Only days after recounting my best and worst drives of the year I realised I’d made the mutha-of-all oversights. I’d forgotten Sweden in March.
I’d forgotten the short-odds favourite for bucket list-topper of the year. Or the decade, perhaps. What happened was I scoured all the new cars I’d written about over the past 12 months and, in the moment of selection, simply forgot about my short-yet-utterly momentous experience in a 30-year-old jigger I’d yet to write about. Oops.
Psychopathic thrashings of Audi S1s on frozen lakes, a hellride with the legitimate Stig (Blomqvist) in a genuine ex-Röhrl Group B rally monster, a stay in a Bond-esque Swedish chateau – I was a pig in brown snow. Days rarely get better.
But this day did. Parked up, freezing its wastegate off in minus-20-degree ambient at Audi’s S1 launch was a bona fide, road-going Sport Quattro, blood red in colour and as mint as lamb sauce. One of four owned by Audi Museum.
More impressive still, as build-plate Number One, this example was the king of Group B-homologation road car royalty. Short-wheelbase, 221kW, carbon-Kevlar panels, only 214 built… but, seriously, if this is news then you’ll have to Google the rest from whatever rock you’ve lived under.
For sheer pedigree and achievement, it’s one of my all-time great hero cars. In theory, because I’d never actually seen one.
And what a marvel of glorious daftness it is. It’s ugly, the wheelbase is ridiculous, token rear seating laughable. It’s also noisy, archaic, a little agricultural and pretty low rent in the VW/Audi parts bin fit out, particularly in the cabin.
In design respect, outside of its focused and potent purpose, it’s a road car abomination. And should such a car front up in showrooms right now for $40K I’d probably pan it, despite the fact Sport Quattros now fetch half-a-million bucks.
That’s the thing: newer is almost inevitably better; pragmatism of reality rules over sentimentality. That said, I do believe in the soul and spirit of a machine. So I took this rare opportunity to gawk long and close enough to bask in its halo, yet far enough away as to not breathe on the thing.
“Would you like to drive it?” its German minder chimed. “What, NOW?” I replied, as in ‘this lifetime?’ They say don’t meet your heroes for risk of bursting that sometimes immense fanboy bubble. But sudden heart palpitations were drowning out any sensible urge of resistance as I was shoved into the musk of mid-’80s leather and plastic.
And so for the next 30 minutes, NOW happened: the first 10 behind the wheel with the minder shotgun, the last 20 with a photographer documenting a whirlwind affair between German heroism and an Aussie crush three decades in the making.
I could write reams about this car’s history. And I could double the word count explaining what it’s like to punt Number One around an undulating and slippery makeshift ice rally course Audi carved into Lapland – its steering, the five-pot’s character, the nuances of its bespoke-for-1984 Quattro system.
But I just wanted the spirit and soul of the Sport Quattro to crush my misgivings about old cars and show me some joy. And as I lifted off to swing its tail entering a huge sweeper I prayed the experience would bring elation, though I’d take ‘enjoyable’ as a satisfactory win.
Pedalled with equal measures of kid glove trepidation and now-or-never blaze-of-glory gusto, car and driver came together in an almost Zen-like rhythm and groove. In the handful of laps at my disposal, the Sport Quattro felt so attuned to my driving wants and whims on a fundamental level, while offering full-boost fringes both fiery and deliciously wicked.
Simple. Fun. Potent. Heroic. It’s a perfect cocktail. It’s as good as I’d hoped it could be.When that lottery windfall comes to me, it’s the only old car I truly, badly, madly want. I’d probably fawn over it with the kind of love and paranoia justifiably reserved for an only child. Embarrassing but I don’t give a rat’s.
I’d probably opt to buy a faster, comfier, more luxurious modern German too to share the garage. Anything from most of Audi’s or its contemporaries’ ranges would likely do the job.