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“Really?” echoed in my head in a sort of Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers kind of resonance several weeks ago when I heard about a Road & Track photo shoot involving Audi of America’s super rare 1984 Sport quattro and 1980s American rally driver John Buffum. R&T’s pitch was to compare and contrast the Sport quattro and the new RS 5, with a bit of a bio on Buffum for historical perspective. All was going well until the very beginning of the first photo shoot with the Sport when Buffum lost control of the car and stuffed it into a ditch, demolishing the front end. Really?!?!
Most fans are probably aware of the car. It originally belonged to ACNA founder Frank Beddor, and then was sent into Audi’s possession somewhere along the way. It is often on display at Audi events and races and occasionally is trotted out for duty with the press. We’ve used it on several occasions at the Carlisle event in the spring and had a chance to shoot it with an early German market TT RS on one of those occasions.
It’s a great car, to be sure. It’s also seen its share of pain. The story behind a mangled piece of ronal alloy kept in the trunk goes that a dealer employee at some point took it out for a spin, quite literally, was bit by some snap oversteer that is not uncommon in short wheelbase cars and hit a curb sideways… causing for some fairly serious repair.
Those super wide period Ronals aren’t very easy to replace. Nor are they easy to shod. With not so many tires made in that size anymore, the Audi of America Sport quattro has been wearing slicks that look cool, but we’ve always guessed would be dicey in the rain or on gravel. Still, they get the job done for the basic display duty and occasional parade laps. But what happens when you put an ambitious retired rally driver at the wheel, an ambitious Road & Track photo team in the woods and that short wheelbase car running slicks on a gravel road? Well, I think we’d all hope it wouldn’t be this.
My heart breaks for the Audi PR team on this one. They’ve gone above and beyond in helping make some very cool stories happen this year – and many in the pages of R&T. Assembling one of every kind of R8 at Indy, including R8 GRAND-AM and R8 LMP1 was really something very special. So too was this supposed to be.
Road & Track has published the story. You can find it online HERE or also in their print magazine in stands or on your tablet in the January 2013 issue on pp. 52-59. There’s some stunning photography in there – beauty shots of the car, shots of Buffum and even shots of the stuffed Sport quattro. The story focuses mainly on John, and even controversially focuses on the wreck from the outset. It’s presented in a way that’s kind of like “we absolve ourselves from any guilt in this happening because John was driving, but hey look at these awesome pics of a wrecked legend.”
That theme continues in the writing, where they quote Buffum lamenting the RS 5′s lack of ability to left foot brake… perfect for man handling an old quattro around in a rally, but unsurprisingly not very desirable by a manufacturer building a luxury GT car in today’s litigious environment.
The story is kind of perfect for raising eyebrows or soliciting OMGs on internet forums, but something I guess I’m disappointed in seeing from Road & Track. I’ve personally been on events and shoots where something this special happens… not the wreck, but the coming together of cars that rarely do. When Audi was kind enough to give us just enough free reign with that same Sport quattro and then the only TT RS in the country, we felt as if we’d hit the lottery with an exclusive story no one else could match.
Our shoot was on a wooded mountain in the middle of Pennsylvania. At the summit of the mountain the paved road ended and a dirt track began. Off to the right was a small access road where there was just enough room to pull both cars off and shoot them free of interruption. As we stood there admiring the cars and nabbing photography, that dirt track road called to us. Collectively we all heard the cry, but the TT RS was on 20-inch wheels and the Sport quattro on slicks. Granted, yes, none of us were any John Buffum… but even experts make mistakes as has been seen. We settled for car-to-car shots of the pair going back down the paved road we’d come up. Granted, we have no gravel drifting shots… but at what cost?
Word out of Audi of America is that the Sport quattro is being repaired. It’ll be back out at shows before long. Still, there’s part of me that’s still just a bit depressed because I wouldn’t be surprised if stunts like this combined with the way this story was told could make Audi less willing to allow for such happenings in the future. I do hope I’m wrong.
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