PetrolBlog is launching a new feature called ‘As seen on PB’, which will showcase the cars owned by Club PetrolBlog members. As a prelude to the feature, Ben Hooper introduces his father’s stunning Audi WR quattro, which has been in the family since new.
It’s a terrific read, not least because Ben resists the temptation to say “fire up the quattro.”
More ‘As seen on PB’ stories will follow, but in the meantime, please enjoy Ben’s words on the Audi WR quattro.
I looked up to see the door open and my father appear. He had come to take me home from my grandmother’s, but first he had to get the ‘big red car’ out of the garage. Now my auto-sprog ears pricked up: what was this big red car? I was unaware we even had such a thing.
Intrigued, I followed him outside. Walking up the garden path, I remember the warm sunlight and rich air. Back then, the planet felt more wondrous and, although I did not know it, iconic. I glimpsed inside as my father unlocked the rickety blue garage door.
There, with ladders and other tat arranged around it, was a car the likes of which I hadn’t seen before. My father instructed me to stand back so I retreated back to the drive, around the corner.
A tremendous noise erupted from the garage: a smooth, guttural purr, like the family cat but commanding more awe. My two-year-old mind could not believe it. Here was a machine that seemed so much more exciting than my small but growing collection of Hot Wheels.
Slowly, the hero emerged from its cave. The straight, purposeful edges caught the spring sun. The vibrant red paint made an immediate impression. It must have been a Ferrari, I knew those were red.
I knew enough to identify the four rings. It was an Audi. It was red but it wasn’t a Ferrari. Within seconds I had decided that this was better than any Ferrari could be, because we owned one.
My father gently moved the car onto the drive. I couldn’t wait to get inside. The car felt old, but it had the most advanced features I had ever seen in a car: the speedo was a computer screen, and it spoke to you, quite literally. It was a wonder for the senses – an automotive nirvana.
I became besotted with the car, and a number that is a legend in my heart: C77 VCG.
Monday 3 February 1986 was a significant date in my life, but I wasn’t even born. An Audi WR quattro in Tornado Red was registered as a demonstrator for Testwood Motors out the outskirts of Southampton.
Around this time, my grandfather, Herbert Brian Hooper, was getting ready for retirement, after running the family manufacturing business for many years. My uncle, a young man with an eye for (nocturnal) racing, ensured his father test-drove all the best cars of the day.
Exactly what was driven has been lost to memory, but as soon as Brian drove the Audi WR quattro he was smitten. The Rover SD1 was sold, and for the first time the sound of a straight-five turbo could be heard on the driveway. My grandfather, an engineer by trade, was always fascinated by aircraft and machines.
He was a wartime chief engineer in the Merchant Navy, doing the Atlantic convoys in a perilous time. After the war he tried his hand at farming but went back to sea on whaling vessels, before starting a family and taking over the company from his father-in-law, which remains in business to this day.
With this background, it should come as no surprise that he chose an Audi WR quattro. Four-wheel drive was a novelty in this sort of car, and having always wanted something more fun to drive, he used the car well. Indeed, we often remark that his ideal car would have been a Volvo P1800ES (as he had wanted one of those) with a rotary engine, 4WD and a DAF variomatic gearbox. A sort of greatest hits collection, but I digress.
The quattro visited many places in 1980s and 90s Europe. It routinely ate the Birdlip hill outside Gloucester on the runs back from family lunches. It went to warp speed on the Autobahns, and was a regular feature in Palmerston Square in Romsey as its owner played snooker in the Conservative Club.
Things took a turn for the worse in 1991. While driving in Southampton, my grandfather suffered a mini-stroke and ploughed into a car dealership, writing off several cars and pinning a salesman behind his desk. The car (a total loss) was purchased from the insurers and completely rebuilt to new standard, hence why the rear plate is the 1986 Testwood plate and the front is a newer font.
The Audi was used more sparingly as Brian’s health deteriorated. Notable scuff marks on the sills and bald patch on the driver’s seat bolster appeared. On 24 September 1998, my grandfather parked up after a doctor’s appointment about his circulatory problems and went upstairs to remove his shoes.
He passed away two minutes later, from the very issue he had just been consulted about. Nothing could be done.
The quattro carried the immediate family, my father at the wheel, to the funeral at the local church. After that, my grandmother used it occasionally, although its condition worsened. After it cut out on her around the turn of the millennium, my father became the only driver, although the car was laid up for a couple of years.
I was unaware that the car was a rolling restoration project. However, thanks to the determination, and money, that my father, and to a lesser extent myself, have shown it, the car has been restored to former glory. Re-sealed wheels, sorting out a rusty A-pillar, new custom-made exhaust (slight alteration on the original for better flow) and many more fixes, the car is now a real patinated survivor.
But what is the car like and, after being shaped by it so much, what is it like objectively?
The car has a real presence. The five-cylinder engine is smooth with an intoxicating soundtrack. It was hugely powerful in its day, but the Audi quattro remains a classic you can use daily. It can seat four people in comfort, even if the seats are a bit itchy.
The boot space is small, but perfect for a couple’s driving holiday. Not great for goat transport, mind. It’s also thirsty, doesn’t respond well to starting from warm, and the military-derived gearbox is clunky and cumbersome in first gear.
But the WR quattro represents so much more than its mere dynamics. It is a feeling, a sensation, a state of mind. For me at least, the quattro has always been a car for heroes.
The quattro has nothing to prove. There is no need to drive like a fly on crack. The car commands respect from those who matter. It doesn’t matter if an aggressive, edgy hyper-saloon with two White Dwarf stars screwed to the front overtakes you at 150. You’re driving home in a quattro and they are not. They are forever striving, you are savouring.
I never really understood the significance of the quattro until people pulled us over to thank us for driving it. I didn’t realise it was a legend, not just in my life, but in the lives of countless enthusiasts. Because of this, whenever we take it out, I feel that we are helping people, making them feel good, reminding them that things may not be as bad as they seem.
It continues to surprise me. Last year, the quattro Owners’ Club was able to secure permits for a hillclimb event at Prescott. It was here that we all discovered a new side to the quattro, as I wrote for the club:
“We pull up to the lights. The knowing of what is to come only makes the anticipation greater. Any moment now. My pulse races with excitement. Before this day the car was risking becoming something normal in my life, but now I know just why I feel so confident with this car, why it has nothing to prove. Green! The five cylinders are in a roaring symphony as we blast past the spectators with their scones. Being in the hairpin bend is a blur and as we go up the next one, I see the sky briefly as I try and hold the [recording] phone straight. By the chicanes, the engine starts to misfire, but however hard the sparkplugs try, their mischief cannot ruin this day. For the first time I really understand this car, it feels at home, pin sharp handling, that sensational engine, the sheer speed at which it can be controlled. Before I can fully ponder this, we are flying around the last bend to the finish line. As we slow down the car becomes the refined, comfortable cruiser it is so good at being, satisfied that its other side has been shown today.”
The car was electrifying on the track, and yet on the drive back it was a refined, stylish cruiser that was quiet and comfy. It’s ready to hit to the roads of Europe. The end of the lockdown can’t come soon enough.
I never met Brian, but the influence of his decision to buy the Audi is profound. It has shaped my tastes for the eccentric and quirky. Let’s not forget, the Audi remains an outsider. My love for the 1980s style, and a fascination with the past, from film, TV and, strongest of all music, is all thanks to this car.
For years, I found myself wishing that I had a photograph of my grandfather with the car in period. Last year I finally found one. My palette is far flung from the 1960s to the noughties, but this car has shaped me in a way no one could really predict when my father opened that garage door and I saw the Audi for the first time.
It won’t win any awards for being the fastest or most economical. For a GT, its specs are laughable by modern standards. However, to judge the Audi WR quattro by its on-paper figures would be a mistake. As with any car, it is so much more than can be quantified. It is sensual symphony, an experience unlike any other, it finds itself alone in its field, but that isn’t a bad thing.
Because as the song goes, we can be heroes. But behind the wheel of an Audi WR quattro, real or imagined, ‘just for one day’ becomes ‘indefinitely’.
Doesn’t have the same ring to it though, I should stick to cars…
Dedicated to Herbert Brian Hooper, born 10 October 1920; died 24 September 1998. And to those who made this car possible.
Please consider joining Club PetrolBlog. You’ll be supporting an independent car blog and a fleet of (mostly) undesirable cars. In return, you’ll get an exclusive sticker, regular members-only newsletter, access to prize draws and other incentives. All cars featured in the ‘As seen on PB’ section are eligible for a money-can’t-buy sticker. Fancy.