For Audi enthusiasts

05blackbird r8 photo



23 February 2009

If you don’t remember the SR-71 Blackbird, maybe you missed an important part of your youth. It should be filed somewhere in “badass” portion of your brain, right between the Shelby Cobra and your first Big Wheel. I had a poster of one plastered on my wall and another on display with my collection of toy cars. It was so menacing, I’d wake up in the morning and swear all the other toys had retreated a few inches from where the Blackbird was sitting.

In case you need a quick refresher, The Blackbird was a titanium-constructed monster of a stealth jet with a look that blended elements from the Batmobile, a cobra snake, and a scorpion, all smashed together into a shape that would make Freud cry. Low, sleek, and dark, it slipped through the air mostly unseen. When it was spotted and targeted, the SR-71 was so fast that its primary evasive technique was simply more throttle.

It’s fitting then, that the owner of this R8 (a man who fits the stealth-jet image by preferring to be left anonymous) dubbed his project the R8 Blackbird. It too has a dark and sexy demeanor, complicated built-in defense systems, and enough speed to outrun its troubles.

While the Blackbird of aviation fame was created in a deep corner of Lockheed-Martin’s Advanced Development Programs Department, the wings-clipped Audi version is a product of Ai Design in Tuckahoe, New York. Matt Figliola and his Ai team are some of the most detail-oriented customizers in the business, and the shop’s resume also features one specific bullet point that’s especially notable in explaining why the owner trusted these guys for the work–this is the shop that outfitted both of Alex Roy’s famous Team Polizei E39 M5 sedans.

Naturally, the work done for Roy served as a standard to which the R8 had to meet. However, while the famous M5 makes its many screens and systems known, almost comically so, the stealth theme of the Audi carries on throughout the small cabin. OEM-looking materials were used for a roof-mounted center console that houses a CB radio, many switches, and the controls for the Passport 9500ci radar system. The Passport isn’t your typical stick-on-the-windshield system, either. The 9500ci both detects and, er, “shifts” laser signals, sending an error message back to the source laser gun. It also has a library of red light and speed camera locations built in. For the Blackbird application, the controls are in the overhead console but the display itself is hidden in the glass of the rearview mirror. The system has over 100 parts in all, so it’s rather difficult to squeeze everything cleanly into the car. For the GPS antenna, for example, the rear decklid was disassembled and rebuilt with the antenna hidden inside. Two Garmin navigation units are hard-wired in and mounted on the windshield, while a built-in iPhone monitors speed trap reporting websites. When necessary, a master on/off switch hidden on the emergency brake handle allows the light orgy to go dark in seconds.

There’s another button added inside the R8 that has nothing to do with the many gizmos tucked away in all corners of the cabin. Instead, it controls the flaps inside the Capristo exhaust. Flipped open, the pure magnificence that’s created inside an Audi 4.2-liter can be heard in its most unadulterated form still legal on streets. Closed shut, the muted exhaust makes the R8’s driver seem like a nun behind the wheel (presumably–we don’t have much experience with the subject.) Todd Henderson, Ai Design’s marketing director, tells us this is the first Capristo-equipped R8 in the country. From what we’ve heard of it, it won’t be the last–though Milltek certainly offers a fine alternative. For the Blackbird, the system is topped off with black ceramic-coated tips. This R8 won’t break the sound barrier three times over like its namesake, but should deliver enough of a boom to set of a car alarm or two.

As a whole, and with the exhaust corked, the Blackbird is as unassuming as an R8 can be; we’ll spare you the similes, but needless to say it still stands out. Like the exhaust tips, the brake hats and calipers are coated in black ceramic, while the 20-inch SDS AV-80 wheels are powder coated to match. The car’s U.S.-spec lights have also been replaced with more attractive European units. Ai Design’s final product would have Lockheed’s SR-71 team feeling envious, and the Bullrun participants apparently felt the same way–the Blackbird won “best-looking vehicle” at the 2008 event. The cleanliness of this creation is lost a bit in the bestickered form you see here, but even with the clutter it still looks amazing.

Then there’s the liquid-cooled infrasonic wave pulse generator that mounts to the grille but isn’t pictured here. We’ll tell you all about it, but we fear what its owner might do to us with it.

The Blackbird R8 has served its purpose well, completing the 2008 Bullrun by sprinting about 3700 miles in just five days. Impressive, unless you consider that the other Blackbird can fly coast-to-coast in 68 minutes and 17 seconds; how’s that for a humbling statistic? The R8’s owner might argue that Arizona state troopers slowed up his progress – the story goes the Blackbird R8 was leading the entire race before the owner’s co-driver was nabbed for triple digits and taken “downtown”. The delay knocked them out of contention. But hey, the SR-71 had to evade a pre-Glasnost super power.

With the Bullrun complete, the Blackbird R8 spends much of its time at the New York Motor Club, sitting in the parking lot, driving fast, and looking fantastic. According to a blog on that organization’s website, the car is currently for sale. Not because the owner is over it, but because he’s on the list for the upcoming R8 5.2 FSI. The car currently has 19,000 miles and a brand new clutch tucked inside the R-tronic gearbox. All the toys (other than the top secret pulse generator, which could possibly be seized by the military) come with it, at a price that’ll only be released to serious buyers who contact the owner directly.

What’s the guy got in store for his V-10 R8? We can’t say, but here’s one target for him to think about: if he’d like to claim a top speed record for a vehicle bearing the Blackbird name, he’ll need to make is Audi capable of 2243 mph.


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For more photos of the car in this story, click on the link to our gallery at the right.

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