How Audi killed the mid-engined Quattro

A secret project to build a mid-engined Quattro could have resulted in rally dominance, but upon its discovery Audi bosses ordered the cars destroyed. Why?

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Group S rally cars were set to take over from the infamous Group B monsters of the 1980s. The new regulations were to turn rally from a horsepower war to a technological arms race.

The series never got its chance, as Group S cars were outlawed when the axe fell on Group B, making many interesting prototype cars redundant. However, there were casualties even before this. The mid-engine Audi Quattro and RS 002 were two such cars, but these project were so secret that every top Audi bosses had no idea of their existence.

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The Quattro pioneered the use of all-wheel drive in rally to great success, but by 1984 the rest of the field had cottoned on. Peugeot, Lancia and even MG were all working on their own take on Audi’s formula for success – Peugeot in particular proving that AWD and a mid-engine layout was the way forward. This was a problem for Audi, as its road cars didn’t feature or promote such a thing.

When the designers consulted the Audi ‘big-wigs’ on the subject of a mid-engined rally car, they were categorically told NO. Audi’s public perception was that the best formula for tough conditions was all-wheel drive and the engine up-front; to build a high-profile rally car with its engine in the middle would undermine the brand’s current model line-up.

Deflated, designers got to work on trying to improve the Quattro’s weight distribution another way. The Sport Quattro made use of an all-aluminium alloy engine, carbon-kevlar body, and a shortened wheelbase in a bid to reduce understeer. Both the S1 and S2 variants put up a good fight, but Peugeot’s 205 T16 was still the car to beat.

Frustrated but undeterred, the Audi Sport boffins decided to go against the wishes of top brass and build a mid-engined Quattro prototype. At the time it didn’t have a name, as it didn’t officially exist. It was developed in total secrecy and tested behind the Iron Curtain at a Porsche facility in Czechoslovakia. Crates containing the prototype had to be marked with misleading names in order to go unnoticed by outsiders. The project showed promise, and star driver Walter Röhrl was keen to get behind the wheel.

A secret test was organised on a gravel road in Austria, where Röhrl confirmed what the engineers already knew — the mod-engined Quattro was a champion in waiting. However, a photographer received a tip about the test and promptly got to the location armed with his camera. The images of the car were published, causing a lot of embarrassment at Audi HQ, and repercussions were to soon follow.

According to reports, less than 48 hours after the car’s picture was published, every prototype was dismantled right in front of its creators to avoid similar incidents and to send a clear message to those involved. Sadly this process killed another mid-engine Quattro, one even more secret than the last.

Group B was set to be replaced by Group S in 1988, so Audi Sport repurposed some of their work to fit the up-and-coming regulations. This extreme machine was called the RS 002, and it took the mid-engine Quattro concept to a new level with a greater focus on aerodynamics and exotic materials.

Sat behind the driver was a 2.1-litre five-cylinder engine from the Quattro, but its high-pressure turbo enabled 700bhp if left to run free. It was a purpose-built rally-fighter with the intention of spawning just 20 road-legal versions for homologation – an early wind-tunnel model of the road car still exists. This very limited run for homologation gave engineers much more freedom when building the car. These, too, were callously taken apart and scrapped.

It isn’t known exactly how, but one example of RS 002 survived. Ironically the car that was never meant to see the light of day is now on display at the Audi Museum in Germany. It was even driven up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2017m highlighting what a missed opportunity Group S and the mid-engined Quattro projects were.

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