Road Tests

Archive

Monday 27th February 2012


AUDI QUATTRO RALLY CAR VS AUDI A1

One inspired a revolution in rallying, the other is a jazzed up supermini - Dan tries hard to draw a link


OK, driving to Manchester and back in a day from PH towers isn’t the most perilous automotive quest ever undertaken by man and machine. But on the strength of a set of stickers?

Would you? Over 200 A1 buyers have
Would you? Over 200 A1 buyers have
The Audi A1 Competition Line pack is just that. A £1,225 options package it adds spectacularly oversized 18-inch ‘Polygon’ wheels, a bodykit and various other trimmings. These play second fiddle to the Audi Sport livery though, the iconic colourscheme that signified Audi’s domineering approach to rallying and touring car racing in the 80s and 90s. Debuted as one of seven ‘motto vehicles’ at the 2010 VW meet at Worthersee, the Competitioon Line is Audi actually putting its money where its mouth is by offering the package to customers. Which is, perhaps, a little out of character, but who’s to begrudge a brand often painted as taking itself a tad seriously having a bit of fun?

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.

Warm hatch in fancy clothes better than hoped
Warm hatch in fancy clothes better than hoped
How do you do
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.

A1 in fancy stickers meets its inspiration
A1 in fancy stickers meets its inspiration
Hanlon’s not impressed though. The covered Brian James trailer behind his van remains steadfastly closed as he surveys the A1 with a purist’s contempt.

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.

True original
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.

And original it is.

Three decades on it's back as it was
Three decades on it's back as it was
Hanlon feigns offence at Audi downplaying his Quattro as ‘the course car from Portugal’. You can forgive him though, because the car Hanlon unearthed is by his reckoning a true original. Indeed, it’s fair to say this particular car, this actual car, changed the face of rallying.

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.

Restoration has been as faithful as possible
Restoration has been as faithful as possible
True, this is a competition car and one that’s been through over three decades of experimentation, competition, evolution and bastardisation. Thereby raising the spectre of true originality. Audi’s official line on the matter is measured, pointing out that, like any hard-working competition car, many of the parts will have been updated and replaced during its life. Indeed, when Audi sold the car off in 1986 it was in updated Group B A1 specification, undergoing further modification for rallycrossing in Ireland later.

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.

Getting the A1 moving was easy enough
Getting the A1 moving was easy enough
Crude but fair
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.

It's worth the effort getting it started
It's worth the effort getting it started
So begins a protracted attempt to start the rally car for some equivalent moving shots. An hour, several batteries, jump packs and much head scratching later and an increasingly distraught Hanlon is ready to admit defeat, the Pierburg injection system failing to play ball. Purely mechanical and demanding 8bar of pressure, there’s no means of regulating the fuel flow for the temperature of the engine and no electronic control. Cajoling it into action takes a keen ear for the correct pitch of the fuel pump, experience and the stars to be aligned. Which they’re clearly not.

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.

It's just a bit of fun - who can blame 'em!
It's just a bit of fun - who can blame 'em!
It’s brutal, uncouth and utterly thrilling – as the shaky iPhone footage below will attest. What the impact must have been 31 years ago when this thing first emerged from its trailer in Portugal can only be imagined.

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
Power (hp):122@5,000rpm
Torque (lb ft):147@1,500rpm
0-62mph:  8.9 sec
Top speed: 126mph
Weight: 1,100kg
MPG: 53.3mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 124g/km
Price: £18,695 (as tested)


 










Author: Dan Trent