1984 Audi Sport Quattro: First Drive

In 1984, Stig Blomqvist won the Rallye Côte d'Ivoire in the Audi Sport Quattro, driving mostly sideways. In 2011, Audi reps allowed me to nurse a road-going version, wheels forward, around a private racetrack. Blomqvist may have had more fun, but my heart was nonetheless attempting to burst through my chest.

In the prehistoric era before the Mitsubishi Evo and the Subaru STI, there were muscle cars and there were sports cars, and none of them were propelled by more than two wheels at a time. And then, on some fateful day in 1979 or thereabouts, FISA (now part of the FIA) allowed — or were fooled into allowing, depending on whom you ask — Audi to enter all-wheel-drive vehicles in the World Rally Championship.

The result — a new, virtually unlimited rally class, known as Group B, arrived in 1982 and manufacturers launched a kind of high-tech arms race. All-wheel drive became a performance enhancement, not just a tool to help guys with beards assassinate the cast of Bambi.

Audi dominated Group B early with its Quattro coupe rally cars. But soon purpose-built, mid-engined competitors like the Peugeot 205 T16 and Lancia Delta S4 loomed large. Audi's response was to gather its engineers behind the Iron Curtain and build a super-secret mid-engine prototype that some say produced more than 1,000 horsepower.

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The shadowy "Group S" prototype was eventually lost to a corporate power struggle, the story goes. Ferdinand Piëch demanded the company's top rally car be based on real products in Audi showrooms.

And so, engineers instead faced down their car's weight-distribution problem with the race-shop version of a katana blade, slicing the Quattro's wheelbase between the B- and C-pillars by just over a foot. They also created a lightweight body of carbon-kevlar and boosted horsepower of the turbocharged inline five (now displacing 2,133cc) into the mid-400s with a 20-valve head and aluminum cylinder block. A limited-edition roadgoing version was planned to meet rally homologation rules.

That version was the 1984 Sport Quattro, in one of which I'm now trundling up the drive at Wilzig Racing Manor and preparing to merge onto a private racetrack. For its day, the 306-hp Sport Quattro was amazingly quick, with a 0-60 time of around 4.5 seconds, but we won't be seeing those times today. I've grudgingly promised to keep to grocery-getting speeds, considering this car must remain in one piece as it makes the rounds to corporate and press events.

1984 Audi Sport Quattro: First Drive

Considering the car's advanced age, a bit of driveline shunt shouldn't be surprising — and there is a little. These days we forget that drivelines didn't always respond like they were made from zeros and ones. One moment of tomfoolery with the throttle reveals also that, yes, turbo lag was something rally drivers once planned for — using their left booties for braking while keeping revs up with their throttle feet. Steering is very direct, however, reminding me of the BMW E30 that was this car's contemporary. The shifter throws provide further evidence that people in the old days had longer arms than we do today.

The Sport Quattro was a stopgap car, bridging the longer-wheelbase A2 with the Sport Quattro S1 — which arrived in the fall of 1985 and delivered Audi's last Group B victory in the WRC. During 1985, the twitchy Sport Quattro came in second to the Peugeot 205 T16 five times, which must have frustrated drivers Blomqvist and Walter Röhrl to no end.

1984 Audi Sport Quattro: First Drive

Still, the Sport Quattro is in no small measure an important motoring artifact. It's one of the best examples the mid-period Group B homologation era. For its time, the Sport Quattro delivered supercar performance under the guise of a plebeian coupe with an admittedly awkward profile.

When they were new, each of the 224 sport quattro models cost 203,850 German Marks. At a 1984 exchange rate of around 2.8, the price shook out to approximately $72,800. Adjusted for inflation, that's around $160,000 in 2011 dollars. Doesn't seem like much — merely Aston Martin money — until you consider that in 1984 there were only 12 billionaires in the U.S. Now there are 412. Maybe one of them will let me shake down his Sport Quattro a little more thoroughly.

(Photos: Jim Fets)