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Requiem for a quattro (long)

>From: DeWitt Harrison <de@aztek-eng.com>
>Subject: Re: Stopping distances on snow/ice: ABS or not? (longish)
>Cc: quattro@coimbra.ans.net
>On Sun, 7 Dec 1997 17:57:15 -0500 (EST), Phil Rose wrote:
>>Last week I decided to reconsider an assumption I had been making since I
>>began using ABS (starting with my '89 Probe GT). [ ... ]
>>[ ... ]
>Kuddos to Phil for going out and taking data! We should all do a lot
>more of that.

Well thanks, and I wish I could add more to the ABS data I posted on
Sunday, but on Monday afternoon my '91 200Q contributed its last data
point. :-(

I was alone, driving home. It was just past noon, and I was returning from
the Audi garage, (Salisbury Motor Car, who had just installed a new
pressure accumulator.)  My brakes were fine--I tested them many times
before pulling out on the road for the 40 minutes drive home. I was to
learn just how much I needed to improve my other winter driving skills or,
more simply, to better evaluate the speed limits demanded by poor road

The temperature was hanging right around 32-34 F, and the road (2-lane
rural, paved) was wet but fairly well sanded (maybe some salt?). There were
very occasional patches of drifting snow an inch or so deep, but the
weather was clear. I was heading up the region's major hill (a modest
hillock that provides a wonderful 360 degree vista extending 20 or 30 miles
in clear weather), and my speed was probably around 45-50 mph: everything
ahead was straight and clear. No traffic ahead or behind.

As I was about to crest the hill, I decided to drop my speed since I
couldn't see conditions ahead. Just over the crest, the road curves
smoothly to the left (a detail I had forgotten). When I let up on the gas
going into this gentle downhill curve, the rear-end started to drift out.

I kept _off_ the gas (probably a mistake) and countersteered, which
produced an immediate and wicked fishtail to the opposite side. I realized
that I still had no visibility of possible oncoming traffic around the
bend, and I recall silently vetoing the notion of trying to use the
opposite lane to correct my skid. Soooo I opted to try to keep to my own
side, which turned out to be a narrow dirt shoulder leading down into an
even narrower snow-filled ditch --perhaps 4 or 5 feet deep. For couple of
disorienting seconds, I was scraping along the walls of the ditch and
suddenly there was more confusion than my addled brain could bear; then an
almost a blissful silence.

Blissful... until I realized  I was hanging upside down against my
seatbelt.The interior of my car was ominously dark, but not too dark to
notice the snow and broken glass that had poured in through the driver's
window. A greyish-blue shroud of snow presssed against the intact
windshield. I reached down (up?) and released my seatbelt. Some light was
entering faintly through the closed passenger window. Where was that damned
switch?! There! Press it! The window smoothly powered down (I noted with a
mixture of pride and awe), and this permitted me to dig a path through the
snow outside. In another moment, I was standing, peering down at the
exhaust system and listening to some pathetic (or were they jeering)
hissing sounds from the encounter of snow and hot metal.

I was in one piece and felt no physical pain as I peered up and down the
empty road.

Mental anguish set in almost immediately! Incredibly, my thoughts were of
this car that I had become so comfortable with over our scant 10 weeks
acquaintance. Too comfortable, perhaps. "Be thankful," the little voice of
reason inside kept saying. "Be thankful. No passenger(s). No oncoming
traffic. No broken bones." Just a slight trickle of blood from my scalp
where I must have made a bit of contact with my Audi's roof. But the sight
of the belly-up, helpless wreck made me sick to my stomach. I almost felt
as though I had got off _too_ lightly. Too lightly? Just how attached to
this hunk of steel, rubber and cowhide was I? "It's just a car, it's just a
car," said the little voice. Yeh.

Within about two minutes, a pickup truck pulled up (yep this is rural
America--all pickup trucks and cell phones), and the driver called for
emergency services. Within another 10 or 15 minutes (it seemed like
seconds, actually), the place was teeming with ambulance, fire truck, and
volunteer EMTs. The latter group insisted that I subject myself to being
braced, trussed and served up on a board into the ambulance for the most
uncomfortable ride of my life--about 30 miles to a hospital in Utica, NY.

At the hospital, I was asked for name, address, phone number, age... Then,
unexpectedly the nurse said, "Have you ever been the victim of domestic

Startled, I replied, "No, never...but tonight, perhaps."

Three hours and 10 x-ray exposures later, I was given a sling for my aching
left shoulder, a prescription for motrin and released to the care of my
spouse. After the hug and kiss, there was just a mild amount of the
"knowing look". Even after 38 years of marriage, we _do_ have different
approaches to driving, you see.

This morning I'm feeling much better than I would ever have expected. The
car was towed back to the garage. I've told the insurance company I have
interest in keeping it for salvage value--it's surely a total loss. We'll
see. At the moment I'm working on my sense of perspective. Oh, and surely
wondering where our next quattro will come from... Maybe I'll even have
time to learn how to drive _that_ one.

Thanks for listening, and...be careful out there.

Phil Rose
'91 200q (in spirit)
'89 100

P.S. I never touched the brakes. And I may have, but don't recall using the
clutch, which I usually _would_ do in such cases. Declutching might have
helped in the absence of trying to accelerate out of trouble. But going
about 10 mph slower would have been the ideal solution.