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What a Difference Three Decades Makes


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What a Difference Three Decades Makes

26 Feb 2021 4:35PM   Views : 523 Unique : 396

The Audi Quattro was a revolution in rallying in the 1980s. Do high resolution low noise images taken today evoke the same response as the grainy mono images from the time?

Progress Through Technology, that certainly applied to a make of rally car forty years ago. You're more likely to recognise that saying in its original Teutonic language. Photography would wait 20 years before its major change in technology. That said, motorsport will, over the next decade, be transformed yet again. We already have Formula E well established and Extreme E will start this year.

I'm not trying to highlight the advances made in automotive or photographic technology over this time. By all means do some research on the Sony Mavica if you want. Rather the portrayal of that sport and technology in images and the response it creates in the viewer.


An Audi Coupe Quattro at the Weston Park stage of the Lombard RAC Rally. Driven by David Llewellyn of Wales with British co-driver Phil Short. Ilford XP1 400 chromogenic monochrome film rated at ISO 1600

I'm coming at this as someone who remembers the time. Those with longer or shorter memories may well feel different but at least I hope I'll give you something to think about.
Rallying is a gritty sport and not just for those on the outside of a bend when the gravel starts to fly. Inclement weather and at the extreme ends of the day play their part too. That's from a UK perspective of course, events like the Acropolis Rally and Rally Australia had better weather, though you'd still get a mouth of grit.

Photographically, this meant extreme measures too. High ISO film was required with the accompanying high levels of grain. And it's this aspect of the images I'm talking about. You've endured the rain, mud, gravel and various levels of darkness, then waited possibly a week or so to see your results. You watched the nightly reports on television (do I remember it correctly as William Woollard presenting?) shot on grainy 16 mm film (video cameras were only just starting to be used but still produced rough results compared to what we're used to now). Memories and imagery were both gritty and grainy. They left a lasting impression, especially if they were part of your formative years. You never thought you were living through history.


Stig Blomqvist driving an Audisport Quattro in the Live Action arena at Autosport International 2010, NEC Birmingham. 16 January 2010

Fast forward past the end of the Cold War, Britpop and the Conservative Lib Dem coalition. Those rally cars are still around and to be seen in action. Despite the later Toyotas and iconic Subarus taking the technology further they still impress. For sport and entertainment value that's good. They'll certainly bring a lot back. Take some photos on a modern camera. No longer gritty black and white or grainy weak colour. You have vibrant accurate colour, sharp images and no grain (ISO 6400 or higher with much less noise than ISO 400 of the time).

You may even add noise and desaturate the images for a 'retro' look. So which images do you really think capture the atmosphere?

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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pablophotographer Avatar
pablophotographer 12 2.2k 450
26 Feb 2021 6:38PM
I am biased towards clouds of dust and grainy film from Acropolis Rallye night action. I do miss the Category B cars.
James124 Avatar
James124 Plus
8 86 59 Portugal
26 Feb 2021 11:34PM
The first shot is so evocative of the period, Keith. It wouldn't look right without the grainy gritty ambience or in colour.
For comparison here is a ortugal_84_Audi_Quattro_A2.jpg" rel="nofollow" target="blank">1984 colour shot of a Quattro on the Rally Portugal.
woolybill1 Avatar
woolybill1 Plus
17 39 79 United Kingdom
27 Feb 2021 9:14AM
I came here from your Gallery photo via a wave of nostalgia, Keith.
I have only been to one 'proper' Rally, Keith, having ingested my regulation mouthfuls of grit, sand, mud and coal dust on AWDC comp safaris and trials, both watching and competing, in the 1980s. That rally was the Mintex won in a Quattro identical to the one you display by Walter Röhrl. An acquaintance offered me and two other enthusiasts - we were all photographers - lifts there and back, he knowing the route and the best special stages. But I didn't ingest any grit that day; it was bitterly cold and the stages were covered in ice, as were by feet until we got the the final stage on Oliver's Mount in Scarborough.
Apart from the sport and the photography there was an added incentive to accept the lift: the acquaintance had just bought a Quattro of the same configuration as Röhrl's apart from the stickers! The back seat was cramped but exciting . . .

Normally I'd have used Tri-X or HP5 with a second camera toting slide film; so cramped was the accommodation for four burly blokes that I took only colour; the results weren't distinguished but then it scarcely mattered.

dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
27 Feb 2021 10:25AM
Happy memories here, too - I didn't go to many rallies, but they were invariably tiring (walking into a stage before the first cars arrived, hanging around, often in poor weather for hours...

My first visit was the Scottish Rally in 1976, and the star of the show was Russell Brookes in his Escort RS1800: I remember alternating almost-silence and screaming engine as he negotiated a forest stage with as many bends as trees...

And my first sight of the Quattros on the RAC Rally in (I think) 1982 cruising gently. My fisheye lens on a tripod wasn't an utterly brilliant idea, as it caught a piece of gravel. Maybe there's a blog to be written about that...

A literally gritty form of motorsport, and I agree - film pushed to the limits suited cars similarly stressed.

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