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There’s no doubt that the 60s and 70s made for a period of some of the most iconic sportscar design. Long before Audi ever considered an R8, there were the legends of nearly any Ferrari with a 250 or 365 designation, the Lamborghini Miura and Countach, and countless others from storied marques like Jaguar, Maserati and even Mercedes. Alas, Audi had yet to make its pre-war return during much of this time, and as the 70s era sportscars were just winding down the Ingolstadt brand was just coming back online from its postwar coma. Alas, Audi fans have no real sportscars that they can turn harken back to during this wonderful era… or do they?
Yes, there were a few concepts done by known carrozzeria of the time. There was the Quartz Concept by Pininfarina and the Asso di Picche by Giugiaro… and before them there was a little known mid-engine concept car by a lesser known styling house. Pietro Frua didn’t have the name recognition of some of his Italian contemporaries, but his pen and his Turin-based firm seem considerably influential just the same. Google the name and you’ll find many well-known cars by the man including the Volvo P1800 and Maserati Mistral. You’ll also find plenty of concepts that offered intriguing ‘what-if’ one-offs based on cars like the Dodge Challenger, Chevy Camaro and countless BMW designs that heavily influenced that brand’s 70s design language. By 1970 though, Pietro Frua had lost his business with BMW and was scrambling to look for new work. Out of this time came his 1974 Audi Coupe Speciale mittelmotor concept.
According to sources at Audi Tradition, the coupe was designed by Frua and revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in 1974. The car made use of Audi 100 (C1) Coupe S components as its basis, though it was altered dramatically in order to transform the car from the front engine front-wheel drive configuration of the Coupe S to a mid-engine rear-wheel drive setup. Behind the driver’s compartment sat the radiator and behind that was Audi’s 112 hp inline four cylinder. A ridiculously small luggage compartment was created at the front and a second compartment was located at the rear, above the the gearbox and drivetrain. The engine itself was cooled via slots in the engine cover and via the gill-like vents located just aft the side doors.
From a design standpoint, the car has a very 70s era look about it. You can see similarities with other cars of the time, though the most striking of these must certainly be the Maserati Merak and its very similar stand-alone “C-pillar” supports at the rear and its wedge-like overall shape. The Maserati must certainly have been an influence, as its Giugiaro-design was introduced two years earlier by the Italian marque.
According to Audi Tradition, whose staff have spoken on the subject of the car with now-retired executives who were there at the time, Audi had no influence in the production of this car. Frua had his own firm and was, in effect, a freelancer. It appears he likely may have built the car in an effort to win over business from the newly rising Audi brand given he’d lost business with the company’s Munich-based rival not long before.
Today the status of the Coupe Speciale mittelmotor concept remains unknown. Pietro Frua died nearly ten years after the car debuted, in June of 1983 and at the age of 70. The whereabouts of the car itself seem to be a bit of a mystery based on our research. Audi Tradition is also unaware of the car’s status.
What we can conclude in the end is simply that this was a very tastefully designed mid-engine Audi designed during one of the greatest eras of sportscars. How naturally those small and subtle four-ring logos appear at the rear and on the lower rear side valances hint at what might have been, and also at an era of sportscars like the Audi R8 that were still decades away.
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