Although it, unfortunately, isn’t the genuine article, this Audi 80 was built to be as faithful a reproduction of Stirling Moss’s Audi 80 touring car is quite a sight.
The original was raced in the British Saloon Car Championship and he… didn’t like it very much. Used to driving cars whose engines made up most of their length, the experience of driving a little FWD saloon wasn’t quite to his tastes.
He went so far as to call his stint in saloon car racing “the biggest regret of [his] life.” He ran in 1980 and 1981, 18 years after he stopped racing modern cars, and the whole series didn’t really suit him.
“One minute I’d been a milkman racing for fun in Clubmans, the next I was in the middle of a media frenzy, about to sit on the same grid as an F1 legend from a distant era,” he told Motorsport Magazine in 2002.
But it was good business for Audi. The story starts with Richar Lloyd, a former record producer-come-racer who was always on the hunt for a new angle to promote his team. In 1977, he had the idea to get Barry Sheane, a famed motorcycle racer whose name is legendary on the Isle of Man, to race alongside Formula 1 driver Derek Bell in a Volkswagen Golf.
The result was an enormous amount of press coverage, which led the Volkswagen-Audi Group to take an interest in Lloyd and his racing team.
“I thought, ‘Hang on! If you put a celebrity in the car you get loads of publicity whether you win or not’,” Volkswagen’s then PR chief, Tony Hill told motorsport. So they were on the hunt for more similar stories.
Hill claims that he and Lloyd came up with Stirling Moss as a joke at first, but found him very amenable when the floated the idea past him. The legendary F1 driver had been getting increasingly into historic racing and signed up to race in the Audi for what Hill described as a “bargain fee.”
Naturally, VW and Audi were only too happy to have Moss race their car. In fact, the get was so good that they decided to put help fund the team and got it a shiny new Audi 80 to compete in the 1300-1600cc class.
Right from the beginning of the campaign, though, the cars were dogged by engine trouble and Moss could only get four practice laps in before the first event.
Future McLaren stylist, Peter Stevens, claims that there was a weird resonance frequency in the engine (one that didn’t affect the GTI) that caused throttle troubles.
That meant that Moss didn’t score his first points until halfway through the season due to retirements. Even when the engine did work, though, Moss struggled. Learning to drive a FWD car proved difficult to the Grand Prix driver who came up in the era of high-power, low-grip, RWD race cars.
Moss was “struggling with the level of grip available,” Martin Brundle, who raced alongside Moss in 1981, told Motorsport. “He wanted to drift the car, but that’s the last thing you want to do with an underpowered, front drive touring car.”
Moss, meanwhile, claimed that it was the slicks and their thermal management that were his real struggles. And others suggest that he was even reluctant to use the kerbs.
That doesn’t mean that it was all difficulties. In 1981, at Brands Hatch, in the wet Moss went from 11th on the grid to second in just six laps. Sadly, the old throttle issues cropped up again and kept from passing the leader, whom he was catching.
Whatever the case, by the end of his second year, Moss didn’t feel like renewing his contract and left saloon car racing.
Despite the trouble, Audi didn’t leave touring car racing. The 80 wasn’t as dominant as other Audis have been in racing—outpowered by the Celicas and RX7s it competed against—but did eventually lead to success.
By the early ‘90s, Audi figured out how to put its Quattro AWD system in the car and had some success in other European touring car championships. Then, with the A4 Quattro, Audi was allowed to campaign AWD in the BTCC and took the 1996 season easily.