In an unlikely 1974 #Audi-100-Coupé-S-C1
/ and with a navigator who’d never seen a pace note before, we finds itself at the sharp end of the 2015 Summer Trial rally.
SUMMER TRIAL AUDI 100 COUPÉS
Audi 100 Coupé S In an unlikely choice of car and with a navigator who’d never seen a pace note before, Drive-My goes to the sharp end of the 2015 Summer Trial rally. Words Sam Dawson. Photography Alex Tapley.
I’m sitting on the start line of the 2015 Summer Trial at the Woodland Grange Hotel, Leamington Spa, feeling completely out of my depth. Alex Tapley, juggling photographer and navigator roles, had never seen a tulip diagram until a few hours ago, and ever since taking delivery of our Audi 100 Coupé S I’m getting the distinct feeling I’ve brought a sparkler to a gunfight.
The inoffensive thrum of its completely standard 1.8-litre engine is completely drowned out by the sledgehammers-on-steel pounding of Patrick Burke’s Porsche 911 to my left; and on my right the restless gurgle of Chris Stone and Peter Mason’s Sebring-spec MGC GT, festooned with hardcore stage-rallying modifications. Ahead, Barry and Roma Weir’s highly modified Mercedes-Benz 280 SL thunders into life. By contrast our Audi doesn’t even have a roll cage (and yes, those are steel wheels with faux-alloy dustbin-lid hubcaps). Thanks to the Audi’s 1974 build date and the fact that it’s a coupé, we’re all in the same class.
The rallymeter is zeroed, the flag is raised, and I squeal the Audi off the line, out of the car park and off on a tour of some of Warwickshire’s more obscure and challenging roads. Immediately I’m sensing problems with the 100S’s rallying potential. With more than 60 per cent of its weight biased towards the front thanks to an engine mounted ahead of the front axle line, exacerbated further by the addition of a sump guard and a heftier anti-roll bar, it understeers heavily on the most minor of corners, quickly overcoming the meagre grip of its Yokohama 185/70 R14 tyres. With no fewer than four turns lock-to-lock on the big feedback-free plastic steering wheel, understeer-correcting Scandinavian flicks are out of the question. It’s no Saab 96.
Thankfully, after a quickly corrected mishap that nearly had us headed towards Coventry city centre, Alex is getting the hang of the pace notes, although we soon realise our GPS-based rallymeter sometimes struggles with readings, failing to add sufficient miles if we run through a tight complex of turns. We soon learn to back up our readings by spotting landmarks and road layouts, and not relying completely on the instruments.
Before we can properly hit our stride we arrive at the first special driving test, a challenging-looking gravel stage at Stoneleigh Park. Our flamboyant four-seater towers over more purposeful machines as we queue up for our timed start, slightly intimidated by the sight of Chris Howell and John Briggs’ Lotus Cortina hurtling round the loose gravel course, flicking gracefully into oversteer on every hairpin. Even as the marshal counts us down, I’m struggling to shake visions of ploughing headlong into the iron gatepost at the first right-angled corner, followed by an awkward phone call to Audi, who kindly lent us this car for the event.
However, as the marshal shouts ‘go!’ and we leave the tarmac, this Audi exhibits a completely unexpected advantage – especially given the reputation of its modern cars. The loping, long-travel springs and dampers, plus relatively tall skinny tyres, result in a ride quality genuinely comparable to an early Jaguar XJ6. The bumpy, pothole-strewn course that pummelled the Cortina into lairy behaviour leaves the 100S completely unruffled, the body staying level as the suspension takes the strain.
Negotiating the hairpins is still fraught. It’s hard to judge the nuances of the gravel with such vague-feeling steering, so I have to use the car’s lump-hammer weight distribution to some kind of advantage. After a few tight bends it seems the trick is to lift off and brake in a straight line, feel the heavy nose bob down, coast deep into the corner making sure the front tyres stop sliding before aggressively hurling the car back towards the apex, with a handbrake yank to lock and slide the rear wheels for the slimmer hairpins. It’s an involved technique, but it seems the car won’t be as truculent as we first feared.
When we pull up at the end of the special stage a marshal comments that ‘the way it bounced along reminded me of a Citroën DS’. Committed Citroënians may bridle at the thought of an overgrown Volkswagen Scirocco being compared to the Goddess, but he’s right – the 100S does behave in a similar way.
Out on to the lanes towards Stratford we quickly get the hang of the pace notes, but it’s evident we need to work out our timing technique. Chunks of the route are timed regularity stages, where average speeds must be maintained. But we quickly get lazy, realising that the Downton Mini Cooper S of Hubert and Diane Lynch hasn’t put a wheel wrong. We figure that by following its every move but keeping a distance that’ll see us coasting up to the next time control one minute behind will result in a similarly low number of penalty points.
We’re spectacularly wrong. By the time we return to Woodland Grange after running the Stoneleigh special stage in the opposite direction we check the scoreboard. We’re languishing at 21st of 27 cars and last in Class 4. We clearly need to get the hang of regularity stages. Over evening beers we figure it might be a good idea to work out what the other teams have been doing with their seemingly indispensible stopwatches. Merely keeping pace with the car in front isn’t going to work. Then we study the pace notes for the rally’s second day. The route will take in Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. We’ve got our work cut out.
Next morning, we have a plan. Forget what the other teams might do – a heavily modified car is no indication of success. Unlike yesterday, we’ll try to keep to those average speeds, and more crucially try to pass landmarks at the times suggested on our timecard, so Alex will tell me to speed up and slow down as well as negotiate turns. The first section takes us on to the A46, transplanting the action to Worcestershire and giving me the brief chance to evaluate the Audi as a road car. Cruising at 70mph, it gives the impression of being an excellent sub-Jaguar luxury coupé, with cossetting ride quality and undemanding steering, still reminiscent of an XJ6. Unfortunately it’s undermined by an intrusive engine note – it gives off a lovely clean rasp under in-gear acceleration, but this soon turns to a booming drone at 4000rpm. Fourth gear just isn’t long enough.
This doesn’t matter, though – this rally mainly favours short-sprint gearing and, although the interior is elegant and comfortable, the poor ventilation forces us to drive with the windows open anyway. We hit the first regularity between Alcester and Droitwich and, although it seems we’re keeping good time, the open windows and thrust-forward engine soon encounter a series of deep fords. There’s no time to wind the windows up or baffle the grille. In order to avoid engine-bay flooding and maintain a decent average speed, I drop a gear and surge the Audi into the water, sending spray from the bow-wave over the roof. Amazingly none of it ends up in the cabin. A plume of steam dramatically wreathes the Audi’s nose as the moisture sizzles off the exposed engine block when we stop at the time control, having drenched Motors TV’s camera crew at the last ford.
Next, we’re off to a two-run hillclimb stage at Shelsley Walsh – hardly an appropriate challenge for a car like this when I’m up against Porsches and Mini Coopers. I’m worried too – as we climb, the temperature gauge edges into its upper quadrant. The Audi relishes the rest in Shelsley’s paddock, frantically ticking itself cool. On the first run up the hill – a task made more difficult by the addition of chicanes – the Audi flounders ungracefully round the bends like a drunk through a crowded restaurant. For the second run we try some impromptu weight-saving, and I attempt it solo. The car feels slightly sprightlier but I don’t think it made much difference to my time.
However, as I leave the hillclimb’s return-loop a marshal directs me back on to the road. Alex has been left on the wrong side of the gate, so I have to double-back into the Shelsley paddock to pick him up. The clock’s still running and we’re behind. We hurtle towards Worcester Beacon, barrelling the Audi through right-angled Malvern bends like a hot hatch, leaving black lines from the hard-working front tyres. The steering can barely keep up with our new-found sense of competitiveness, and I even ignore the temperature gauge until we reach Little Malvern Priory, where we can back off, let the downward slope maintain momentum and feed the engine bay with a rush of cold air.
As we pass through Tiddesley Wood just outside Pershore I catch sight of another open-window-related problem in my rear-view mirror. ‘Alex, there’s an angry bee in the car.’ The poor thing must have got in while we were driving through the woodland near Great Malvern. Secured in our four-point harnesses and driving against the clock, we can’t just stop, turn in our seats and waft it out either. While we drive, the air pressure keeps the bee on the parcel shelf, but when we stop it buzzes angrily towards our necks. It manages to escape when we reach the next driving-test stages at the disused Throckmorton Aerodrome.
This one is even more frantic and punishing than Stoneleigh, with rocks rather than pebbles and potholes deep enough to bathe in. It’s harder too – solid wartime concrete rather than slippery gravel, causing the tyres to screech, demanding the handbrake more often. Eventually it just gets too bewildering, and I drive the wrong side of a marked cone. I’ve no idea how many penalty points this has gained, but it’s bound to knock us down the order. I can’t apologise enough to Alex. Our standing suffers another blow when we find ourselves stuck behind a funeral cortege in Stanway. Although frustrated, we glide by the church on a respectful dipped clutch.
We try and keep close to our timing points on the remaining few regularity stages threading our way back past Stratford-upon-Avon, realising that we can stay closer to them by speeding up towards junctions to accommodate for the time spent waiting. At first I thought it’d be like negotiating average-speed cameras on the motorway, but it’s more like an athlete metering out energy reserves during a marathon, calculating when to sprint and when to back off, despite the overall pace never relenting. By the time we reach Woodland Grange, we’re in for a surprise. Nimbler opposition may have carved out an unmovable place at the top of the table, but it seems our class of powerful sports cars has been struggling to minimise penalty points, overshooting bends and going too fast on regularities.
Our underpowered, overweight, mild-mannered Audi bizarrely finds itself at an advantage, bumped up to second in class, a position strengthened when 911 driver Patrick Burke changes navigator, accruing more penalties in the process.
Day three is centred on Warwickshire and a series of driving tests in the grounds of Gaydon’s Heritage Motor Centre. We study our standings. A neat drive by Stone and Mason in the MG could overhaul our class position if we’re sloppy, and although Burke has dropped out of contention for the win, his new navigator is multiple-rally-winning Seren Whyte. If anyone could give him the chance to claw some places back, it’s her.
Arriving at Gaydon, we’re faced with a surprise – a classic car show has drawn a crowd. We’re about to complete a special stage in front of hundreds of spectators with cameras and brand allegiances. A couple with a Group 4 rally-specification quattro marvel at our car’s rarity, then ask us to ‘do it proud’. I’d far rather be in their quattro for this. I fear we’re about to let them down. Acutely aware of the 100S’s Cunard Line cornering manners, I opt to keep my lines wide for the test, rather than attempting to slide the car on high-grip asphalt. Spending most of its time under braking, the Audi adopts the nose-down stance of a hot-rod as it bounds around the tight course. In the queue for the start line we saw the Stone/Mason MG lock its brakes, its fat tyres breaking traction and overshooting a stop-astride line. Our brakes pull the Audi neatly up between each set of cones. Alex and I permit ourselves terse smiles – there may still be a couple of regularities to go, but they won’t be threatening us for the time being. The Burke/ Whyte Porsche remains an unknown quantity. There’s no way we’ll catch the Weir Mercedes-Benz.
We drive on, careful to avoid any sneakily deceptive pace notes including one instance where a propped-open farmer’s gate turns out to be the entrance to a single-track road – we’re holding our nerve, trying to maintain every average speed we can. At the last timing point before Woodland Grange Alex punches the air as he zeros the stopwatch. ‘We’re bang-on!’
We’re almost reluctant to end the rally. It’s a shame we only started to get to grips with the regularity system half way through, as it’s possible we could have made a better showing right from the start. However, neither of us is unhappy with our second-in-class – it’s my first trophy outside of karting and Alex’s first-ever rally. We’d happily do the whole thing again tomorrow.
Thanks To: the Historic Endurance Rally Association (heroevents.eu), Audi UK (audi.co.uk)
TECH DATA #1974
Audi 100 Coupés
Engine 1871cc in-line four-cylinder, #Solex
22/35 TDID carburetor
Power and torque 112bhp @ 5600rpm; 118lb ft @ 3500rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Brakes Discs front, drums rear, servo-assisted
Suspension Front: independent, unequal-length double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: beam axle, trailing arms, transverse arm, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Steering Rack and pinion
Performance Top speed: 116mph; 0-60mph: 10.4sec
Fuel consumption 35mpg
Cost new £2472
Values now £2500-8000
Kicking up dust on the Stoneleigh gravel stage Second in class and a trophy – yes, really.
Teamwork and concentration crucial to maintaining average speed on regularity stages.
Attempting the Shelsley Walsh solo reduced weight but didn’t improve times much.
On the more rural stretches of the route, this is what a filling station looks like.
Soft suspension dived under pressure.
Audi’s plush ride gives team CC an easy time of it on rougher tracks.
‘No Sam, we don’t have time to stop at Burger King again’.
Rolling hard on the Gaydon autotest. Alex gets to grips with the paperwork on his first rally.
Making use of every centimetre, Audi couldn’t have placed the engine any further forward.
Long-travel springs and dampers meant the Audi coped surprisingly well on gravel stages.
A nervous smile is the best Sam can muster for the TV camera.
A much-needed cooling off for both car and driver at Shelsley Walsh.
Audi conquers a ford – not the first time for that sequence of words.
In more familiar surroundings for the 100S, its #Giorgetto-Giugiaro
-penned lines are a treat for the eyes. 100S cruises well but long-winded steering is vague.
‘With four turns lock-to-lock on the feedback-free steering wheel, understeer-correcting Scandinavian flicks are out of the question’
AUDI’S MISSING LINK
How did Audi go from producing solidly unsporting cruisers to four-wheel-drive rally monsters seemingly overnight? The answer lies in the army.
After acquisition by the Volkswagen Group in 1965 Audi’s DKW facility had built the Munga military jeep. When engineering its successor for 1978, the Iltis, in order to keep costs down the team adapted as many saloon-car parts as they could lay their hands on.
With its Volkswagen Golf engine it was underpowered but, during 1977 winter testing in Finland, suspension engineer Jörg Bensinger noticed it handled exceptionally well for an off-roader, and upon his return to Ingolstadt persuaded VW Group chairman Ferdinand Pïëch to let him fit the modified drivetrain and a turbocharger to an Audi 100 to create a completely new kind of performance car.
In 1978, after the prototype was demonstrated to sales director Lars-Roger Schmidt as being capable of driving up and down Alpine passes in winter on summer tyres and without snow chains, the rallying application became obvious. A prototype using Iltis bodywork and driven by Freddy Kottulinsky won the 1980 Paris-Dakar – only the second running of the event – so convincingly that other competitors petitioned the FIA to ban four-wheel drive. Thankfully it didn’t – instead, it introduced Group B rules for 1982.