The Story of the Audi RS 002, the Mysterious Prototype that Ken Block Just Hooned

In the 1980s, Audi revolutionized the rally world with its iconic Quattro cars. While the A1, A2, and Sport Quattro variants are well-known by everyone who loves the sport, there was another, much more insane mid-engine evolution that Ken Block got the chance to drive recently.
Audi RS 002 11 photos
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After ending an 11-year partnership with Ford back in January, the famed rally driver didn’t spend time as a free agent for long as he just announced a new deal with German powerhouse Audi. His first assignment: drive two amazing rally classics from the manufacturer's private collection. One was the legendary Sport Quattro S1 that every car enthusiast immediately recognized, while the other, a white bulb-shaped little thing with a huge rear spoiler, was met with raised eyebrows.

To understand how this enigmatic machine was developed, we have to take a trip back to 1980. That was the year when the German carmaker introduced the mighty Quattro to the world of rallying. The car was extremely successful and so innovative that it fundamentally changed the sport.

However, it wasn’t perfect with drivers reporting high-speed stability issues and painful understeering through slow corners. While engineered attempted to patch up these issues as best as they could with the A2 evolution, the problems persisted so the head of Audi Sport at the time, Roland Gumpert, came up with a drastic solution: move the engine to the middle of the chassis.

Audi RS 002
He revealed the plans to Audi’s chief Ferdinand Piech who was intrigued by the idea but ultimately dismissed it. At the time, the road-going Quattro was a success in terms of sales, and the rally version, with all its shortcomings, was among the best cars in the sport. Moreover, Group B homologation rules required a limited number of units to be made available to the general public to homologate a car for the competition, so Piech saw no reason to invest time and resources into the development of such a fundamentally different machine.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Gumpert and his team went for a compromising solution and shortened the wheelbase of the original car, giving birth to the 1984 Sport Quattro.

Although it was a significant improvement, the idea of a mid-engine variant never left the German engineer’s mind. Firmly convinced that it would result in a far better vehicle, he decided to take matters into his own hands and assembled a team who secretly worked on this clandestine project for the following months.

Audi Sport Quattro S1
By the end of 1984, they successfully managed to redesign the chassis, move the epic turbocharged inline-5 to the middle, and subtly modified a Sport Quatro body so that nobody would notice what it hid underneath.

In the months that followed, the team tested the car in complete secrecy in Czechoslovakia and the results were more than encouraging. It handled extremely well and all the issues that plagued its front-engine sibling seemed to be a distant memory. At some point, the plan was revealed to Walter Röhrl, Audi’s star factory driver at the time, who took the car for a spin and fell in love with it within minutes.

Unfortunately, a photographer managed to snap a shot of the prototype, and Gumpert’s well-kept secret was revealed to the world in an Austrian magazine. Piech was furious with the revelations, ordering - and personally overseeing - the destruction of the mid-engine Quattro.

Audi Sport Quattro Mid Engine Prototype
By this time FIA proposed a new set of rules that would transform Group B into Group S and allow manufacturers more freedom to develop innovative race cars. Little did Piech know that apart from the mid-engine Quattro, Gumpert and his team also managed to develop a groundbreaking Group S prototype.

One of the best-kept secrets in the history of motorsport, the RS 002 was based on the short-wheelbase chassis of the Sport Quattro and featured the same 2.1-liter turbocharged engine. However, the unit was so heavily upgraded that it was capable of delivering up to 690 hp.

The body was completely redesigned and looked more like a compact Le Mans prototype than a 1980s rally car. Because of its lightweight construction and advanced aerodynamics, the RS 002 had a curb weight of just 2,205 lbs (1,000 kg) and could reach a top speed of 186 mph (300 kph).

Audi RS 002
To this day, details about its development are still shrouded in mystery. What we do know is that three of them were built and the one that Ken Block got to drive is the only surviving unit.

Because FIA abruptly decided to cancel both Group B and upcoming Group S after the tragic events of the 1986 season, two of the cars were scrapped and the third remained in hiding for several years. When it finally emerged, it was placed by Audi in an Ingolstadt Museum where it remained untouched until 2016. That year, the carmaker’s Tradition department which specializes in restorations brought it back to working condition and had it running at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

To celebrate the new partnership with Block Audi invited the rally driver to Germany where he got the opportunity to take it to the track. If you haven’t done it by now, you can watch the run in the video below.

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