The ‘80s were among the most formative years for Audi. Its reputation as a performance manufacturer, the reputation of all-wheel-drive, and one of rallying’s most important decades are all irrevocably linked thanks to Audi.
So the brand’s UK office has opened up the vault to show off some of its favorite pictures from the era and spoke to some of the big names who there. Names like Harald Demuth, a rally driver who won the 1982 and 1984 German rally championships from behind the wheel of an Audi Quattro.
He joined Audi in 1979 after having driven for Toyota in the German Rally Championship.
“Volkswagen had an excellent record with the Golf, but Audi had no presence in rallying,” Demuth told Audi. “However, there was a lot of whispering behind hands that Audi had something special waiting in the bush, as we say.”
To gain a better understanding of rally competition, Audi started its rally career with a FWD Audi 80. And the car was pretty good, but its real purpose was to allow Audi to test an AWD version that was camouflaged as a regular 80.
It was clear from early on that the Quattro system was a huge advantage, so Demuth had to keep everything under his hat.
Yorkshire’s Phil Short, meanwhile, became the first Briton to compete and win in a rally Quattro. Co-driving for Björn Waldegård, the team won the Welsh Rally in a first-ten Group 4 Quattro in 1982.
“It was unbelievable to sit in that car,” Short told Audi UK. “In those days we were used to Ford Escorts, Vauxhall Chevettes and Talbot Sunbeams with 240PS and rear-wheel drive. Suddenly we had 330PS with four-wheel drive – and the most staggering performance.”
He would eventually go on to co-drive with one of rallying’s biggest names at the 1984 Scottish Rally in a Group B A2 Quattro.
“The car was so good,” said Short. “It was an incredible feeling to sit on the start line and know that, unless something went wrong, you were probably going to win. Which we did, by six minutes.”
Although Demuth didn’t become one of the names we associate with Group B, he did drive the Quattro that would come to dominate the sport.
“Over the years I drove the Group B quattro and the 80 quattro in the UK,” says Demuth. “There was a massive difference in the performance, of course. But the handling and the feeling in the corners was very similar thanks to the all-wheel-drive system.”
The Group B days were nothing if not impressive and the Quattro gained a certain reputation among its drivers.
“I called my car Christine – after the Stephen King book and film of the same name about the 1958 Plymouth Fury that just kept rebuilding itself and could never be stopped,” said Demuth. “I’d spin off the track and go through a ditch, there’d be a big bang, and I’d think, ‘This is it – I’ve done it this time!’ But my quattro would just keep going, and later when I had a look in the service halt, there would only be a little scratch.”
By 1985, Short was co-driving with Walter Röhrl. Even Short wasn’t told how much the short-wheelbase Sport S1 E2 was making at the time, but he knew it was well over 500 hp.
“It was Formula 1 technology in the forest,” he said. “When that thing left the start line, it was like a rocket ship. It made your head spin until you got used to the way the forces were working on your body. It was frightening at times. We crashed out, 80 meters down a Welsh mountain, and I remember thinking that the cars cannot go on like this.”
Indeed, Group B speed eventually outpaced safety so much that the sport had to be slowed down. According to Short, going back to Group A regulations, from more than 500 hp down to 190 hp, was a massive adjustment.
“On the first test, we looked at each other and laughed because it felt so slow after Group B,” said Short. “But it got better. We had some great times in it, winning the Scottish and Cyprus rallies.”
Eventually, Audi would leave rallying altogether, but Quattro technology would follow its cars into sports car racing and almost all of its future endeavors.
But the hold the Group B Quattros have over the people who drove them continues to this day.
Norman Gault, who worked as a mechanic for Audi UK’s rally team in the ‘80s and now helps look after the company’s heritage collection recalls showing Michele Mouton her car for her drive up the Goodwood hill climb.
“Her eyes got so big behind the wheel – she wanted to do everything at maximum attack again, like the old days,” Gault told Audi. “All the drivers we worked with – Hannu Mikkola, Michèle Mouton and Stig Blomqvist – were fantastic, and we still have good times when we get together.”