It is, without doubt, the most popular car in Australian rallying at the present time. Spectators love it, photographers scramble for the best photo of it, and fellow competitors all want one. Even once-a-year fans are gobsmacked when they see the car blast into view.
The Audi Quattro S1 is perhaps the most incredible rally car ever built, and is the star pupil in the Group B class of 1985 and 1986, despite never reaching its full potential.
So when Coffs Harbour’s Mal Keough unveiled his S1 replica at Rally Australia in 2014 it all seemed too good to be true. Surely this was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Surely this wasn’t a REAL Quattro.
As we discovered, sometimes seeing IS believing.
Mal Keough's Audi Quattro S1 replica is a crowd favourite. Photos: Peter Whitten
Having started his rallying in V8 Commodores, before progressing to a Datsun 1600 and an early model Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Mal Keough’s rallying turned a full circle when classic rallying caught his eye.
Initially he looked at building an Mk1 Escort Mexico, and even purchased a S13 Nissan Silvia, but at the back of his mind he knew he wanted an Audi Quattro.
“Every man’s dream is a Quattro,” he says, “and I found a long-wheel base car in Tasmania that I ended up buying.”
The problem was that once he got the car home to Coffs Harbour, he discovered that it was a very rare Quattro indeed – an early quad-headlight car and one of the first of the factory built right hand drive cars.
Realising that the car was too valuable to strip and build into a rally car, it remained in his garage untouched, and the search went on, with Mal scouring Quattro forums, websites and, of course, eBay. After much searching, he found an S1 replica for sale in the UK, and before he knew it, he owned it.
While the car looked the duck’s guts, Mal says looks can be deceiving.
“The way I describe it to people is that it was a $500 car with a $15,000 Kevlar body kit bolted to it, and therefore the perfect starting point.
“It was being used as a display car and only had a 10-valve, non-turbo engine, standard brakes and suspension, and a Safety Devices roll cage which was of little use.
“A mate of mine in the UK stored it for me, and after I gave him a shopping list he purchased two six-speed Audi gearboxes, a AAN engine and everything else that I thought I’d need. It was all packed into a container and sent to Australia.”
When it arrived in Coffs Harbour the car sat in Mal’s shed for 12 months while he researched and recovered from the financial burden of purchasing it. Then, over two years, the rebuild progressed until the car finally made its first public appearance at Rally Australia in 2014.
As you’d expect with a car as rare and as special as an S1 Quattro, the build wasn’t straightforward.
“The big question was, how far we chase the replica side of things,” Mal explains.
“All 17 of the works cars were different, so what actually is a true replica? No two cars were the same.
“For example, the works cars ran big sliding bottom ball joints and aluminium legs. Most of that stuff is unobtainable now, and if you could buy it, the price would be astronomical and you’d never be game to put the car in the forest.”
Having said all that, the replica is about as close to a factory S1 as you’ll get, although detuned significantly to what the cars in the mid 1980s were.
It runs the Audi 5 cylinder 20-valve turbo engine with Audi gearbox and diffs, and all Audi control arms and cross members.
“There are subtle differences,” Mal says. “The works cars ran a castor bar brace arrangement on the bottom control arms that mine doesn’t have, but its close. And it looks and sounds the part.”
That it does, despite being in what he describes as “a fairly tame, very safe tune”.
When the unrestricted engine was last put through its paces on the dyno it produced 325 kilowatts at the hubs – a staggering amount of power. Now, with a turbo restrictor fitted, it produces significantly less.
Even with the reduced power output, the Quattro is a highly strung piece of kit, and Mal admits that he needed to be smart in how he built it, with long-term maintenance a big part of that.
“I spent a lot of time designing how the driveshafts fit, and have designed it so that the left hand front driveshaft out of an Audi A6 will fit in all four corners of the car. That way I only have to buy one type of shaft.
“The brake discs are off-the-shelf Mercedes units, as they are the same stud pattern as the Quattro.
“Parts that I thought were going to be high volume and high use are all easy to get, which makes it a lot easier.”
Interest in the car has been phenomenal; particularly from overseas where the car’s build story on the Audi S2 forum has so far received over 40,000 views.
But help from Quattro experts wasn’t easy to come by at first, as there aren’t many. Mal’s initial questions on the forums were treated with almost disdain from those “in the know”, but he soon set them straight.
“As there are no S1 Quattro experts in Australia, it’s all been internet help, and even that was hard at first as people commented that it was information I should know.
“It was only when I told them that Quattros were never sold in Australia that they started to help. It’s all been built off photos and advice.
“To my knowledge there are only about 27 UR Quattros in Australia, so it’s not like there are a bunch of people with much information on how to build them. You can’t pop around to a mates and check something like you can with a 1600 Datto.”
With a car worth that much money, Mal could be forgiven for tip-toeing around the stages and keeping the mighty S1 in the middle of the road. But that’s far from the case, although he does admit to trying to keep things on the safe side of flat out.
“I’m driving at a speed where I can hopefully get away without doing any panel damage, while still putting on a show. But it’s hard not to get carried away,” he stresses.
“It’s a balancing act. People want to see it at full noise, but I can’t afford to drive it at full noise because if I damage panels, I’m in a world of hurt. The Kevlar carbon kit is around $15,000 ex-Germany, plus import duty and freight. And that’s without a carbon roof, which mine has.
“Panel damage is my biggest fear. I don’t mind mechanicals, because that’s pretty much the same cost as everyone else and easier to fix than panels.
“I’m happy in that I think everybody respects that I’m trying to do my best, but when it’s all said and done, I’m not going to stick it into the scenery for the crowd.”
Having said that, he’s not hanging around either.
“On a nice piece of flowing road that I’m familiar with, I’ll have a real go. In South Australia we were using gum trees four feet in diameter as khanacross flags, so we weren’t mucking around! It’s great fun to hold a big slide and keep the foot into it, and air time is always good.”
Quattros had a reputation as being hard to drive, being so short in the wheelbase, with the location of the engine forward of the front wheels that makes them nose heavy, pitchy and likely to understeer. But Mal says his car is fairly easy to drive.
“It will never be like a Lancer Evo, but that is part of the appeal.”
From a spectator’s point of view, the joy is in seeing the Quattro in action, driven like it should be driven, and not hidden in a shed or on display in a museum.
“I built the car because I wanted to run it, not for the attention – I’m not that type of person.
“When I first drove it into the mall at the start of Rally Australia in 2014, I couldn’t get away from the car quick enough. It just got swamped. That’s just not me.
“At Rally Oz 2015 some of the world media guys came and thanked me for putting on a show, and said that very few people in the world are running on gravel and are prepared to use it. They seemed very impressed.”
Unfortunately, a lack of funds is the biggest hurdle to running the car, and unless some major sponsors can be found, Australian rally fans will be seeing less of the car in future seasons.
“I’ll see the 2016 season out, but next year I don’t know if I’ll be back in the ARC as I just can’t afford it. I have no sponsorship backing, other than the team at GK Denney Tyres Coffs Harbour, who have supported us from the beginning. A big shout out to Terry and the crew.
“Other than that it all comes out of my pocket. I’m a bobcat contractor with one machine, so it’s not easy.
“South Australia was the most expensive rally I’ve ever competed in. I needed to take seven days off work, so that was a big hit financially, even without the event costs. I also try to fly in a couple of guys for each event, so each event costs around $15,000 or more to compete in. Some would say that’s probably cheap.”
Inevitably, our conversation turns to money, and the question everyone wants to know. What’s an Audi Quattro S1 replica worth? Of course that’s not a question with a definitive answer, but Mal says that if he were to sell the car tomorrow, he’d want well in excess of $150,000.
The car that was featured in the June 2016 issue of RallySport Magazine, owned by Dave Thompson and Stewart Reid, was purchased for a similar amount, but as Mal points out: “Mine is a bit closer to the real thing I think. How good would it be if we could get the two cars running a rally together … how about it guys?
“The car I’ve built is all Audi – it has the radiator in the boot, the short wheelbase windscreen angle, and is pretty close to the original.
“You’d want to be well, well north of $150k to buy it, but I think it would end up going overseas, as I don’t believe there’d be anyone in Australia who would be silly enough to spend that sort of coin.
“But saying that, I was stupid enough to build one, so somebody else might be as well ….”
He admits that, financially at least, building your own S1 replica may be a better option than buying one already built, as you can spread the money outlay so it’s not one big hit, but he isn’t even contemplating selling his car.
“I didn’t build it to sit in the shed, I built it to drive it and that’s what I’m doing.
I’m pretty proud of what we’ve achieved, having been built here in Coffs Harbour with the help of a few mates in the back shed, and it’s a good feeling knowing it’s a puzzle that very few have solved,” he adds.
“I believe that the Quattro would have to be one of the most photographed cars in the field, aside from the top few WRCs.
“Even while travelling it’s amazing how many photos are taken with people hanging out of cars just to get a shot of it on the trailer,” he beams.
Which, of course, is great news for Aussie rally fans, with the car hopefully set to be a prominent part of events in the coming seasons.
For this writer, who grew up in awe of the Quattro and the WRC events of the 1980s, seeing Mal Keough’s car roaring through the forest is like a dream come true. Who would have thought?
The Audi Quattro S1 replica in full flight at Rally Australia. Photos: Peter Whitten
Model: Audi Quattro S1 E2 Replica
Body Shell: Front half Audi 80 B2 Coupe
Rear Half UR CQ Quattro Coupe
Engine: Audi AAN 2.2-litre 5-cylinder 20-valve turbo
Trans: Audi 01E 6 speed with sequential shift
Clutch: Spec Brand stage 5 plus with solid plate
Differentials: Front Wavetrac LSD
Centre JHM 4.1 Bias
Rear Gripper Plate LSD
Suspension: Custom made 55mm MCAs with remote canisters
Brakes: Front APs CP6720 4 Pot
Rear APs CP6760 4 Pot
Wheels: Audi A6 15’’X 7’’
Weight: 1500kg wet
Originally published in RallySport Magazine, October 2016
Mal Keough's magnificent Audi Quattro S1 replica. Photo: Ivan Glavas
Mal Keough (centre) hails from Coffs Harbour - Rally Australia territory.
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