Meet The Man Who Turned Group B Quattro Photos Into LEGO
40 years after its debut, there’s little doubt that the Audi Quattro is one of, if not the, most important rally cars of all time. It was this weapon after all that introduced four-wheel drive to the World Rally Championship, irreversibly changing the face of rallying in the process.
Its genesis dates back to the Volkswagen Iltis off-roader built by Audi for the German army in the late ‘70s. Intrigued by the system’s capability on snow and ice, it didn’t take Ingolstadt’s engineers too long to start further 4WD experiments with a production-ready Audi 80. By late 1979, a refocused Audi Coupé, complete with ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive and a heavily returned 2.2-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine, was presented for the first time, and in April the following year, the road-going ‘Ur-Quattro’ – German for ‘first of its kind’ – was unveiled to the public at the Geneva Motor Show. A future poster child of Group B had arrived.
In ‘Sport Quattro’ form, developed for rally homologation for 1984, the Quattro featured an innovative carbon-kevlar body, under which was a surprisingly short wheelbase for added maneuverability, and a stonking great turbocharged five-cylinder that, in later iterations, would graze 500hp. The Quattro was the car with which Michèle Mouton became the first woman to win a World Rally Championship event in 1981 (Rallye Sanremo, 1981). Lessons learnt from its drivetrain led Audi to focus on circuit racing from 1986 on wards, and lo, DTM and sports car domination awaited. That the last rear-wheel drive car to win the title was in 1983, two years after the Audi’s debut, is no coincidence either.
On top of that, the icon’s results speak for themselves. A1 and S2 iterations of the Quattro collected Audi’s only WRC Constructors’ championships in 1982 and 1984, beating the likes of the Lancia 037, the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16, and the Toyota Celica TCT in the process, and took both Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist to the Drivers’ crown in 1983 and 1984 respectively. Throw in 24 World Rally Championship wins, plus myriad wins on a national level, as well as Audi’s victories with the Quattro at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1985 (Mouton again) and 1987 (Walter Röhrl), and the Quattro’s place in motorsport’s ever-expanding pantheon is permanently cemented.
There is then no shortage of archive images of the Quattro at full chat and in its prime. One professional photographer in the UK though has taken an entirely different approach to his enthusiasm for the Group B icon. As well as reposting some of the more eminent images of the Audi and various iterations in period, Dominic Fraser has started reproducing them, in their entirety, with LEGO on his Instagram page.
“The Audi Sport Quattro is without question my favourite rally car ever,” Dominic explained to Petrolicious. “As a child of the 70’s and 80’s and born into a motoring family, motorsport was often on the agenda. Rallying in general appealed as the cars were relatable and the driving looked so exciting. I remember how excited my father was in 1980 when the ‘ur-Quattro’ was announced, and sure enough a little while later we had one of the first right-hand drve 10v Quattros in the UK on our drive!
“This whole current lockdown situation is a strange business creatively. When it started, so many people were, and still are, posting ‘Lockdown lookbacks’ on Instagram, and I certainly thought about doing that myself. However, I looked around at my dormant camera gear and wanted to use this time to actively create something.
“I happened across a little video of someone building the LEGO Quattro. It looked so accurate and I almost immediately thought, ‘I want one of those!’ Once it was ordered, but before delivery, I wondered about recreating some of the photos I could remember from my youth. And so the idea was born. Fortunately my girlfriend Louise and her kids have boxes of redundant LEGO, so it made the whole idea feasible.”
What started as a creative exercise has quickly ballooned into a collection of more than two dozen LEGO-fied recreations, each of which goes into dedicated detail of not just the car itself but the setting and atmosphere captured within the original frame.
Take this 1985 shot of Walter Röhrl on that year’s Rally San Remo for example (the Quattro’s final WRC win, incidentally). It’s one of the most famous shots ever taken of the S1 E2, conveying as it does the brutal grace of the Audi and the determined expressions of Röhrl and co-driver Christian Geistdörfer, both of whom can clearly be seen through the windscreen. Behind them, the watching fans are all but engulfed by the dust cloud evoking the terrain the Audi has just conquered.
Now, take a look at Dominic’s recreation. There’s the Audi, accurately angled; there’s Röhrl and Geistdörfer past the (non-existent) windscreen; and there, inconspicuously in the background, is the Sanremo crowd, peering through the dust cloud, which is actually a couple of spoon-fuls of plain flour and a well-timed blast of air from a handheld fan. You may even have spotted the change in tone of the ‘gravel’ in the bottom left hand corner.
The Monte Carlo ’85 image? No ‘crowds’ this time, so focus is instead on the texture of the rocks, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it yellow concrete stanchion in the background, and replicating the harsh early afternoon lighting. The ‘airborne’ shot? The LEGO Audi is actually suspended on thin wires to get its placement in the frame just right. There’s a serious amount of detail involved here.
But then, Dominic Fraser is no hack. He’s worked as a professional photographer with Aston Martin, Bugatti, BMW and Infiniti among others for many years now, and he’s also an Imaging Ambassador for SONY cameras. Turning that keen snapper’s eye to his miniature recreations was one of the incentives behind these bespoke ‘Lockdown Lookbacks’. Hence the patience involved in pulling them together.
“The amount of time it takes to set up these images depends on the scene,” Dominic continues. “It usually takes an hour or two of building before I can start setting the scene and framing the shots. The detail is quite time consuming too: getting the ‘dust’ and/or ‘snow’ right takes quite a bit of trial and error. Fortunately the editing is relatively quick as I try to get the shots right in camera.
“But I do enjoy studying the details of the original photos. I was keen to bring those into the images, which is a bit of a challenge photographically as I’m mostly used to shooting full size cars that, y’know, move! The basics of photography still apply though, and so long as I get the lighting correct, I’m quite happy with the end results.”
Deservedly, since he posted his first LEGO homage a little under a month ago, Dominic’s works have picked up a lot of mainstream attention. Though he’s too much of a gentleman to name them directly, Dominic has even had several manufacturers enquiring about some possible marketing campaigns, based on their own official LEGO sets. Given the plethora of Quattro images still out there, his demonstrative enthusiasm for the model, and a desire to further sharpen his skills behind the lens during lockdown, don’t expect Dominic Fraser’s LEGO Audi shots to slow down any time soon. There might even be a new pretender in the works too, inspired once again by his family’s passion for motorsport…
“I had no idea that these images would take off quite as well as they have done. If I’d known, I would have started doing it ages ago! I’ve been really chuffed and humbled by the response. It’s fun to do and I’m glad that I’ve been able to inspire and bring a smile to people in these difficult times.
“There’s a lot of options open to me as well: the [Lancia] Stratos holds a special place for me as my father, until a few years ago, owned one from new. If LEGO makes an official kit that’s certainly something I’d like to do!”