Generations: ABT’s legacy with Audi from ur-quattro to RS

words: Aaron Plante, photos: ABT Sportsline

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the Q1_2019 issue of quattro magazine.

It was in the 80s, with the unveiling of the ur quattro at the Geneva motor show, that transitioned Audi from automotive marque curiosity to a direct competitor for chief German luxury rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The Ingolstadt-based automaker introduced their legendary 5-cylinder, 200 horsepower, angular coupe to the world with something until then unseen… quattro all-wheel drive. Near equal in both price and performance to a Porsche 911 of the time, an 18 year-old Hans-Jurgen Abt, now Managing Director of ABT Sportsline, still recalls the first time he saw it.

“I simply had to own such a car,” he said.

A few years later Abt took delivery of a snow white quattro with matching white magnesium wheels. Being a part of the Abt family, with a lineage of racing and engineering history, the stock quattro was destined for more. The 2.2 liter 5-cylinder was bored out to 2.5 liters and an upgraded turbocharger offered 450 horsepower. This performance, plus an ABT wide-body kit and the stock car’s natural long wheelbase, more closely resembled the World Rally Championship Sport quattros than its auto show brethren.

Still owned by Abt today, this heirloom quattro is more a member of the family than a museum piece. A quick look under the hood or in the cabin reveals that the car, while in great shape, is gently used in the way many ur quattros tend to spend their days…active. In many ways, this bespoke ur quattro is what inspired Hans-Jurgen and the rest of the Abt family to evolve ABT Sportsline into the company it is today.

But the Abt family business started over a century ago, around the dawn of the automobile. In 1896, Johann Abt founded a blacksmith shop in the German town of Kempten where the largest business was the shoeing of horses. Fast forward 60 years and Johann’s grandson, another Johann, competed in various motor races from motorcycling and hill climbing to grass track races and achieved more than 300 victories. By 1967, ABT Tuning was founded based off of Johann Abt’s motorsports success, counter culture to the extreme “low and wide” tuning, and body construction of the late 60s and early 70s. ABT believed that tuning should blend technology and design for optimal performance and everyday use.

The opportunities to showcase this philosophy arrived in 1974 when Volkswagen launched the Golf, an affordable car that exuded everyday sporting dynamics. Johann Abt knew that ABT-developed tuning packages for the hot hatch platform would change the company, allowing them to mass produce and reach a wider audience of enthusiasts. The popularity of the Golf drove owners of other Volkswagen family brands to seek out tuning packages and ABT became one of the leading car-tuning companies in Germany. Meanwhile, in motorsports, Johann Abt continued to compete in touring car series with ABT-Golfs winning the “Trophee de l’Avenir” and other series.

ABT, now known as Auto-Abt, continued through the 70s and 80s pushing more up-market tunes as owners continued to seek more luxurious and elegant transportation with a focus on performance. In the early 90s, Johann’s sons, Christian (himself an accomplished driver who drove for Audi Sport in an R8C at the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans) and Hans-Jurgen Abt, took over management of the company. Now known as ABT Sportsline, it supports its own racing programs while continuing to develop aftermarket solutions for Audi, Volkswagen, Seat, and Skoda.

In the new century, ABT Sportsline entered DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) as privateers bringing four ABT-designed TT-Rs to the grid. Year after year, they prospered both on and off the track becoming the largest tuner for Audi and other Volkswagen brands.

Then in 2009, a hat trick…that collection of three victories that would yield a rare and coveted place in any sport. A decade ago, ABT achieved such success completing top podium season finishes simultaneously in the DTM in a DTM A4 with Timo Scheider, ADAC GT Masters in the R8 LMS with Christian Abt, and ADAC Formula Masters in a VW formula car with Daniel Abt.

Five years later, in 2014, ABT Sportsline again broke new ground, this time as the only German team to compete in the newly formed Formula E. It continues to be a force in the growing electric racing series and is now officially part of the Audi Sport factory team.

Throughout the years, the quality and technology employed by Audi, and the ability to leverage the mass production faculties of Volkswagen, have provided a great baseline for ABT to prosper and serve as a true partner to the brand with the four rings. The result is a 40+ year old partnership with Audi.

One of the more recent results of that relationship is the ABT RS 5-R a spiritual echo to the legendary status of its ABT quattro legacy. Hans-Jurgen and ABT took to improving the aptly capable 2018 Audi RS 5 into a beauty anda beast. ABT’s RS 5-R coupe is capable of 530 horsepower (80 hp more than the 2.9 liter stock bi-turbo V6) and possesses 690 Nm (509 ft lbs) of torque, 90 Nm (66 ft lbs) more than the stock RS 5. The result is 0-62mph time of 3.6 seconds compared to 3.9 seconds stock, and a new top speed of 174 mph. To round out the performance, the RS 5-R is equipped with four 102-mm carbon tailpipes that look as good as they sound providing a charismatic V6 sound.

Johann Abt was known for saying, “suspension and brakes must suit engine power.” What seems obvious now was not so in the early days of the tuner market when power was the focus. But as a successful racer, Johann knew that it took power andcontrol to balance a car and unlock its full potential. This motto differentiated ABT from its competitors and focused them on providing performance improvements, as well as brakes, suspension, and dampers.

Nearly 30-years later, ABT Sportsline still focuses on unlocking that full potential. As such, this RS 5-R comes with upgraded ABT sports shocks and optional ABT height-adjustable springs. Stability is further refined via 21-inch ABT SPORT GR rims that complement the stock RS brake package.

Much like the ABT ur quattro’s widebody kit, the factory RS 5’s bodywork is modified in the spirit of the lines of today’s RS 5 DTM RC3. ABT’s new front lip, front flics, and carbon fiber-accented front single frame grille, with brilliant red RS 5-R logo, will only be seen for a passing moment as the RS 5-R overtakes. That gives one an opportunity to see the rear flanks’ strong ABT wheel arch vents with aggressive fins. The carbonfiber-adorned ABT rear skirt with matching RS 5-R logo and spoiler finish off the exterior design enhancements.

The interior abounds with carbon fiber and leather accents. Here again, the seats are adorned with RS 5-R logo, ABT gear shift in carbon, an ABT RS 5-R “1 of 50” badge, as well as other available interior modifications; such as logo-matching floor mats, trunk mats and integrated entrance lights that spill the RS 5-R logo onto the floor.

With only 50 available, the ABT RS5-R follows the high-performance and drivable spirit of the Abt family ur quattro  that is still relevant today. If a return to beautifully balanced performance, style, and heritage are on your New Year’s resolution list, either of these stark white wonders will be sure to fire all cylinders…though one is much easier to get than the other.