This 944 Turbo Cup Car Is Provenance Preserved
Photography by Ted Gushue
Was out to dinner the other night with a friend of mine who works with Audi. She’s one of those people that wherever she goes, she inevitably knows half the people in the room. One of these people this time around was a frenchman by the name of Gael Buzyn, who just recently rejoined the VW Group in the capacity of Senior Director at Audi Design Loft. The cool thing about guys like Gael I’ve found is that they inevitably are massive car guys, and Gael was no exception.
We were introduced and he immediately mentioned a very special car with a tremendous race history. That car? A 944 Turbo Cup.
Ted Gushue: Gael, how did this car start its life in Weissach?
Gael Buzyn: The 944 Turbo Cup was developed in Weissach on the base platform of the 944 Turbo, and beyond that it was completely modified. It has a reinforced chassis, it has more adept transmission oil cooling, and it has a stronger turbo. The car has a lot of lightweight modifications too: they used titanium on the oil pan, air intake, the wheels for instance. The interior was stripped down, although they kept the seats, which is atypical. It’s one of 192 built by hand, and is roughly 600 pounds lighter than the normal 944 Turbo, 0-60 is roughly 4.4 seconds, which is still fast today.
TG: Where were the major 944 Turbo Cup races held?
GB: There were five championship series: one in France, one in Germany of course, one in South Africa, one in Canada, and one in the United States. Each had a different number of cars competing. I think in the States it was called the “Escort Cup” and they had 16 cars. This one comes from the Canadian championship, which had 36 cars. It was a really popular event. It was always a live broadcast on television.
TG: Who was the original owner of this car?
GB: The owner was the owner of the company on the livery, which was an expedited parcel shipping service, kind of like a Canadian FedEx, which is now defunct. More importantly it was raced by Jacques Bienvenue, who was this very weathered, semi-professional, well respected driver in Quebec. He had an extensive racing history: Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona. He did a lot. But, then he was really good in the 944 Turbo Cup Challenge because he was a seasoned driver with a lot of experience. The good thing is that he was very careful with the car. I can see that in the good condition of the car.
He finished sixth in ’88. It’s really difficult to find cars like this that were actually raced that weren’t damaged as well. Leading up to my purchase of it I actually went through all of the races that it entered on youtube to watch for damage, collisions, etc. Not so much as a scratch—Bienvenue was a very clean driver.
TG: Have you had a chance to drive it on track?
GB: I haven’t yet, but I will. I really need to service it properly, get new tires,things like that, you know. The car’s really in good condition, but I need to find a proper event where I would be on the track with the right people. I don’t want to risk damaging this perfect example due to my lack of experience in racing.
TG: Now, you are a designer at Audi—what do your colleagues think of this bad boy?
GB: They all love it. There is a sudden interest in these eighties cars, especially at Audi in our design teams. The seventies and the eighties really are the golden age of high performance sports cars. Just enough technology to make them really light and fast, but not enough to mute the driving experience. Really well built cars, excellent quality in production, especially at Porsche at the time. We are incredibly lucky to have that heritage to look back to as car designers.
What I really love most about this car is that nobody really knows about it. It’s the best hidden secret. They are fairly affordable for what they are as a result. How often do you see a Weissach-built race car with real race history sell for around what these do? Of course I hope the price will go up, but it is at this point immaterial for me as I don’t ever plan to sell it. It’s so special, I love the story, I love that I am French and they were a French-speaking team, that the car raced against Jacques Villeneuve. How cool is that?
TG: Very. So, how did you start your career as an automotive designer?
GB: The story is that I saw a 928 on the street one day. I was eight years old, and I asked my dad, “What is that car?!” because I was so astonished by how it looked. My dad could not answer because he wasn’t into cars, he always just bought the same Audi 100, same color every two years.
I did my research the old-fashioned way back then. There was no internet. I went to the magazine stand and looked and finally saw the 928 Porsche. That moment I realized that the people who could want to make something that beautiful must be the most interesting people in the world. And so I set out to become one of them from that day forward.
All of my friends always told me I was crazy. You know, some of them are doctors now, so for them to see me as a car designer was tough for them at first. People didn’t think of car design as a real way to make a living. Still my parents made me get a degree in a traditional field, so I studied architecture, which was as close as I could get. I became certified as an Interior Architect, up to 2,000 square-foot houses. The second I had that though, I switched to car design and joined Volkswagen.
TG: What projects have you worked on that we might recognize?
GB: In Volkswagen my first job was the MK IV Golf interior. Very political project, very important to the brand. Then I did the Tiguan interior and Golf Plus interior. I spent a year in Simi Valley. That’s why I fell in love with L.A.
In addition to those cars, I did the Concept T which we presented at 2004 in Detroit. That was fun. Then I had to go back to Germany, but I was looking forward to coming back here to the US. That was my goal. Since then, I was offered to start the interior team at the GM design studio in Burbank. That was really fun. I stayed there for 12 years, and in that time I did work that included the El Mirage and the Ciel interior, the ULC, and a few others.
Now I have rejoined the VW Group at Audi, and we’re opening a new design studio in Los Angeles. Very exciting stuff. One of our missions is to reconnect drivers to their cars, which is becoming increasingly difficult. Which is why I love cars like the 944 Turbo Cup.