Feature Car: Group 4, a quattro Story

by: Aaron Plante, photos: George Achorn

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in the Fall 2018 issue of quattro quarterly. If you would like to subscribe to quattro Magazine, please join Audi Club here.

Dust was heavy in the air, choking out the blistering sun. The roads of the third leg had dried from recent heavy rains and the Ivory Coast was fulfilling its reputation as one of the most onerous rallies on the 1982 World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar. Michelle Mouton piloted her Audi quattro against her chief rival Walter Röhrl in his Opel, battling it out for the final driver’s championship. Despite the announcement of her father’s death the day before, Mouton had handily taken the lead for three of the four grueling legs. Her Group 4 quattro suffered clutch and differential problems as well as constant radiator leaks, and the pace of the race required rear axle, drive shaft and gearbox changes throughout. These delays, plus a complete fuel injection system replacement, narrowed the gap and, with one final leg to go, Röhrl and Mouton were in a virtual dead heat. The world championship was up for grabs, and only 661km remained through a comparatively, straightforward path back to Abidjan.

As it was in those days of rallying, drivers and teams were constantly faced with mechanical and engineering challenges. Far from garages, stuck in tumultuous conditions, and with limited parts, ingenuity and jury-rigged solutions could easily mark the difference between winning or losing, and more importantly, finishing a race. Long before McGuyver was a thing, WRC teams were accomplishing amazing feats with duct tape, towels, and jack stands. There is one story during the Ivory Coast Rally where Audi engineers used Coke to roughen the clutch slipping plates. These years of Group 4 and other early Audi rallying are not just nostalgia wrapped in dust and snow, they represent the very spirit of the marque and of quattro. The truth in engineering was that the engineering, and the ingenuity behind, created the backbone of the brand. Audi was innovation.

This spirit seems imbued in every Audi quattro and also their owners. There are few stories of ur quattro owners who bought their car new, ferrying their mint conditioned quattros via flat beds from car show to car show, regaled on elevated turn tables adorned with spit polished chrome and bright engines. Most ur quattro stories sound more like the WRC days above, an intimate love story of man and machine toiling under the engine bay, installing homemade parts, and finding creative ways to get the rear oil cooler to work.

And that is the story of Cameron Kendall’s 1981 quattro.

Kendall’s ur  story begins with a magazine. He was a WRC enthusiast, watched races via SpeedVision and sold Subarus while attending university. That is until the day he read an article, The Top 100 Cars That Changed the World [sic]. Among that list was a photo of a white, long wheelbase quattro in Audi Sport livery, and referencing quattro’s contributions to rallying. He said aloud, while staring, “I have to have one.”

Like many of us, he was soon hit with the realization that the original quattro can be a challenge to find and, after exhausting AudiWorld and other web sites, he abandoned his search. Instead, he (like many of us) chose a B7 A4 as conciliation. Eventually, the B7 made way for a B5 S4 but, unlike many of us, the search for an ur quattro continued. In 2010 he bought his first quattro: An ’83 Gobi Beige WX (US-spec) quattro. The good news was he had a car. The bad news was that he now had a quattro, which needed full restoration. His goal was to spec it out as a rally car. The rebuild project did not progress as quickly as he would like and, keeping one eye on the market, he eventually came across the red 1981 quattro on bringatrailer.com. “This is the one,” Kendall lamented, and sold the ’83 to help purchase his dream car.

The owner, an astute car collector and Frenchman living in Michigan, had taken good care of the quattro, but one look at the dirt-caked wheel wells told Kendall it had been driven hard and put away wet… which in his mind was a good thing. It also came with some history noted by the previous owner with some in the form of receipts going back to 1982 and further documentation in the glove box.

This particular quattro is special for a few reasons. Built in July of 1981, it was originally imported by a Chicago dealer (Classic Motors) who, at the time, served as President of AMG North America. The Euro-spec (WR) quattro was delivered to the US from Europe a full year before they were sold in the United States. This meant it had higher horsepower (197 hp compared to 160 hp), metric gauges, halogen lights, and no safety bumpers, side impact beams, or catalytic converter that reduced the performance of the later America-bound models. [See sidebar for ur quattro engine differentiations.]

A few years later, two brothers from Michigan traded a Porsche 930 turbo for the WR quattro. They intended to weekend rally the car. Light Performance Works modified it for rallying by installing a performance suspension, new turbo, roll bar, dash-top gauges, map lights, auxiliary driving lights and a modified ECU. They entered the car in weekend rallies for a while and then abruptly stopped, garaging it for eight years or so in the corner of a Chicago warehouse.

There it sat until a few years ago when another rally enthusiast found the car and set to bring it back to life. He continued with the modifications, using Audi’s 1981/82 Group 4 rally quattros as his muse. The Group 4s were the first and closest to the production cars that started all-wheel-drive in production cars. Visually, they’re less commonly harkened, with add-on arch flares often eclipsed by the lore of Group B and the Sport quattro style widened box flares.

The quattro was used for SCCA ice racing in Michigan before it made its way to a collector’s garage. This was the last stop before making its way to Kendall. In 2011, it was shipped to Maryland where Kendall calls home.

Since then he has been slowly restoring it carrying on in the spirit of the Group 4 rally cars. Kendall is not an engineer. He works in federal law enforcement, yet he has done most of the work on the car in his spare time. This means many years of DIY labor, referring to web sites, knowledgeable enthusiasts from around the globe, and seeking out impossible-to-find parts. Since his quattro is Euro-spec, he has had even more challenges with the rebuilds.

When he could find parts, they were usually for the U.S. spec WX engines and did not always fit, causing him to rework them or find another solution altogether. For example, the head gaskets of the WR and WX are different and Kendall had to redrill holes for the oil filer housing to get it to fit the WR engine. Similarly, when moving to electronic ignition, the later, more available, injector bungs were smaller than the original ones preventing him from making the switch until he could find them online. He also ended up reworking Mercedes Benz door lock actuators to serve as differential lock actuators.

When he could not find a part, he resorted to homemade parts machined in his garage. He even purchased a 3-D printer to fabricate some of the smaller, plastic parts. Some examples of homemade parts include fender flares, rear wing, front grill, front and rear bumpers, and many small engine parts. [For a full list of Kendall’s work, see the Build Sidebar.]

Kendall admits it would have been easier and cheaper to do an RR 20-valve engine swap. However, that would mean changing this red quattro’s heart and soul. It is inspired by, and possesses the bones of a rally car. While it lacks the traditional livery (and he has no intention of changing the color), it is a working commemoration of those original Group 4 quattros that started Audi’s rally dominance and associated the brand with motorsports.

To drive that point home, its sun visors are adorned with the signatures of many famous Audi rally drivers including, Michelle Mouton, Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, John Buffum, and Bobby Unser. Kendall is still seeking the signatures of Walter Röhrl and Bjorn Waldegard. Also, his Euro license plate number IN NU 40… that’s the same registration Mouton ran at Ivory Coast against Röhrl.

It only takes a few minutes speaking with Kendall to tell he is a pure enthusiast focused on blending practicality with tradition and ensuring this red quattro spends more time running than aging in a garage. He enjoys bringing it to Cars and Coffee events (if you are in the Potomac Chapter area check out Katie’s Cars and Coffee in Great Falls, VA) and educating young, budding car enthusiasts about the brand and quattro history.

His goal throughout this journey is to maintain the rally spirit of his ’81 WR quattro and its racing heritage. Like the rally engineers of the 80s he has used ingenuity, drive, and dedication to create a beautifully bespoke symbol of what quattro meant and still means to this day.

As for Mouton, not far from the start of the final leg, she rolled the Audi giving up the lead to Röhrl. After righting it, she took back to fighting for the lead, but with the car damaged, heavy fog, and without pace notes, fell victim to the Ivory Coast, unable to drag the car back to the finish line. Röhrl secured the driver’s championship, but Mouton’s vigor and the spirit of quattro continue to drive people like Kendall to preserve quattro lineage for future generations.