Who built the first 250-horsepower Quattro? The first turbocharged German wagon? The first long-wheelbase Audi with all-wheel drive? The first all-wheel-drive convertible? The first off-road-inspired Audi? The first aluminum space-frame car? The first mid-engine car with Volkswagen’s Audi Group underpinnings?
They all came from the mind of one incredible engineer named Walter Treser.
It’s not that Treser was without connection to the company, though, as he was intimately involved with developing the legendary Quattro and other models, then later headed up Audi’s rally program. Sure, Ferdinand Piëch gets all the credit for being the visionary that made all-wheel drive possible, but Treser is the engineer that actually turned that vision into reality.
But he didn’t rest on his laurels for long.
In 1981, Treser departed the company that he helped set in a very new direction. Unencumbered by the restraints of the corporate world, he engaged on a quest to maximize the potential of Audi’s new platform. He developed unconventional cars, for an unconventional decade marked by excess, in trying to put himself and the four rings on a level playing field with notable German tuners Alpina, AMG and Ruf. Yet at the zenith of his creative power, Treser met the reality of business as the world around him changed in the late 1980s. Treser never achieved the notoriety his peers did with other marques, and today is mostly a forgotten page in book full of expired ’80s endeavors.
Yet Treser should be celebrated for his genius and creativity if for nothing else. Quite simply, he made the most outrageous Audis anyone had ever seen, and even took a turn modifying Volkswagens. No one else made creations like he did. And, even though so few have heard of him, some of these cars were briefly available through a Treser dealer network in the U.S.
Let’s take a look at six of his most notable examples.
Treser Quattro Roadster
The Quattro was the model most intrinsically linked with Treser, so it made sense for him to focus on it first. Treser offered many upgrades to the model, including a 250-horsepower engine. The CIS fuel injection system on these cars somewhat limited maximum fuel delivery, so Treser modified Porsche 928 fuel distributors to pump more fuel into the engine. Treser also offered upgraded stereos, full leather interiors with custom dashboards, unique seats and steering wheels, TRX directional-veined wheels, and a semi-garish body kit. His suspension upgrades were also impressive, with a 20 mm drop in height accompanied by revised mounting points to keep the geometry spot-on. He was, after all, an engineer. But Treser’s coup de grâce was to chop the roof section off, making an awkward yet innovative folding roof contraption with a Quasimodo-esque profile. Fully spec out your Roadster and you’d be looking at a bill for 172,000 DM, or about $141,000 USD today.
Long before Audi conceived the Allroad, Treser developed a light, off-road version of the 90 (4000) Quattro. Jacked up and with bulging fender flares, the Hunter also carried substantial-looking brush guards, a signature Treser grille, and smoked tail lights. It had an upgraded suspension, brakes and hubs borrowed from its turbocharged bigger brother to hold the veined 415 mm TRX wheels, which were wrapped in beefy 280/45 VR tires that would look more at home on a Geländewagen. As its all-wheel-drive configuration meant there was precious little room for a full-size spare, Treser mounted one on the tail of the car in full, off-road style. Its performance was also optionally turned up, with Treser claiming his firm achieved about 160 horsepower from the normally aspirated 2.3 inline-five; impressive, given the engine available in the U.S. cranked out only 115 horsepower. Treser even claimed the Hunter could tackle 45-degree gradients. Treser offered the Hunter after 1986 on the then-new B3 chassis, too.
In 1984, you couldn’t buy a five-door version of Audi’s new Type 44 (C3) turbo. To remedy this, Treser made one — sort of. He extended the roof line and modified a standard Avant hatch to create a notchback version of the sedan. Performance varied on which version of the chassis you selected — standard 100 to a Treser-tuned version or the 180 horsepower turbocharged 200 version. The modifications weren’t cheap, basically doubling the price of a new 200 turbo to nearly $74,000 in today’s money.
The company’s largest creation is a rare beast and you’re lucky to ever see one in your lifetime. While Audi cut 13-inch out of its all-wheel-drive coupe to make the Sport Quattro, the Largo was a chopped and lengthened version of the Type 44 chassis. Adding 12.6 inches to the overall length of the 100 made the car perhaps a bit ungainly from the side, but the 201-inch long Audi matched the length of the W126 500SEL. Like all the body modifications Treser made, they were well executed but expensive. Stretching the chassis alone would cost about $50,000 today, not including the price of the car. While the Largo looked fast with its unique body kit and wheels, it was no faster than the stock vehicle on which it was based as Treser felt the standard 200’s power unit was sufficient for motivation. Not to be outdone, when Audi finally produced its own Lang model of the later V8 Quattro, Treser offered a further stretch of that vehicle, too.
Treser Super 200
Treser offered a full line of so-called Superpfeile (Super Arrow) modifications for the entire Audi line. In the U.S., Treser marketed these at the Audi Super 4000 and Super 5000, but they could also be had for Coupe and later Coupe GT forms. They basically consisted of a body kit, wheels, unique interior bits and darkened tail lights in the U.S., but you could opt to turn up the power with Treser’s special 2.3-liter motor, which had a reworked head, pistons, cam and exhaust system. The hottest model was the European Super 200, which had nearly 250 horsepower and could be purchased in either Avant or sedan form.
Treser’s earlier work focused primarily on available Audi chassis, but he saw the opportunity to expand into a new convertible market emerging from the threat of government banishment in the 1980s.
Treser worked with a company called Hydro Aluminum to create an extruded, light-metal skeleton with cast aluminum attaching nodes, further reinforced with polyurethane foam. Power came from a 1.8-liter 16V motor from the GTI stuck in the middle of the car. Drivetrain and suspension parts came from VAG, which meant that the front axle was the same as the front drive Golf’s — a compromise that ultimately led to some failures later, apparently. There was a one-off race series to promote these cars in Germany, but the company went bankrupt before production could get fully underway and Treser produced less than 50 in total. The rounded wedge shape was decidedly modern for the mid ’80s, but it’s hard to view the TR1 and not see the Lotus Elan, which came to market the year after Treser folded its roof for the last time.
If you’re interested in learning a bit more about all of Walter Treser’s creationsm, the Treser Audi page has lots of great information including original brochures for each model and construction pictures. You might want to brush up on your German, though.
[Images and sources: Treser Audi Germany, Road and Track]
This story first appeared on thetruthaboutcars.com