapment? Course not. Magic FM always plays this sort of retro banger. And folks in the car delivery game always play Magic FM.
There’s a smell in this Audi Quattro 20V. Something about the way the gunmetal grey vinyl/leatherette mix is interacting with the aroma of the exhaust. It’s as if four-star is filtering out into the ether of the cabin. I glance at the digital display. It’s all orange. All Gerry Anderson. All Space 1999. The tiny steering wheel with it’s ergonomically exact flange at four and eight O’Clock, dances through my fingers. I am transported. If objects really do encapsulate the age in which they were conceived. Then I am lodged deeply into 1986. And it feels like…yearning.
In 1986, when I was eighteen and I failed my first driving test, I experienced a lot of yearning. Much of that exquisite mixture of emotional irrationality and bodily ache was focussed on cars like this Audi Quattro Coupé. The Quattro, which dominated the mentalist cult of Group B rally with sturdy teutons like Walther Rohl and viking legends like Stig Blomqvist at the helm, whispered that part of this high performance future might actually be feasible. The Quattro system, this year forty years old and ubiquitous, is probably the lasting legacy of the Group B rally. Who would’ve thunk it? The snarly, dangerous motorsport, probably the most irrational and nastiest of them all – leaves a legacy as moderate as Angela Merkel.
The 20V Quattro I am driving is actually one of the latest models. This one rolled off the Ingolstadt hand-assembly production line in 1991- and was one of only 150 of this most refined and high-spec versions of the road-going Quattros. By 1990, of course, this was ten year old technology. The folks at Ingolstadt must have sensed that the dream of the nineteen eighties had gone forever – and therefore it must have seemed all the more urgent to capture a fleeting moment that had already flown.
The Quattro weaves it through simple, efficient mechanical technology. There are five in-line cylinders. There are four valves per cylinder, which articulate with twin overhead camshafts. There is electronically controlled fuel injection. There are catalytic converters. There is a displacement of 2226cc and a power output of 220 bhp, which peaks when the engine hits 5900 RPM. The transmission is a permanent four wheel drive and there is a five speed gearbox. The low down twisty punch comes from a low-inertia, liquid cooled exhaust driven turbo with a charge intercooler, which whines pleasantly rather than obtrusively. The running gear is defined by MacPherson struts and lower wishbones, with anti-roll bars – and there is an all round ABS system, with ventilated discs all round.
When you pull away in the Quattro, you get a strongly asymmetric experience through acceleration. There seems to be a really close in ratio between the first two gears, before opening up all leggy and expansive in the upper reaches. There’s very little discernible lag as you push out onto the broader roads the engine and its power unit seem more and more eager to let loose. Compared to Audi’s latest RS6, for example, this car is a dinky, analog aspired creature. Setting out on the roads feels like an event – as a ride in any classic should, but it feels like an event that presaged the future.
Because while many aspects of this car do indeed feel retrospective – what really doesn’t feel dated is its handling. Try as I might, It was very, very hard to lose traction, even on the aforementioned gravelly lanes of the Mendip Hills and up and down the snaking pit that is Cheddar Gorge, dodging those little chocolate coloured rams and startling the odd rambler along the way. This thirty year old car sticks to the ground like glue. Its relatively long nose dips and dives eagerly into corners without that ugly and disappointing feeling of washed-out understeer – and the suspension works brilliantly when you hit the bumpy switchback lanes that connect the combes and the hummocks of the Mendips. The long legged third gear lets you concentrate on fast cornering, and if you pull the stick back to the second slot and you are greeted by a throaty grunt and a haughty rearing of the hood that produces a mile wide smile…
In fact, the car, engaged and ragged as it is in comparison to the frighteningly hi tech cars of the current era – it almost feels like this is one of those Ersatz classics that you can have made bespoke – like the Eagle E Type that has cutting edge running gear and a classic XK E body – or that 600 horsepower hotrod I once drove In Los Angeles with a 69 Mustang Fastback body plonked on top of a brand new Mustang frame. But this is no cheat. This is forty year old tech that works as well, if not better, than contemporary digital technology. Real deal. The folks at Ingolstadt were way ahead of their time.
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