Audi Sport Mid-Engine Prototypes (Group B / S)

Published on: Jan 18, 2016 @ 16:15
Originally Published in: 2015 (old website)
(C) Jay Auger (RGBS - 2015), John McIlroy (MotorSport Magazine - 2005)
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Audi Sport quattro - Mid-Engine Prototype.jpg
Audi Sport quattro (mid-engine Group B proto) – “spy shot”
Audi Sport quattro RS 002.jpg
Audi Sport quattro “RS 002” Gruppe S – Prototype


Very little was known about the mid-engine quattro project from Audi Sport since it was unofficially launched circa-1984 without the knowledge of the Audi/VW board of directors. The rally team thus worked in secrecy, fully knowing that the front-engined quattro would not remain competitive for long against the upcoming batch of bespoke mid-engine Group B rally cars. The shroud was eventually teared, due to a leak from the press, with Audi killing the projects on the spot in an effort to save face. Doing otherwise would have meant that their quattro flagship model was no longer up to the task of winning rallies, arguably damaging the brand’s image. Notwithstanding, the annulment of Group B and S in 1986 would put a definitive end to the project.



“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY: A sportscar? No. It’s a lost Audi rally car once shrouded in secrecy. Espionage by John McIlroy – (C) Motor Sport Magazine (further edited, complemented and updated by Jay Auger – Rally Group B Shrine)

It sits there, brooding, like some sulking schoolboy not allowed to play with his friends when he knows he could be the best striker on the pitch. Sporting a rear wing that makes the fearsome Pikes Peak quattro E2 look tame and featuring curves which wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Group C sports prototype, this was to have been Audi’s rallying future. A quiet corner of the company’s museum in Ingolstadt houses this defiant statement from the same engineers who had brought such magic to the quattro brand in the first place.

Audi Sport quattro - Group S 3.jpg
The “Gruppe S” Prototype on display at Ingolstadt

This was their answer to the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 and Lancia Delta S4 – or rather it could have been. That is because the Group S Prototype is a car that was created against the wishes of the VW-Audi board, away from the official workshops in Ingolstadt and, if rumours are to be believed, without the knowledge of Ferdinand Piech, the then chairman of Audi. It’s known as the ‘Group S Prototype’ because it never had an official name. Because the car never officially existed.

Audi’s attempts at mid-engined rally cars were as badly needed as they were secretive. The German manufacturer had stolen a march when it sneaked the four-wheel drive quattro in under the rule makers’ radar in 1980 and forever changed the sport’s history. But within four years the idea of hanging the five-cylinder, turbocharged engine out over the front axle was looking increasingly old hat. Peugeot already had the nimble mid-engined 205 T16 at its disposal, and on its day even the rear-wheel drive mid-engined Lancia 037 could give the quattro a bloody nose. The Delta S4, with turbo and supercharging, amongst the myriad of other mid-engine and four-wheel drive rally cars in development at the time, also struck deep concern.

1982 Audi quattro A1 rally car

Even as the marque secured the manufacturers’ title in 1982 and 1984, then Audi Sport team manager Roland Gumpert was aware that the quattro would soon be fighting a losing battle. He knew that the advance of the mid-engined layout could leave the Audis just as exposed as their two-wheel drive rivals had been two years earlier.

“When all the other competitors were coming with mid-engined cars designed only for rallying it seemed to me, as an engineer, to be unfair. We had created a rally concept that was based on a front-engined road car and it was now being compared to real, pure, mid-engined race cars. From a technical point of view they had to be quicker. We had some discussions in 1984 about which way we should go next but Ferdinand Piech wanted as to further develop the concept that was linked to the road car. The biggest problem with the quattro was not the engine, which was very strong, but the weight distribution and the handling. So the easiest way to correct this was to create a shorter car. That was the Sport quattro”, says Gumpert.

1984 Audi Sport quattro rally car

To call the Sport quattro a quick fix would be inaccurate — because it didn’t fix much. Improved power output mated to a nervous, twitchy chassis made for a real handful, and there was still plenty of understeer in slower corners. In fact it could be argued that the 1984 world champion, wily Swede Stig Blomqvist, did his title prospects no harm at all by sticking with the longer wheelbase of the ‘old’ quattro A2 and avoiding teething troubles and lively handling as he racked up points.

1985 Audi Sport quattro S1 E2

The engineers in Ingolstadt had always suspected that a more radical solution would be required, however. “The Sport quattro was the first answer, the second one was that in the longer term it could only be mid-engined. So we started work almost at the same time, and by late 1984 we had a physical car ready to run”, says Gumpert.

1984 mid-engined Audi Sport quattro

Audi’s superstar driver Walter Röhrl was equally keen to have a car that could compete with the sport’s emerging talents. “We’d known for some time that the Sport quattro was good on fast straights and fast corners,” he says, “but the problem was the tight, slow corners – we had way too much understeer because there was too much weight on the front axle. We saw from Peugeot that we needed to go mid-engined.”

But by this point Audi Sport was not just under pressure on the stages. Audi had staked its reputation on the quattro concept and it would mean a major backtrack in marketing terms to admit that their flagship front-engine design wasn’t good enough for competition. And although Piech gave tacit approval for the project, he didn’t exactly go running to the VW-Audi board with a set of blueprints. Accordingly, the car would have to be developed under previously unseen levels of secrecy.

To achieve this, Gumpert turned to the then still active Cold War – or communist Czechoslovakia to be precise.

Situated nearly 200 miles south of Prague and conveniently behind the Iron Curtain, the Desna test facility near Zlin had originally been conceived for Porsche, but with Audi ready to bankroll it further it became the unofficial home of the mid-engined Sport quattro. Cars shipped in crates marked ‘Kenya Test’ – to keep even the factory spies and mechanics guessing – began turning up in 1985, often alongside what would become the fully winged Sport quattro E2. And in return to the hard currency the locals constructed permanent workshops and obeyed police instructions to keep quiet. “I had a few good friends there,” says Gumpert, “and the moment we went across the border we knew we were safe. We knew there wouldn’t be any photographers or journalists hiding in the bushes.” His confidence was well placed as the Desna shots (seen below) were taken by a local and did not surface until 2004.

Audi Sport quattro mid-engine at Desna 2.jpg
The mid-engine quattro alongside a S1 E2 at Desna

The mid-engined cars that tested looked nothing like the Group S Prototype; they resembled regular Sport quattros, albeit with tell-tale ducts on the sides for engine cooling. Many of the mechanicals, including the five-cylinder motor, were lifted straight from the regular car. But Gumpert recalls: “It was pretty much quicker straight away. The engine was just as strong, of course, but the handling was much better just because of the weight distribution. We knew we had more work to do, but it did not take too many tests before we felt it was ready to allow Walter Röhrl behind the wheel.”

Röhrl, the 1982 world champion, was by now the centre of Audi’s rallying activities and, even though he had not driven the car at Desna, plans were quickly put in place for him to get a first run on a stretch of gravel road near Salzburg in Austria. Trouble was someone had tipped off the press and the media were crawling over the proposed site by the time the test team arrived. Petrified of blowing its thin veil of secrecy, Audi turned its trucks around and moved back across the border into Germany, where it found a few miles of open asphalt road in Bavaria.

Rendering of the Audi Sport mid-engine quattro

There Röhrl would only get a very short stint of mid-engined Audi power. “I could tell straight away how much better it was,” he recalls, smiling. “The road was just old asphalt – normal second-category roads, with a bit of twisty stuff and some fast sections. The impression I got was really good – as good as the quattro Sport E2 straight away, in fact. Many times I’ve had cars which you have tested for 40 days to get to the same level as the old one. But this one was really impressive. The engine felt the same because it was just out of the Sport quattro E2, but the handling made all the difference for me. It was so much better in the twisty stuff and it didn’t get twitchy when the corners got faster.”

“I remember the road wasn’t too far back over the German border. They were so keen for me to try the car that they found the bit of open road, took out the car and we went for it. Nobody was expecting that, of course. But then after 40 or 50 kilometres I came over a brow and saw the police. I stopped and asked them, ‘Why are you here? Did you know I was coming along this road?’ and they said, ‘No, we didn’t know in advance. But we’ve heard you coming for the last 10 minutes!’ They wanted to take a photo but I pleaded with them not to. So they said, ‘Okay, Mr Röhrl, you can go and we won’t take any pictures. But first we want to see you do a proper rally start!’ It was a good day.”

The actual car that Röhrl drove in Bavaria

But it wouldn’t take long for the team’s enthusiasm to be shattered. Unknown to Röhrl, a sole photographer had been tipped off on the revised test venue and a picture appeared in an Austrian magazine. The story put Piech in an extremely difficult position and instantly the entire project was in jeopardy. “We’d been teasing VW all the time with our past rally successes and if we wanted to build and design a new concept then Piech had to ask before the beginning of the work,” says Gumpert. ” And by this time [Carl] Hahn at VW was already pressuring Piech that Audi should finish its sporting activities soon due to their current lack of competitiveness. Then in the newspaper he found out that instead of doing that we’d started with a new project. Directly against orders, basically…”

It didn’t take long for the shockwaves to reach Audi Sport. Less than 48 hours after the photographs of the car appeared, all mid-engined rally machinery was dismantled right in front of Piech’s eyes in the Ingolstadt workshops.

“I was so disappointed,” said Röhrl, who stayed on with Audi on set new records at Pikes Peak and race in IMSA before jumping ship to Porsche’s development team, with which he still works. “I only had one test with the car and did maybe 180 kilometres in total, but I knew even with that distance that it would have made Audi more competitive.”

By Roland Scharf (05-20-2016)

Look at the license plate of the S1 that can be seen on the pictures from Zlin: It was registered months after the Tests in Austria. There is one fact, that makes the situation even more thrilling: the first roll out of this car was in Austria, somewhere in Styria on the ground of a monastery, just because the ground was as loamy as on Pikes Peak. The guy who managed all of this, was the sport editor of the bespoken newspaper and a good friend of Walter Röhrl. But even before Röhrl arrived at the monastery, one of the mechanics took the prototype out for a spin to the next village to fill her up. Pretty sure, that this car grabbed some attention.

So many journalists started the hunting season, and our friend from the local newspaper simply had to do his job. Before the competition arrived on the spot, Audi discontinued the tests, an agreement with the newspaper and every participant was made, and Hahn was informed about this secret project - and stopped it. But, and that's the point, a few months AFTER this incident, the improved version of the car was sent out for the tests in Zlin. It must have been super secret, because the project was officially dead, so the iron curtain was a heck of an advantage. The test driver told me, that the car was much better to drive than on the first outing, and of course much faster than the S1, seen in the pictures from the proving ground.

Work continued at Audi on the Sport quattro E2 into early 1986, but the mid-engined concept had died as soon as the Austrian magazine had hit the newsstands. Or so it seemed. After the death of Group B and the stillborn Group S category there emerged another mid-engined Audi rally car. Even now Gumpert is reluctant to divulge details beyond the fact that “more than one” was built, at least one was subsequently destroyed and that surviving car – the ‘Gruppe S Prototype’ is now in the museum. But unofficial sources say three examples existed which leaves one car unaccounted for.

Audi Group S 2.jpg
(c) Benno Reiss-Zimmermann

How on earth did any survive? “Let’s say this – all of the cars that were officially built were destroyed. Piech oversaw that personally,” says Gumpert, who had (at the time of this interview in 2005) recently moved into the supercar business with his own Apollo concept. “But there was another car that was at an advanced stage that maybe wasn’t official. Nobody even knew it existed. I think it was worked on somewhere else, maybe Neckarsulm [Audi’s other production centre]. Perhaps we didn’t even tell Piech that it existed…”

(c) Benno Reiss-Zimmermann

A look around the car silting in Ingolstadt’s museum: the door is featherlight. A blend of fibreglass and other composites, it flexes through your fingers. Inside it’s hard to see how Röhrl’s gangly frame would have fitted under the low roofline. The switchgear is a mixture of bastardised Sport quattro E2 material and one-off creations. And all the time you get the same chill through the spine that appears whenever you examine any Group B car and think of safety; the seat looks thin enough to spit through, those flexing doors allow lamentable side protection and a head-on collision doesn’t bear thinking about.

(c) Benno Reiss-Zimmermann

The five-cylinder engine sits amidships, whopping turbo clearly visible, and when you consider that engineers had produced nigh on 1,000 BHP from these units the potential becomes evident. Sitting on asphalt springs, the prototype resembles a Le Mans racer rather than a rally car, but underneath there are extra pick-up points that would have allowed gravel suspension.

(c) Benno Reiss-Zimmermann

There is no sign, however, of the PDK twin-clutch transmission that made occasional appearances on the Sport quattro E2. One presumes that only so many parts could make it from Ingolstadt to the ‘other workshop’ without too many eyebrows being raised, and the PDK kit was rare enough to make it impossible to source for the secret project. All the same, the thought of this little weight and this much power rocketing through 1980’s roadside crowds is a terrifying prospect.

(c) Benno Reiss-Zimmermann

Röhrl is convinced that the Group S Prototype was never tested and the odometer, then sitting pretty at just twelve kilometres, would indicate that he is correct. But as one old Audi engineer put it; “There was real excitement about this car because it was going to allow us to prove that we could have had the best car all along. We would have been better than Peugeot,  for sure – our engine was already the best and with a mid-engined design it would have been hard for them to have beaten us.” It is suspected that the people behind the project surely had bet that they could convince the Audi/VW board after a demonstration of the prototype’s capabilities. It sadly never was given the chance.

Audi Gruppe S Interior 3.jpg
(c) Benno Reiss-Zimmermann

The car remained a static exhibit in Ingolstadt for almost three decades, revolving gently as part of a display that hovered over new quattro buyers who came to collect cars direct from the factory. There were rumours that Audi was considering a restoration project for 2005, spurred on by the 25th anniversary of the quattro, that would allow the car to fire up its five cylinders once again, to perhaps take its mileage into treble figures and allow enthusiasts to see it move. Over twenty years after its creation, that seemed to be the least that the Group S Prototype deserved. After all, showing it off in a museum was, only telling half the story.

Backtracking the story again, it is note to mention that the FISA (FIA), due to much pressure from the manufacturers after the infamous 1986 Group B ban, had made provisions to replace it with the Group S category in 1987, but with a much stricter set of rules than originally planned for 1988. One of these revised regulations mandated that the rally cars had to share an exterior resemblance with an actual production model in hopes to prevent ‘freak designs’.

(c) Audi Tradition – 1986 design study

Interestingly, some evidence exists that a road version of the Audi Sport mid-engine Group S prototype was actually produced and with a scale model possibly tested in a wind tunnel. Unofficially, this puts it as a precursor to Audi’s mid-engine supercars: five years before the Avus concept, and 20 years before the production R8. However, many insiders hint to the fact that the Group S prototype’s appearance might just be coincidental to the fact that it needed an ‘Audi look’ so the engineers simply slapped their mid-engine rally technology in an existing design study for a quicker proof of concept. Even Walter Röhrl points out that the overall shape would have been ‘wrong’ for proper use in rallying.


The rumoured restoration of the Group S prototype actually became a reality for the 30th anniversary of the last year of Group B (1986), which was celebrated at the 2016 ADAC Eifel Rallye Festival in Daun, Germany. The work was done under the supervision of Audi Tradition, led by Timo Witt, who now cares for the priceless prototype. It was a delight for the fans of the period to see the car presented and driven by no other than Walter Röhrl himself.

Ever since then, the Audi Sport Gruppe S has been touring various major events around Europe, including being displayed at the 2017 Goodwood Festival of Speed. The car also took part in the exhibition runs, roaring its turbocharged five-cylinder engine, much to the surprise of the crowd in attendance.

Audi Sport quattro Gruppe S proto @ 2017 Goodwood Festival of Speed

The Rally Group B Shrine is proud to announce that, after a request from its owner, Audi Tradition has graciously taken measurements and released the official specifications for the Group S prototype. This release brings an end to major speculations about the car. Audi officially tells that two prototypes were built, which somewhat corroborates the previous statement of Roland Gumpert of ‘more than one’, with license plate ‘IN-YV 71’ seemingly being the only one left in existence.

The turbocharged five-cylinder is officially rated at 700 BHP (515 kW) albeit Timo Witt hints that it was largely de-tuned in the area of 400 BHP for safety in demonstration events. Most amazingly, the car’s top speed is estimated at 300 kph (186 mph), which is quite fast for a rally setting, albeit the speedometer only reads up to 260 kph (162 mph). While Audi Tradition states the car’s weight at the Group S regulations’ 1000 KGs, actual weight is said to be around 750 KGs, which is downright amazing for a four-wheel drive car – nearly putting the car in the same 1hp/1kg league as Toyota’s own Group S design, the “MR2 222D“. Noted that all of these figures far surpass what would have been allowed in Group S if it hadn’t been cancelled alongside Group B.


The following specs are a courtesy of Audi Tradition, graciously released to the Rally Group B Shrine on June 4th 2017 (specs noted with a ‘*’ are unofficial and based on visual inspection of the car).

Group/Class Group S Prototype
Conception 1985~86  # built: 2 (rumoured 3)
Type I-5, DOHC 20v, gas located middle longitudinal
Displacement 21xx cc
Compression ratio 7.5:1*
Output power – torque 700 HP (515 kW) @ – rpm – @ – rpm
 Top Speed 300 kph (186 mph) *theoretical
Materials block: aluminium cylinder head: aluminium
  • Turbocharger
  • Air/Air Intercooler
  • Bosch LH-jetronic multipoint electronic fuel injection*
Ignition electronic / firing order 1-2-4-5-3
Cooling system water-cooled
Lubrication system dry sump
Type four-wheel drive manual gearbox
Gearbox ratios  N/A 1st: N/A
Differential ratio N/A centre Ferguson viscous type,  front and rear self locking*
Clutch N/A
Type Tubular space frame construction. 2 door fibreglass bodyshell. NACA style roof duct to feed air intake and intercooler. Large rear spoiler to increase downforce.
Front suspension Struts, coil springs, double wishbone*
Rear suspension Struts, coil springs, double wishbone*
Steering system rack and pinion with hydraulic power assistance* Ratio: N/A
Brakes N/A dual circuit with servo
length: 4470 mm (176.0 in) width: 1870 mm (73.6 in) height : 1360 mm (53.5 in)
wheelbase: 2400 mm (94.5 in) front track : – mm (- in) rear track: – mm (- in)
Rims – tires front and rear

  • 16 inch BBS
25/64 – 16 Michelin
  • Actual: 750 kg (1,650 lb)
  • Group S theoretical: 1000 kg (2,200 lb)
 Bias Front/Rear%: 44/56
Weight/power 1.1 kg/HP (2.4 lb/HP)
Fuel Tank Capacity 60 litres



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