There’s no question the 60s and 70s was a golden era of iconic sportscar design, particularly with coupes and roadsters that came out of European marques at the time. Long before Audi ever considered an R8, there were the legends from Ferrari and Lamborghini, not to mention countless others from marques like Jaguar, Maserati and even Mercedes-Benz. Unfortunately, Audi hadn’t yet made its pre-war return during most of this time. By the time the 70s era sportscars were just winding down, Ingolstadt was just coming back online from its postwar coma with the introduction of the quattro that would become itself an 80s icon. For students of that golden era though, there are precious few sportscar designs wearing that Audi badge that harken that moment.
There were a few concepts done by known carrozzeria of the time. There was the Asso di Picche done by Giugiaro at ItalDesign and the Quartz Concept by Pininfarina… and in that moment there was also a little known mid-engine concept car by a lesser known styling house. Pietro Frua didn’t have the name recognition of some of his iconic design house contemporaries, but his pen and his Turin-based firm seem considerably influential just the same. Google the name and you’ll find many well-known cars by the man including the Volvo P1800 and Maserati Mistral. You’ll also find plenty of concepts that offered intriguing ‘what-if’ one-offs based on cars like the Dodge Challenger, Chevy Camaro and countless BMW designs that heavily influenced that brand’s 70s design language. By 1970 though, Pietro Frua had lost his business with BMW and was scrambling to look for new work. Out of this time, and just a year after the Asso di Picche, came his 1974 Audi Coupe Speciale mittelmotor concept.
According to sources at Audi Tradition, the coupe was designed by Frua and revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in 1974. The car made use of components from the Audi 100 Coupe S (C1) components as its basis, though it was altered dramatically in order to transform the car from the front engine front-wheel drive configuration of the Coupe S to a mid-engine rear-wheel drive setup. Behind the driver’s compartment sat the radiator and behind that was Audi’s 112 hp inline four-cylinder engine. A ridiculously small luggage compartment was created at the front and a second compartment was located at the rear, above the gearbox and drivetrain. The engine itself was cooled via slots in the engine cover and via the gill-like vents located just aft the side doors.
From a design standpoint, the car has a very 70s era look about it. You can see similarities with other cars of the time, though the most striking of these must certainly be the Maserati Merak and its very similar stand-alone “C-pillar” supports at the rear, not to mention its wedge-like overall shape. The Maserati must certainly have been an influence, as its Giugiaro-sourced design was introduced two years prior by Maserati.
According to Audi Tradition, whose staff had spoken on the subject of the car with now-retired executives who were there at the time, Audi had no influence in the production of this car. Frua had his own firm and was, in effect, a freelancer. It appears he likely may have built the car in an effort to win over business from the newly rising Audi brand given he’d lost business with the company’s Munich-based rival not long before. And that sounds plausible, as that is believed to be the exact same thinking behind Giugiaro’s Audi Asso di Picche concept that debuted one year prior.
Today the status of the Coupe Speciale mittelmotor concept remains unknown. Pietro Frua died nearly ten years after the car debuted, in June of 1983 and at the age of 70. The whereabouts of the car itself seem to be a bit of a mystery. When asked about it nearly 10 years ago, Audi Tradition was also unaware of the car’s status.
What we can conclude in the end is simply that this was a very tastefully designed mid-engine Audi that surfaced during one of the greatest eras of sportscars. How naturally those tiny four-ring badges appear at the rear and on the lower side valances hint at what might have been, and also at an era of sportscars like the Audi R8 that were still decades away.
No 50 years on, the Audi Coupe Speciale Mittelmotor by Frua remains one of the most unknown and obscure Audi-badged sportscars. We’d also it’s also one of the coolest. For more information on Peter Frau, check out this German language website dedicated to the designer HERE.