California Dreaming with Audi collection’s Vintage Audi Sport Support Truck

words: Bill Cho, photos: Denis Podmarkov, George Achorn, Gil Plasencia, Bill Cho

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the Q1 2019 issue of quattro magazine.

When one thinks of Group B heroes, visions of an Audi Sport quattro hurtling over jumps come to mind. Certainly less limelight typically goes to the vehicles that helped make those wins happen… commercial vehicles from Audi parent Volkswagen like its LT35 or T3 transporter range. These trucks did everything from spare parts Sherpa to hangout for drivers like Mikkola or Mouton in between stages. While the quattro racecars themselves attained legend status, the support vehicles largely faded from sight. However, Audi collection wants to change that…

My plane touched down at LAX on a warm Los Angeles evening in August. I was in town for Big SoCal Euro and Audi of America was kind enough to loan us a vehicle for the trip. Even still, this was no current latest/greatest R8 RWS or even a standard fare SilverCar. It wasn’t even an Audi.

At the typical spot, in a typical airport pay lot, sat a very atypical loaner. Specifically, it was a 1984 Volkswagen Doka T3. To Americans, the Volkswagen T3 may be better known as a Vanagon, the name itself a combination of “van” and “wagon”, but a Doka is neither of those. You see, Doka is short for “double cab” (a.k.a. dopplekabine) pickup. Unlike the Vanagon, the Doka model was never sold in the American market.

“Sold” is the operative term here, because Volkswagen did in fact import a few Dokas back in the early 80s. These vehicles went through several tests but were never actually approved to be added to the American model line. Instead of incurring the cost of shipping them back, they were abandoned at a Texas port. The American Dokas were used as port vehicles for a time but then abandoned again.

This particular truck may have been used as a battery delivery truck to different locations in the port. As port vehicles, they weren’t used gently and this one showed it. The interior was worn and weathered, the suspension was shot, the body was rusting and the bed was a total loss. The engine, however, was in decent condition.

That’s where Audi collection comes into the picture. Ian Avilla, Audi Accessories manager for America, had already restored a larger Volkswagen LT35 van his team had imported and faithfully recreated it as an Audi Sport support vehicle. You may have seen it at venues like the 24 Hours of Daytona and various other Audi of America events. Instead of carrying spare parts as did the original team trucks, this LT is now utilized as an Audi collection merchandise display vehicle. Ian saw the Doka as another potential asset and called up Gil Plasencia at FMS Automotive in Cerritos, CA.

(Editor’s note: photo by George Achorn. This was not in the original article)

FMS Automotive had restored the LT35 so they were already familiar with the task as well as the intent. Their team of specialists can manufacture body kits, fender flares, spoilers or just about any idea you can think up for your project. They pride themselves in their workmanship so they were the perfect company for the Doka resurrection.

Still, it took them over 3,000 hours to complete the task. Gil left no stone unturned in his search for parts and, in the cases where he couldn’t locate them, FMS manufactured them in their shop. All the aforementioned rust was removed, including fabrication of a completely new bed. The canvas top was faithfully tailored by using measurements of the old tattered one. The interior was reupholstered and an OEM sunroof was installed. Surprisingly, this was the hardest part to find. They were able to source other parts from Volkswagen in Europe with Audi’s help, but they found the NOS sunroof in someone’s garage in Northern California after going down many rabbit holes. Gil even modernized the sound system complete with smartphone connectivity and a subwoofer.

(Editor’s note: photo by Gil Plasencia. This was not in the original article)

After several years of on and off again work, the Doka finally made its debut last August at Legends of the Autobahn (p.57, Fall 2018). With Big SoCal Euro (p. 52, Fall 2018) coming up the following weekend and the Doka headed back to L.A. for some fine tuning, we figured it never hurts to ask.

One week later I was testing the Doka’s power, or lack thereof, in L.A. traffic. I’d picked up quattro magazine contributor Denis Podmarkov at his place in Azusa and we were headed to a Cars & Coffee meet at Period Correct. This SoCal car enthusiast apparel store is well-known to Audi enthusiasts, having produced a limited Sport quattro themed clothing line with Audi collection. It must have been fate, as here we even nabbed a parking spot next to a red ur quattro for a decidedly period correct display.

(Editor’s note: photo by Bill Cho. This was not in the original article)

Next on the agenda was a photo shoot on the white sands of Long Beach. Wherever the Doka went, it made lots of friends. Volkswagen T3 vans are common in Southern California, but a crew cab pickup variant dressed up in vintage Audi Sport livery markedly stood out.

The next day at Big SoCal Euro, we intentionally made our way into the SDCCU stadium venue by crossing through the Volkswagen section. As you might expect, it is the sort of gathering where it is easy to quickly immerse in the California culture of the VW Van. Let’s just say the Doka was a huge success with that backdrop.

(Editor’s note: photo by Bill Cho. This was not in the original article)

At the show, Audi Club used the Doka the same way Audi Accessories intended when they built it. T-shirts were hung from the canopy frames, side slabs unhinged so people could see even more merchandise on display in the bed. Audi may even add display cases and racks as they have in the LT35, but for now the Doka’s bed appears mainly as it was.

The weekend with the Doka came to a close all too soon. The truck was returned to FMS Automotive and I boarded a flight back to the East Coast. Through the winter, the Doka  may get a few more upgrades, but expect to see it at West Coast shows, races, and events where Audi collection is active.