What If Audi Built the R8 in the 1980s?

In the slow news cycle that is the summer season between international Auto Shows, British car buff magazine AutoCar is getting creative by having dutch designer Ruben Ooms imagine modern era models had they been introduced in eras well ahead of their time. Very interestingly, the Audi R8 has made the cut for their imaginings.

There is no doubt that the late 1970s and 1980s had Audi very seriously focusing on quattro. The ur quattro (coupé) built the legend that is the modern era of the Audi brand, and so it is synonymous with the time period when one thinks of Audi. The R8 came along later, after Audi had tried its hand rather dominantly at Le Mans.

Look back on the quattro era though and a mid-engine offering seemed just around the corner. Audi had released the Sport quattro S1 into Group B rallying, but it was quickly becoming clear that mid-engine competition from Lancia and Peugeot were dominating on the track. Mid and rear engine competition was inbound as well in the form of the Ferrari 288 GTO and Porsche 959.

If Audi was to remain the player it had been in rallying, then it would also have to go with a mid-engine configuration. In fact, it began testing mid-engine prototypes with Sport quattro bodies hidden away from the prying eyes of the press across the border in East Germany. The Group S prototype was even hashed out for design, though its shape was more arched and very different from the angular design language that is synonymous with 70s and 80s era Audi models.

By the 1990s, Audi was again experimenting with the idea of mid-engine automobiles… though not yet in racing at Le Mans. With the early 90s came the Silver Arrow-inspired and J. Mays-penned Audi Avus concept car followed by the much more production-ready quattro Spyder concept. We’d even go so far as to suggest the retro ‘Audi R8’ sketch at the top harkens the quattro Spyder even more than it does the production R8.

For those keeping count, many journalists hinted that the quattro Spyder may even see production. This was at a time that Audi was struggling to stay in the U.S. market, and the car would have been a considerable addition to the lineup… even powered by the rather lackluster normally aspirated 2.8-liter V6 that was replacing the I-5 at the time. Had it made production, it’s easy to imagine later evolutions of the quattro Spyder powered by the potent Cosworth-developed 2.7T in the B5 RS 4. Alas, rumor is that then head-of-Audi Ferdinand Piech was gung-ho to make it happen until his mother (and Ferdinand Porsche’s daughter) Louise Piech convinced him that the move wasn’t exactly helpful for Porsche, the family business and another German automaker that was struggling to make a go of it in the mid-1990s.

Back to the retro R8 design featured at the top of this story, it’s an interesting consideration as it may have pertained to rallying and maintaining brand dominance. The language on the car appears almost more mid-to-late 1970s B1 and C1 in its details, more Italian in its overall form. Though the AutoCar article mentions the BMW M1 as a period competitor, we see more Lancia 037 or Scorpion (a.k.a. Monte Carlo in Europe). Even still, the design still feels distinctly Audi, and of an era when Italian design houses such as Giugiaro-ItalDesign and Stile Bertone were weighing in on Audi concepts like the Asso di Picche and production models such as the B2 Audi 80 (4000) and the 50 hatchback.

We love the exercise AutoCar. We’d love to see more if and when you revisit the story theme. If you’d like to see more of the other imaginings including a 70s-look Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Evoque, Dodge Viper and more, check it out here at AutoCar.co.uk.