Once its many early gremlins had been contained, the Audi Quattro’s primacy lasted for two-and-a-half seasons in 1982-84 before the arrival of the Peugeot 205 T16 ushered in a new era. These lightweight mid-engined cars were quick to make the Quattro appear leaden in comparison, and even the short wheelbase cars struggled to stay on terms.
‘Put it this way: if Audi was starting with a clean sheet of paper in 1982-83 they would have designed a completely different car from what they were rallying,’ said Phil Short.
‘The Peugeot and the Lancia were clean sheet designs, albeit clothed with something that was a little bit like a production car that they made. That was a significant difference, but once they got all of the problems ironed out of the specialised cars, the writing was on the wall for the Audi.’
To this day, there is a note of something approaching indignation in Audi’s official stories of the Group B era: that perhaps the other manufacturers had been reading a different rulebook. Despite the very obvious disadvantage that the Quattro was carrying into battle with the bespoke racers, the ultimate aims of selling Audis came before any mere matters of competition in the field.
‘It was fundamental that the relationship between the competition car and the road car was maintained,’ said David Ingram.
‘It was a core element that for someone to see the rally cars winning, to read about it in the press or see it on TV at the weekend, they should know that they could go down to their local dealership and buy a car like that. Later on, of course, it could be a car with the same technology, be that an 80 quattro or a 200 quattro – and nobody else in rallying could say that.
‘You couldn’t realistically buy a mid-engined Group B rally car, and if you bought one of the homologation cars you probably wouldn’t use it to go to the office or take the kids to school! It brought a new audience to Audi, obviously in small numbers to start with, but it was a very influential audience who then drew more people to the brand; it was a hugely powerful marketing tool. Audi is still synonymous with rallying today and most people, they may not even have been born then, but they know exactly what a Quattro rally car is.’
By those very clear parameters, the Audi Quattro’s demise was all-but a foregone conclusion, as Phil Short put it: Tn a way it was “job done” by the mid-eighties.’
Today, fans of the era still like to chew over the possibilities of the mid-engined prototypes that appeared in secret late in 1986 – although whether they were ever as mythically secret as has been reported is a moot point.
‘We heard about the mid-engined car, but that was just a research project,’ said Allan Durham. ‘It may have been developed but it was very much just a research vehicle and by that stage within Audi everyone was looking towards going racing and leaving all this rally stuff.’
Not quite everyone, mind you. Group B may have reached the end of its life and Group S was killed off, but the rise of production-based Group A rallying brought new opportunities. Audi Sport in Ingolstadt produced a Group A version of the 200 quattro saloon car, which proved a surprise to many on its disappointing debut in Monte Carlo but bounced back to score the brand’s final world championship win on the Safari.
In Britain, Audi UK also kept on pounding round the forests with Group A cars. ‘Rallying had been so good to us in the UK that we wanted to hang onto it,’ David Ingram remembered.
‘We could see that the writing was on the wall because Audi in Germany was already gearing up to go racing in America and we were discussing what the best way forward would be before the end of 1986, that’s for sure. We continued with David Llewellyn in the Group A cars but the factory was really focused on America with the Trans-Am and IMSA series and that was too far away really. We couldn’t get the cars over to show people what they were and there was nowhere to run them, and really we needed a UK programme.’
Audi went all-out to impress America by putting highly evolved versions of the rally engines into spaceframe cars with four-wheel drive – exactly the same trick that had been pulled on them in Group B! The silhouette Audi 200 quattro with its 10-valve engine dominated Trans-Am in 1987 and was promptly banned, so Audi went to IMSA with the 20-valve engine in a replica 90 quattro and repeated the trick.
Having shown the Americans what quattro was all about, Ingolstadt’s eye turned homewards and to the DTM touring car series – traditionally the hunting ground of lightweight BMWs and powerful Fords. It used the V8 quattro ‘limousine’ and turned the car’s immense mass to its advantage, crowding out the little BMW M3s to dominate once again. This was something that Audi UK and others wanted to be part of, too.
‘On a fairly regular basis after Group B we were talking about when Audi would be back into touring cars and put us back on a big stage again,’ said David Ingram.
‘In terms of the profile of the series, the great TV coverage and the general promotion behind it, we wanted to be in British touring cars and that resulted in the A4 quattro, which followed the rally Quattro in many ways in that it was developed centrally and then we in the markets could then run the cars.
‘We went into it with a big hospitality programme, national advertising, a dealer event local to each circuit in the week prior to the event with at least one driver, a team member and someone from Audi to meet and greet customers, fleet buyers, local media and everyone. We had show cars circulating the country and the BTCC became a proper part of everybody’s life. It was terrific and it ran really well.’
Having sated the appetites of its national markets, winning seven different national championships in f 996, the Audi A4 quattro began to be hit by some extraordinary handicapping to bring parity for the other manufacturers. Audi’s motor sport division was already looking elsewhere for its next global ‘wow moment’ and decided to go all-out for victory at Le Mans, the birthplace of Ferdinand Piech’s reputation at what was a critical moment in Audi’s evolution.

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