Quattro Sport, for short

At the Frankfurt Show last September Audi and Porsche showed off their new competition cars intended for homologation. Both had four-wheel drive and both had four valves per cylinder, but since the Audi is an evolution of the rally Quattro it’s no surprise that the Ingolstadt contender is ready first, and will make its international debut on the Tour de Corse in a few days time.

During April Audi lined up 200 production Quattro Sports and 20 evolution models for inspection by FISA representatives, and the necessary homologation should be available on May 1st. The production cars, with luxury equipment and producing 300 horsepower, are now on sale at a German tax-paid price of DM 195,000, and 20 examples already have British customers queueing up to write cheques for close on £60,000. Four minutes in a Quattro Sport is hardly long enough to appraise the machine. Harald Demuth, one of Audi’s driver team, drove us on a lap of a rectangular circuit on an airfield near the factory, and we then drove him around for one lap. The turbocharged Quattro Sport is sensationally fast, but quiet and civilised too, on first impression. By lopping 12.6 inches from the wheelbase and by using a number of lightweight materials, such as Kevlar, the kerb weight of the Sport has been reduced to 990 kg compared with the Quattro’s 1,300 kg in road trim. Power that by a very sophisticated engine which has its horsepower rating increased by 50% and the claimed top speed of 250 kph (155 mph) is entirely credible, as is the 100 kph (62 mph) acceleration time of 5.1 seconds.

The smell of leather from the heavy, luxurious Recaro seats exudes from the interior when you open the doors which are, curiously enough, made of steel in the production models, so as to meet the side-impact safety standards. The bare bodyshells are sent to the Baur coachworks where a section is literally cut out, the roof, wheel arches, and front and rear lids being replaced by Kevlar panels.

Rear seats are still to be seen, but for no practical purpose since the front seats are practically touching the cushions. Suede material is used for the roof-lining, and the cabin is very well furnished with a full complement of gauges, even a stereo system, though the windows are manually operated. So, just as the Porsche Turbo was launched as a luxury car nine years ago, the Quattro Sport is designed to appeal to very wealthy customers, the majority of whom will go nowhere near a rally stage in their lives. The engine block is now made of aluminium rather than iron, and the new 20-valve cylinder head is a crossflow design which was not the case before. The power unit itself is 23 kg lighter than the normal Quattro’s, Kevlar also being used for such purposes as cowling the inboard radiator to make sure it receives its quota of cold air which has already passed through the Laengerer & Reich intercooler. The size of the KKK turbocharger has been increased, and the waste gate setting has been adjusted to a maximum of 2.2 bar (ca. 31 pounds) which is extremely high for a road car. Bosch LH-Jetronic injection feeds the intake manifold, and the compression ratio is 8.0:1. Full rally-size ventilated disc brakes are fitted all round, and the system includes ABS anti-skid which can be switched off at will, if for instance the driver wants to slide the car to set it up for a corner or, more likely, he is driving on fresh snow, or gravel, where the build-up under the tyres helps retardation.

Power assisted rack and pinion steering is employed on the road cars, and power goes to the road through 225 / 50 dimension Michelin X tarmac rally tyres on alloy 9J x 15 inch wheels. To look at, the Quattro Sport is short and mean. The wheelbase of 86.7 inches, shorter even than an Austin Metro’s, makes it seemingly impossible to get 300 horsepower, let alone the rally version’s 530 horsepower, onto the surface in a way that any driver could control. But four-wheel drive makes all the difference, and Harald Demuth assured us that the Sport version is no more difficult to drive than the existing rally car. Blasting off along the short straight of the airfield rectangle, the engine gave a loud sneeze when Demuth declutched to take second gear. “That’s the wastegate” the German assured us as we looked behind to see if mangled con-rods were lying in the road. Through the first ninety left and onto the mile-long straight, which seemed uncomfortably narrow as the speedometer climbed towards 220 kph. The real surprise was how very quiet the Quattro Sport was, conversation in normal tones being quite possible. Demuth used the brakes to reduce speed at the end of the straight, not selecting second gear until he was ready to turn into the next ninety left, and after a ten day programme of taking journalists round the circuit there was a little vibration coming through from the discs. Our own lap at the wheel did not prove very much, except to repeat the experience of scorching acceleration, nimble turn-in to the tight corners, and to note that the suspension felt well-damped as we took a minor intersection at around 130 mph. Those customers who don’t have to worry about the cost of the car, all 20 of them in Britain, are probably going to be exceedingly pleased with their choice.

Part of the exercise was to underline the advantages of four-wheel drive, a long technical session being organised to emphasise the handling advantages not only on snow, where traction can be double that of a conventionally driven car, but on wet roads, and even to a marginal extent on dry tarmac too. A slalom test with three Audi 80 Quattros — one with front-drive only, one with a centre differential lock, and one with permanent four-wheel drive, proved this point, the 4wd machines being marginally quicker through the slalom (which was wet) and feeling more taut and easier to handle than the front-drive version.

We were convinced, but there is obviously a softening-up exercise going on in preparation for the day when all Audis have 4wd as standard, or as an option, sometime towards the end of this year, the price premium being about DM 4,000, or slightly more than £1,000. Within two years all the Volkswagens, too, will have the Tetra system as standard or as an option, though in the case of the Golf it will be a new system under development by Steyr-Puch involving pneumatically operated front and rear differentials which lock up the wheels as soon as they begin to slip, not before. The more expensive Audis can stand the price margin, but it remains to be seen whether a 4wd system would prove popular in the Golf market. To the engineers, who are positive that 4wd is as great a step forward as all-wheel braking was half a century ago, the logic is compelling . . . but they don’t have to pay for it. — M.L.C.