|Updated: May 18, 2005
Audi took the automotive world by storm at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show with the original supercar concept - the Audi Avus quattro. The W12 mid-engine concept was the very first aluminum space frame (ASF) Audi and theoretically possessed an incredible 0-60 mph capability of less than three seconds.
Twelve years later at the 2003 IAA in Frankfurt Audi again took center stage with a supercar concept, this time the Le Mans quattro. Hot off an unparalleled motorsport run with its R8 racecars, including winning the Le Mans endurance race in three consecutive years (2000, 2001 and 2002), the Le Mans quattro concept was billed by Audi as the "synthesis of the experience gained from numerous racing triumphs" and was built in a mere 11 months.
The Le Mans quattro has finally been green-lighted for production. According to Audi of American spokesman Doug Clark, "There will be a sports car that is going to transfer the spirit of the Le Mans quattro study from '03 into production." Based on a preliminary timetable the vehicle would arrive in final form in 2006 with initial deliveries starting by mid-2007. It will be built at Audi's Neckarsulm plant.
New car introductions take executive sponsorship in any car company and Audi is no exception. Audi chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn and his boss, Volkswagen AG CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder, are believed to be the driving forces the Le Mans quattro. Both men drove a secret prototype within the past two weeks are were said to be extremely impressed.
The main point of contention will be the engine choice for the Le Mans quattro. Recall, the original concept was powered by a twin-turbo V10 producing a lusty 610-hp - an impressive but highly unlikely possibility for the actual production Le Mans quattro. Engineers have an exceptionally wide range of choices from the VW group parts bin, including V8s, V10s, W12s and W16s. With Lamborghini's Gallardo a corporate sibling, however, the powerplant selection is being handled carefully.
Audi will likely employ a two-model strategy with the Le Mans quattro, introducing the vehicle first with a "smaller" engine choice and then subsequently offering a second, higher-output variant. Using this logic the initial option points strongly towards the recently revealed RS4 powerplant, a 414-hp 4.2-liter V8. There would be an obvious tie-in here to the engine's race-bred FSI technology, the same technology that helped Audi achieve motorsport greatness at Le Mans with its R8's.
The second potential powerplant is much harder to pinpoint. Dr. Winterkorn is known to be a fervent supporter of the 444-hp W12, which would be a differentiated offering from the Gallardo 5.0-liter V10. A W12 motor would also play homage to the Avus quattro concept which featured a mock W12 engine.
Regardless of the eventual offering, the Le Mans quattro is being aimed at a competitive landscape that dictates ultra high performance. Based on the overall vehicle design and ASF weight-reducing technology the Le Mans quattro should produce 0-60 times in the low 4-second range.
By all reports the original Le Mans quattro concept design will be faithfully reproduced in the production version of the vehicle. Audi did much the same thing with its TT, showing a concept version that was modified only slightly for aerodynamics and functional improvements, but that still retained the concept's design.
A cabriolet version has already been mentioned, although we will not see this option for at least two years following the initial launch.
Interestingly, a production Le Mans quattro would fit right in with Audi's current single-frame, trapezoidal grille line-up. The Le Mans quattro was, in fact, one of the first Audi concepts to employ the distinctive front end treatment.
In producing the Le Mans quattro, Audi positions itself to take on the likes of Porsche, Aston Martin and Ferrari. The vehicle would slot in against these rivals both in terms of price ($100k) and performance.
This is an interesting proposition for Audi considering that it has not fully achieved its competitive strategy (in the US in particular) relative to German rival BMW and the Japanese manufacturers. Rather than building a supercar Audi could perhaps continue to focus time and attention on selling A4's and A6's against the 3-series and Acura RL and TL.
That said, the Le Mans quattro would immediately become a halo vehicle for Audi with which to showcase its technology. Company officials are hoping that the Le Mans quattro can do for the Audi brand what quattro did twenty-five years earlier.
Still unknown is the final production name for the Le Mans quattro. In all likelihood it will adopt the Audi company naming scheme, meaning a two digit designation. A9 is one possibility that has been brought forth, as is R9. Audi has previously only used the R designation in conjunction with its ultra high end RS models and its R8 racecars, therefore any car bearing the R would be in exclusive company. Recall, though, that Audi had everyone fooled when it named the new Q7, so this issue is still up in the air.
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