The Unification of Germany — the Audi RS2, built by Porsche

A typical Saturday afternoon in the subtropical summer — hot, humid, showers, alternating with spells of sun. Not the best for carspotting, but still…

I’ve always known these tiny garages by reputation. Tucked behind the historic blue building (藍屋) in Wanchai, these housed some of the very few specialists that surreptitiously keep the car scene going in Hong Kong. There’s always an element of adventure when one visits these places, that there might be rare gems to be found (and had if you possess the means). Quite how I left these places unchecked till now is anyone’s guess, but better late than never.

To start off, I was greeted by a boxy blue Audi with an immediately recognisable wagon shape — it was no other than the legendary RS2 built by Porsche. What, you say? Indeed, the renowned German manufacturer did collaborate with others from the same country, quite unlike the scene almost equally divided by the Big Three nowadays.

Till the early 90s, there is still considerable synergy among the German carmakers. VW were not the colossus that it is now — it hadn’t yet swallowed the likes of Audi, Seat, Skoda, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti, and some others; and there were even attempts of a buyout of VW itself from Porsche circa 2007–08, which unsurprisingly fell through. Naturally, without the ever-present pressure of amalgamation, designers and engineers were allowed more freedom, instead of the usual process of answering the bean-counters to squeeze the last penny of profit out of every nut and bolt and man-hour.

Admittedly, I’m not a massive Porsche fan. While their cars in general are perfectly fine as engineering exercises, it is their marketing strategy that is totally at odds with what I believe to be the key attributes of a respectable automaker; still, the success that Porsche has built over the past decade and a half is quite commendable, and with the company so talented at clicking all the right petrolhead buttons in the performance department, all these marketing tactics appear to be forgivable to many.

It’s perhaps rather surprising that despite such achievements in the automotive world, backed up by aggressive marketing, Porsche was actually in pretty bad shape in the late 80s. Due to the economic downturn in America, the demand for Porsches across the pond dwindled; while after several rounds of key changes within the management, and a few vanity projects to boost the brand image by the new personnel, means that the ledgers were mostly in the red. It was, quite frankly, on the brink of bankruptcy.

To alleviate the financial pressure, the company took up special collaborative development projects, first with Mercedes and then with Audi. The former emerged as the 500E, an unsuspecting sleeper with a 5L V8 as derived from the 500SL and upgraded suspension components and tuning by Porsche; the latter is of course subject to this post.

The RS2 was a limited-production, hashed-up B4 Audi 80 Avant; assembled by Porsche at the Zuffenhausen factory. Powered by a heavily modified 2.2L inline-5 engine in Audi’s lineup, the output was boosted by a larger replacement turbo and delivered to all four wheels via a six speed manual, with uprated suspension, brakes, and other ancillaries to accommodate the extra power. Its performance outshines that of many contemporary, purpose-built supercars, and is still very much relevant today.

Arguably the ancestor to all of the RS and S Audis, the RS2 had attained classic status even before the last rolled off the production line.

The unassuming giant slayer still has the trademark Audi layout — the engine as far forward as possible, leaving a considerable gap from the firewall. The valve cover has, of course, Porsche lettering grafted on; back then literally anything would have to do to keep the company afloat — any press is good press, as long as they spell the name right.

The alloys appear to be directly from Porsche’s inventory. Not a surprise given that the demand for 911s and 928s had plummeted, and the resulting surplus wheel stock might find better employment on the performance Audi.

The RS2’s limited production run only saw the Avant for general release, due to better weight distribution to offset the nose-heavy layout, for a more balanced handling characteristics and better high speed stability. It was rumoured that about a handful saloons (2–4) were made, for internal development purposes and also a special order from an unnamed Middle Eastern client.

The RS Blue Pearl is the official theme colour. All manufacturers tend to have theme colours, some with fancier names than others.

In retrospect RS2 might be a bit too far ahead of its time — the super sports saloons and wagons haven’t really caught on till the early 2000s, and Audi’s attempt at the segment was not considered further for another decade, when BMW and Mercedes went a bit nuts with the one-upmanship that is still on today, with their M and AMG divisions respectively. Audi, not to be left out, devised a complete line-up of S and RS models at the turn of the century starting with the RS4, with ever-increasing engine size, transmission and suspension technology, and power.

This lunacy probably peaked during the C6 generation RS6, its 5.0 V10 twin-turbo engine sharing the same basic architecture with the Lamborghini Gallardo — the VW-Audi AG umbrella enabling the shoehorning exercise. My mechanic mate in Hong Kong had the honour of ferrying an example several years back, and called the experience “being sucked into a black hole”. There seems to be no sky, let alone a limit.

Alas, this is not to be — as emissions standards become ever-stricter, engine downsizing and forced induction are becoming the norm in production cars, and the latest iterations of the super-sport German saloons and wagons are not exempt from the trend.

Still, the sector has remained the proving grounds for almost all the big brands. So when will we see the new Alfa Giulia here? I just can’t wait.

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