[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]
Do you love E30-chassis BMW M3s but hate how common they are? Would Evos intrigue you if they weren’t so played out? Are you a fan of authentic Cobras but think it’s a bit too common, since a few hundred exist in the world?
This car may look like an ordinary Audi quattro, but it isn’t. Look closely, and you’ll notice some pretty major differences, starting with the 12.6-inch-shorter wheelbase.
Under the hood, you’ll find a giant turbo that boosts the twin-cam 2133cc engine to 302 horsepower. The back seats are laughably small, the body is full of panels made from carbon-Kevlar, and the windshield sits at a steeper angle than a standard quattro’s–reportedly to reduce glare for the driver.
If all this sounds like a dumb idea on Audi’s part, well, it probably was. To understand why a car like this was let anywhere near dealership showrooms, you first have to understand why it was built. The short answer: to win races.
Rally racing experienced a revolution in the early 1980s, when four-wheel drive finally got the FIA’s blessing just as turbocharging systems became fully developed. Audi took thorough advantage of this in 1981, entering its standard quattro (known as the Ur-quattro, or “original quattro”) in the World Rally Championship.
Over the next few years, that original quattro–Audi says not to capitalize that word, by the way–put together an impressive string of victories, including two world championships and two second-place finishes. Its only real competition was the Lancia Stratos, but the Stratos could only best the quattro on dry pavement–something WRC stages usually lack.
By 1984, though, the scene was in flux again: New rules threatened the quattro’s dominance. Group B, the infamous rally arena that stole drivers’ lives and fans’ hearts, had arrived, and with it came lighter, faster, more extreme rally cars. The FIA set a homologation minimum of just 200 road-going vehicles in hopes of forcing manufacturers to race the same sorts of cars they sold to the public.
Instead, the opposite happened, and the likes of Opel and Toyota were suddenly affording anyone with a driver’s license the opportunity to buy a full-blown race car with some street equipment glued on top. Each manufacturer simply built an optimum Group B machine before slapping license plates on 200 copies and shipping them to dealer lots. If Audi wanted to keep the Ur-quattro competitive, the manufacturer would have to do something crazy.
So they did.
And that brings us to the Sport quattro. Of the 224 examples Audi produced, not one was ever sold in the United States. Even buying one overseas was difficult.
Did it work? Yes, it did. Audi won both the driver and constructor World Rally Championships in 1984 with Stig Blomqvist at the helm. The Sport quattro’s success was short-lived, though: The car finished second in 1985, before rule changes in 1986 caused Audi to withdraw from the competition.
Driving a Legend
Enough about the car’s history. Sport quattros weren’t made for museums–they were made for driving. After rounding up an example and making a quick call to bump up our insurance limits, we grabbed the keys and hopped in.
Our first thought? “These seats are really, really comfortable.” Every Sport quattro came with mammoth Recaro seats upholstered in leather and suede, and they’re wonderful. We closed the door and expected the luxury to continue. After all, this was an Audi.
Nope. Not at all. The rest of a Sport quattro feels more like your friend’s Honda Civic, albeit with power windows, power locks and some extra leather sprinkled about. “Purposeful” is the word we’d use. We didn’t even use the turn signals for fear of breaking the flimsy stalk off the column.
The Audi started up like any other car: no race switches or electric fans here. In front was a big, plastic-y steering wheel that would make any ’80s Mercedes enthusiast very happy. The pedals were well spaced and didn’t take much effort, but the 9-inch-wide Ronal wheels did encroach a bit on the driver’s footwell.
As we started down the road, the Audi continued to masquerade as a regular car. But then we floored it, and the story changed completely. With a flat gas pedal, this thing felt like a dying econobox being furiously mushed up a 20-percent grade–until it didn’t.
The giant turbo took a few seconds to spool up, but then the Sport quattro went from misfiring Fiesta to meth-addled freight train barreling toward a runaway truck ramp. The acceleration was completely bonkers–and completely unpredictable.
If you like to text and drive, this is the car for you. You’ll have time to check your phone after every throttle application. (Okay, we kid. Death already feels imminent from behind the wheel of this monster, and adding texting to the mix is like inviting the Grim Reaper to ride shotgun.)
Wheelspin was nonexistent, with the giant tires clawing at the road and pulling the car just a little bit in every direction as it settled into its happy place: lots of boost and lots of open road ahead. Shifting is a bit of a chore, but after a few tries it’s possible to keep the turbo spinning between gears. The reward? Truly ludicrous speeds.
Remember, though, that Sport quattros weren’t meant for long stretches of asphalt. They were meant for rally stages. So instead of squatting down and moving forward, the Audi dances on its soft, rally-tuned suspension in the most pleasurable of ways. It feels alive, electric, and ready to topple over at any moment. It’s also very loud inside, probably due to a weight-saving lack of sound deadening.
We won’t say we pushed it real hard in the corners, because we didn’t–public roads and a price tag much more expensive than our house meant we couldn’t do anything crazy. However, we did at least probe around for the car’s handling limits. And we found that they were very, very high. It did seem to push a little bit, but we’re assuming that trail braking could rein that right in.
Speaking of brakes: Yes, the car had them. All of them. Four-piston AP Racing brake calipers slowed the car, while a driver-adjustable ABS system allowed them to be tuned for different surfaces.
In all, an Audi Sport quattro is a complete joy to drive. Plus, it looks sort of like an M3 having a sugar rush, and who could honestly say that’s a bad thing? We’re going to clean out some room in our garage for one, just in case we win the lottery one day.
How Did This Sport Quattro Get Here?
Just how does a car that was never sold in the United States end up here? Long story short: Somebody wanted it badly.
That somebody was Bob Furges, a Volkswagen dealer in the Midwest. After some paperwork and a short boat ride, this gray-market Sport quattro was given a U.S. plate and let loose on our public roads.
By all accounts, Bob loved the car. He drove it quickly but sparingly and loved to show it off in the paddock while vintage racing. That’s where the car’s current owner, Jimmy Dobbs, first became acquainted with it. Bob eventually grew tired of the Sport quattro as the years passed, and knew Jimmy, a fellow racer, would be the perfect customer. But no matter how much Bob hounded him, he could never convince Jimmy to buy the car.
When Bob passed away in 1999, his collection of cars became his son’s burden. Jimmy called, money changed hands, and Bob’s wish was finally fulfilled.
So, why’d Jimmy finally buy it? As he says, “I like cars that are unique, special, innovative and hand-built. The Sport quattro is all of these. Plus, it’s a blast to drive!” Aside from a respray, Jimmy has done nothing to the quattro but drive it; he says it’s a great car to eat up the miles on a classic car rally like the Classic Motorsports Orange Blossom Tour. His plans for the car? More of the same. Half-million-dollar value or not, this car was made to be driven–and that’s just what Jimmy will do.
“It feels alive, electric, and ready to topple over at any moment.”
So You Want a Sport Quattro?
We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but odds are you’ll never own one of these cars. Sorry, but that’s just reality–there are barely any left, and the survivors trade for about half a million dollars.
However, there is a way to get close to owning a Sport quattro: Audi made thousands of Ur-quattros, and the two models are kindred spirits. Plus, because their bodies haven’t had a foot of space cut out of the middle, the back seats are actually usable in normal quattros. Power comes from a similar turbocharged five-cylinder engine, so an Ur-quattro will still do zero to 60 in less than 8 seconds.