by: Roger Garbow, photos: Roger Garbow, Tony Coletta, Ai Design
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the Q2_2021 issue of quattro Magazine. If you would like to subscribe to quattro Magazine, please join Audi Club here.
The B5 RS 4 Avant is one of those rare vehicles that is coveted by folks far beyond brand loyalists. For most enthusiasts, the car is absolutely perfect as created by the factory and it would be sacrilege to consider altering it. But for others, a stock vehicle is merely a blank canvas, requiring the owner’s personal touch and stylistic influence. While you won’t recognize it now, this particular example was previously featured in quattro Magazine (Q2_2019, pp. 38-40) around the time it ended up for sale on Bring a Trailer (BaT).
New York-based specialty car builder Ai Design had a client (we’ll call him M.K.) looking for an RS 4. Deciding it was easier, faster, and ultimately cheaper to purchase a federalized one already in the U.S. vs bringing one over from Europe, Ai snagged this one-off BaT. The previous owner had done extensive work to the car, going the full-stanced route.
While M.K. liked the look of the Avant, pockmarked New England roads were the absolute worst habitat for a car with so little ground clearance and stretched 30 series tires. Living with the uncomfortable ride and touchy brakes was one thing, but after bending all four wheels and scraping the oil cooler, he had had enough. It was time to fix the car. Instead of going back to stock, Matt and Ryan at Ai Design suggested going in the complete opposite direction. If slammed is bad, lifted is good, right?
The team at Ai Design set to work redesigning the longroof to better suit the owner’s needs. One of the first challenges was to raise the car while retaining the excellent handling engineered into the original vehicle. The solution began with a 2Bennett Audimotive suspension system containing shocks with elongated bottom tubes. The firmer valving and revised spring rates deliver proper dampening and road feel while eliminating excess body roll that might have come as a result of the increased ride height. Adjustable upper control arms were added so the toe and camber could be set to factory RS 4 specifications.
The previous owner had installed R8 carbon ceramic rotors, but with the stock master cylinder, so braking was less than optimal. The massive rotors also restricted going back to a smaller wheel diameter. Ai replaced the R8 binders with cross-drilled Brembos that could accept 17-inch wheels. Since the car would see daily four-season use, Ai powder coated two sets of OZ wheels and fitted one with Falken WildPeak A/T tires and the other received UHP rated Vredestein Wintrac Pros, both in 225/55R17, giving a bit more sidewall than the stock 225/45 size.
A safari style vehicle needs the proper exterior finish. After looking at a number of vinyl samples, M.K. chose NATO matte green for a complete exterior wrap by Ai. An Audi Accessories roof box was sourced and color keyed to match the car’s new look, then mounted to low profile crossbars to retain a sleek profile. Gloss black on the wheels is reflected in detail throughout the exterior alongside badges modified with the new color treatment.
One specialty Ai Design is known for is their expertise in electronics. The RS 4 received a full Ai audio system with a Pioneer touchscreen head unit and higher quality speakers in the factory positions. For the subwoofer, Ai built a custom enclosure filling the spare tire well that contains 2-8” speakers and 2 JL Audio amps. They also installed a FLIR PathFindIR ll thermal night vision system which displays on the head unit with the flip of a switch.
VisonX lights were used exclusively on the exterior. Ai designed and 3D printed a new mesh center panel inset for the rear bumper that holds two small yellow tinted LED reverse lights while an LED bar light was mounted below the bumper. The most visible exterior add-on that gives the car serious safari cred, are the four 6.7 inch round LEDs producing a whopping 34,240 lumens. The lights were tinted yellow and mounted to an Ai Design exclusive lightbar. The lightbar itself was a massive undertaking, designed and fabricated specifically for this vehicle. The creation of the bar started with CAD renderings, which were then 3D printed in plastic as mockups. The design was painstakingly tweaked and refined until it was perfect.
Matt wanted the final bar cut from a single slab of billet aluminum. Rennscot Manufacturing was chosen to take Ai’s CAD files and mill the bar on their largest 5-axis CNC machine. Due to the sheer size of the raw material needed, the bar fabrication took nearly a week. The original aluminum block weighed 350 pounds while the final cut bar comes in at only 14 pounds. The amount of material that had to be cut away was ridiculous. The CNC’d bar was then vapor honed and anodized black.
A powder coated skidplate was fabricated to protect the tender bits up front. Under the rear bumper, the exhaust outlet was 3D scanned, and then a shroud was created and 3D printed in metal. The shroud and the cat-back exhaust were then Jet-Hot coated to resist heat. In the rear compartment, a custom fit removable dog bed was crafted to match the interior.
Lastly, to shake off water and dirt, the complete vehicle exterior was treated with AMMO Reflex Pro.
When M.K. is not out hooning the RS 4 on the fire roads of New England, it will be in good company, parked next to his 1994 RS2. That little Porsche-infused wagon is seriously bonkers on its own, pumping out a ridiculous 800 horsepower. But that’s a story for another day.