But why would you want to put this most celebrated livery on what, to most people, is little more than a posh, overpriced Polo? It’s not like VW pillages Porsche heritage by offering Gulf liveries on the same is it? It’s clearly struck a chord though, with over 200 brave souls ticking the Competition Line box on their A1s.
Our date in Manchester is with the Audi that inspired our A1’s unexpectedly eye-catching livery. Idle chat with Audi UK’s David Ingram on the off-chance he might know of an original Audi Quattro rally car we could photograph alongside it inspired our northern rendezvous with Quattro fanatic John Hanlon.
It’s actually a sweet little car, this A1. It’s easy to be cynical but in fact the concept of shrinking the things we do like about Audi – the interior ambience, the understated (usually) style and premium trappings – into a perky little supermini work a treat. It’s a downsizer’s delight, the punchy 122hp 1.4-litre turbo engine a lot revvier than its forced induction would suggest, the six-speed manual nicely flickable and the combination of compact size and Audi quality extremely appealing. It even rides well, overwheeled though it may be.
Small talk over, he backs the trailer into the corner of the car park we’ve commandeered for our photos. The car within may or may not start, so we’re hedging our bets and placing it close enough to push into position by hand if needs be.
Ever the tease, Hanlon unlatches the cover and reveals himself as the Quattro zealot he truly is. “Are you ready to meet the original?” he asks, suddenly solemn.
Faithfully restored to represent its original specification this is, it would appear, the very first rally Quattro. Originally run as a course car at the 1980 Algarve Rally – it hadn’t been homologated yet – Hannu Mikkola’s time would have won the event by half an hour. Quite some statement of intent and one followed the year after by a similarly dominant win in Austria in a non-championship event by Franz Wittman. Looking at my cue cards it’s at this point I proclaim ‘the rest is history’.
The stickers are about all these two cars share, the Audi that built this game-changing rally car a very, very different Audi from the global mega-brand that built this posh little supermini.
Hanlon has restored the car to its original Group 4 guise, including the notoriously tricky Pierburg fuel injection, and unique features unearthed during restoration were able to be cross-referenced against period photographs. This, in addition to factory records indicating that this was, indeed, the Algarve car. And Hanlon’s restoration has been nothing if not faithful, warts and all.
Even by the standards of a rally car it’s an industrial piece of kit, the crude, welded-on reinforcements on the underside and sense of mechanical improvisation underlining the sense this was a team feeling its way through uncharted territory. It’s a magic thing – not a time-warp artefact but a living, breathing evocation of a significant period, albeit relatively brief, that will forever be Audi’s legacy.
This livery lived on in the mad 200 Quattro IMSA GTO running a 700hp+ S1 engine and the dominant DTM V8 Quattro. If an A1 was to wear this celebrated colourscheme you might have hoped it would have waited for the loopy 256hp A1 Quattro, but after some photographic detail even hardcore Audi fan Hanlon is warming to the A1.
Conscious we may have overstayed our welcome we move to a nearby residential street, all pillared mansions and Range Rover Sports. Even silent a rally car on a trailer stands out somewhat.
And then, finally, it starts. Holy crap.
Bang goes the neighbourhood
After interminable whirring from the fuel pump, tantilising coughs and splutters and countless will-it, won’t-it pops and bangs all of a sudden the noise that heralded a new era in rallying is live and direct in a posh Manchester suburb.
Conscious our welcome has already been overstayed, we decamp to some wasteground that gives John opportunity to warm it through properly and, effectively brakeless, run back and forth a few times for the camera.
Our A1 looks on, thoroughly outdone by its illustrious ancestor. “Pay your respects,” laughs John as we load the rally car back onto its trailer.
You know what, against the odds and rather unexpectedly, the A1 actually does.
AUDI A1 1.4 TFSI COMPETITION LINE
Engine: 1,390cc 4-cyl turbo
Torque (lb ft):147@1,500rpm
0-62mph: 8.9 sec
Top speed: 126mph
MPG: 53.3mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £18,695 (as tested)