Secret Rally Car: Audi Group S Prototype
by Zack K
This is the Audi Group S Prototype. If you haven’t seen it before it’s because it wasn’t supposed to exist. After a photographer spilled the top-secret beans with a picture of a test run the Audi big wigs forced Roland Gumpert‘s team (yes, that Gumpert) to dismantle them, while his highness Ferdinand Piech personally watched. Thankfully, Mr. Gumpert had another one stashed away. Jamal from Hellafunctional.com found this car’s story in an old mag and it’s quite a story. The hyper-light, 1000hp mid-engined car could have been a trophy-laying goose for Audi if they hadn’t scrapped it. Make the jump to learn about this insane little car that never got its shot.
In 1980, Audi introduced its Quattro to the World Rally stage and AWD has been the drive-train of choice ever since. Getting in early they were rewarded with a few years of success, but in 1984 the competition had caught back up. The 5-cylinder engine in the Quattro was mounted way up front and although it was very fast and handled long sweepers well it tended to plow in slow corners. Peugot’s 205 Turbo 16 and Lancia’s Delta S4 were both mid-engined cars, making them more balanced and thanks to their smaller size, more nimble. The Quattro was too big to be competitive. Gumpert knew this and knew mid-engined was the answer.
But Audi’s fix was the Sport Quattro. They figured if the big Quattro wasn’t good in tight corners, make the car shorter. Apparently it was worse; still nose-heavy but in a smaller, twitchier chassis. Despite it being available, 1984 Champion Stig Blomqvist chose to run his older Quattro A2. That tells you something.
Roland’s team knew they needed a mid-engined car, but that annoyed the marketing people. They were building the Audi brand on the back of the front-engined, AWD Quattro. To change the layout now would have made ze Don von Drapers angry. Rumor is Piech gave Roland off-the-record approval, but the cars would have to be built in secret. And I mean secret. They took the project out of Germany to a facility in Desna in the Czech Republic. Cars were shipped from Audi’s factory in miss-marked containers so the people at Audi didn’t even know what was going on. In turn for an in-flow of cash to Desna, the locals were told to keep quiet, which they did.
The test cars looked like Sport Quattros, but the frame and mid-engine were all Prototype. It had the same 5-cylinder from the Sport Quattro, capable of 1000HP. Gee, I wonder why the unlimited rally classes were dangerous?
Gumpert noticed the handling improvement from the new layout immediately and it didn’t take much tweaking before it was deemed ready for a drive by his awesomeness, Walter Rohrl (1982 WRC Champion and current ‘Ring driver for Porsche). They had set up a test drive on a gravel road but the location had been leaked and it was crawling with press. Gumpert turned the trucks around, ditched the gig and drove back into Germany. They found a small tarmac road and let Rohrl loose. He said the car was fantastic. Happening upon a police road block he asked if they had been tipped off. No. The car’s loud exhaust had gotten their attention. To get out of a picture, they required a “proper race start.” Those cops rock.
But someone did get a picture. A lone photographer found them, and ran a picture the next week. And that was it. The calls came down from on high, and 48 hours later Ferdinand Piech himself stood there while Gumpert’s team took apart all the Prototypes.
But Gumpert is a sneaky fuck, and I mean that in the best way. To quote him, “All the cars that were officially built were destroyed.” Keeping it off the books, I like it. This wasn’t even kept at the Desna factory. (There’s rumor of another “lost” car.) That’s why it’s here, sitting in smooth, light fiberglass glory at the Ingolstadt Museum. It’s actually kind of a pretty car, with a smooth, round shape that seems more shrunken super car than rally brawler. The Peugot and Lancias were Rubic’s cubes compared to this.
It’s a shame it never got to run. This little fireball looks more like Le Mans car than a rally car. It’s like an Ultima GTR with a tiny Veyron motor in it. My pea-sized brain thinks that sounds fun. I’d even call it half-pretty, a rarity in rally. And with 1000HP and a mid-engine setup this thing would have danced, shook and screamed through forests and over hills. Rohrl loved it, the engineers loved it and they were all confident it would have shown the world Audi could build the best rally car.
Perhaps one day they’ll dust it off and let it run. I think the Goodwood Festival of Speed would be open to an appearance.