Spending A Rainy Day With The International Audi Sport Quattro Club
Photography by Máté Boér
With just 220 hand-assembled examples produced (including the six prototypes), the Sport quattro is decidedly rare. It is also the most exotic road-legal machine Audi has ever built, and its reason for existence is couched in one of the greatest motorsport stories ever told. The crown jewel of Ingolstadt’s then-nascent competition arm changed the sport of rallying for good, and the homologation specials built to support the racing efforts now serve as ambassadors to the early days of Audi sport models and the bygone era of Group B. The Ur-quattro emerged victorious at the outset with a championship title in 1982, and the evolutions, the wilder short-wheelbase Sport quattros, won it again in 1984, cementing the car’s status.
Which is why I’m convinced that my fellow rally enthusiasts need no explanation as to why I immediately jumped on the opportunity to join a friend on a two-day road trip from Budapest to Colmar, where we’d meet up with his friends at the International Audi Sport quattro Club’s annual gathering.
Very limited production, state-of-the-art technology, entry into the elite club of the legendary Group B homologation specials make the Sport quattro a remarkable street car that’s sought out by many, especially now that the 1980s and 1990s are making a sort of comeback in the car world. When the Sport quattros were new, though, one still had to be very enthusiastic about the four rings to pay the high price—these domesticated rally cars cost about equal to two of its contemporary Porsche 911 Turbos—to get one of the 169 examples that were sold to the public. And for that price, Audi offered no options to personalize. You got what you paid for, and you paid a lot for it.
As the story goes, in order to be shown to the inspectors during the homologation process, all the street cars were completed before the first was offered to the public. Therefore their paint jobs were already determined: 134 were finished in red (“Tornadorot”), 48 in white (“Alpinweiß”), 21 in dark blue (“Kopenhagenblau”), 15 in dark green (“Malachitgrün) and two in black for the personal use of Ferdinand Piëch, who was the head of Audi at that time. This latest visit wasn’t my first time with the Sport quattro club members, and I have seen both of Piëch’s black ones, but still, I’d yet to come across any of the blue or green examples. I hoped to catch of glimpse of the rare among the rare this year.
After a night of high speed cruising aboard a 1998 “Ronin” Audi S8 through Austria and Germany to France, we rolled in with the first rays of the sun to the charming little town of Saint Hippolyte, famous for its Pinot Noir “Rouge de Saint-Hippolyte.” The fleet of Sport quattros were getting warmed up, when we joined them. After a sightseeing tour in Colmar’s wonderful medieval downtown and a great lunch at a local Audi dealership, we headed out for the experience that made our whole journey worthwhile: A 100-kilometer joyride on some of the best roads of the Vosges Mountains and the Alsatian wine region waited for us in the afternoon. The trip included the famous hillclimb track of Course de Côte de Turckheim — 3 Épis, where racing legends like the nine-time World Rally Championship winner Sébastien Loeb are regular visitors.
Of the 21 Kopenhagenblau cars ever produced, two examples arrived for this year’s gathering (pictured above next to one of the Piëch black cars), and a friendly owner of one of them, Pierre, generously offered me the passenger seat for the trip into the mountains.
The Sport quattros have proved to be solid investments (the value of a nice example is around half a million Euros now), which in the case of classic cars often lead to trailer queen status, or semi-permanent garage retirement, but not in this club. Most of the members have owned their Sport quattros for decades and they like to exercise them regularly. Pierre is no exception. To my great surprise and amusement, he recounted the story of how he originally bought the Audi to have it as his winter car in Switzerland, a role which it filled dutifully for many years. Can you imagine? This is what you pull out of the garage when the “fun” cars are hibernating? Pierre, a Swiss architect, said he was never really into rallying, nor did he find the Sport quattro especially nice to look at, he just liked the technical details of the car, its engineering.
It took us about 20 minutes to leave the city traffic behind, which gave me some time to take a closer look to the Sport quattro’s cabin. I’d immediately noticed that the whole car felt very solid and free of creaks even by modern standards, and there were no jarring noises inside the cabin to speak of, despite the facts that this car was launched when plastics had already become widespread and that Pierre’s is among the most used examples.
The eight VDO instruments on the dashboard (including a speedometer scaled to 300 km/h), the controller for the differentials on the center console, and the leather and Alcantara Recaro seats are enough to suggest that this is not your average 1980s Audi, but other that that, the cockpit is rather plain and uninteresting. Throughout the short production period between 1983 and 1985, only minor changes were made in here; a few levers and knobs have various altered shapes and position in some cars, but these deviations are so minor that only quattro specialists would notice.
In the slow urban traffic on our way to the fun stuff, the Sport quattro did not seem its happiest. It was perceptible from the passenger seat that the adjustable four-wheel drive system wasn’t optimized for city commuting in first gear with the clutch pedal getting more than its share of use. Pierre agreed, and he added that the faster and more aggressive you drive it, the better this car gets. As soon as we reached the first serpentine road, he proved it. At the first opportunity, he floored it up a tight uphill section and Clark Kent turned into Superman. The legendary five-cylinder mill turns the Audi merciless on the upper half of the rev range with the turbo doing its best work. The single KKK turbocharger is enough to get 306hp from the 2.1L engine, and that insanely efficient output is sent through the all-wheel drive system that Audi built a legacy on. Indeed, the Sport quattro was one of the fastest cars of its time, only three tenths of a second slower from zero to 62 than a Ferrari F40. And Pierre’s car might even be able to outrun the prancing horse of Maranello, seeing as the previous owner had the engine modified by Sport quattro guru Alfons Hohenester.
It’s still more than quick in 2019. We were carving corners with surprising pace, the level of grip almost wholly uninterrupted throughout—unbelievable for a 35-year old car. Despite the rain that guided us along the way, we only lost traction when the short braking distances between curves were filled with puddles, but even then, the car felt in its element. From the factory, the brakes were always the weak points of the Sport quattros, but Pierre’s were upgraded to cope with the rest of the car’s spec, and his readiness to wring it out.
That said about the grip and all, it’s not a simple car to drive fast. I noticed from time to time the silence of concentration coming from Pierre’s driver’s side, and he confirms to me that yes, this is a machine that requires respect from its driver, not blind trust. He goes on to say that it takes some time to get used to the combination of the powerful, turbocharged motor’s delivery and the short wheelbase of the chassis. The Sport quattro is set up to understeer to counteract the short distance between its axles, and even Walter Röhrl had to Scandinavian flick his Group B-spec Sport quattros. We don’t attempt to mimic his tremendous talents, but when you’re chasing Sport quattros through the rain, it’s tempting to try.