Originally published by www.AudiWorld.com on September 6, 2005
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From the moment I took this story on, it was very clear that Nikolaos Seizis is a no-nonsense kind of guy. Initially, it started with a multi-page briefing which listed the many modifications he had performed on his 2000 B5 S4 (better known as the "RS4 Sedan Project") including his planned future modifications. He also had my trip to Prague, Czech Republic meticulously planned. I was asked if I preferred to shoot photos at a race track (which he would rent for the afternoon), airport, forest, or a local historical castle. He assured me that any type of backdrop and any kind of test drive could be arranged. It was obvious he took this car very seriously.
During my drive to the Czech Republic, I honestly did not know what to expect. I had read about the car before on AudiWorld as well as seeing it showcased on the MTM website. Nick's goal was to create a sedan version of the coveted B5 RS4 (non-North American market only Avant special edition) using only the best parts while achieving factory level fit, quality, and reliability.
The B5 S4 is very well known for its enormous tuning potential. A robust driveline and "conservative" factory state of tune allow the character of the car to be completely transformed. The initial improvement to cost ratio of basic S4 performance parts is difficult to beat when compared to any other vehicle platform. However, throwing a large stack of money at a car does not guarantee satisfactory results. While being involved with race car fabrication and car tuning over the past decade, I have seen my fair share of "checkbook tuners"; people who will buy a pile of expensive performance upgrades and assume the level improvement will be directly proportional to the amount of money spent. Often results are less than expected due to modifications that are not thoroughly thought out, or a lack of direction for the project. It's often the small details, which make everything come together and work as one balanced package.
To make a long story short, the modifications Nick has made to his car work. They not only work, they work amazingly well.
The weekend kicked off with a visit to Nick's house to meet his family and wife. While sipping iced tea and eating some of his mother's delicious Czech cake, we began to discuss the main order of business: the Nogaro Blue beast parked in the underground garage below.
Being an owner of a highly modified S4 myself, I am quite familiar with the usual modification steps. I know what the car's weaknesses are and the challenges that present themselves when trying to make the car perform outside of Audi's original intentions. Needless to say, Nick has done his homework. The conversation quickly escalated from "nice car" to an in depth discussion on unsprung weight, rotational mass, corner balancing, center of gravity, and optimizing weight distribution. All of these points have been carefully considered and improved during the modification process.
As soon as Nick fired up the 2.7 liter, 30 valve, twin turbo mill, I noticed that it lacked the usual S4 sound. In fact, the only S4 parts remaining on this engine are the engine block and engine covers. The rest is MTM or RS4 grade. It emits a deep rumble that even pales my piggie piped/ASP tru-dual equipped car. You don't just hear the car you feel it. Very carefully, Nick pulled the car out into the driveway. The first observation was that the car is flawless. The condition might as well be new. Not a scratch, dent, or chip is to be seen anywhere on the car. Nick informed me that much to his wife's chagrin, his usual detailing procedure spans a weekend's time.
Not much has changed on the RS4 sedan project since the last time AudiWorld wrote about the car. A Fiber Images carbon fiber hood has been fitted which not only saves weight from the front of the car, it also lowers the center of gravity. The rear seats can be easily removed for race track use. In their place, a custom Alcantara cover with the MTM logo is fitted.
Prior to completion of the project, Nick will have the car shipped to a firm called Modena Design in Italy. Modena Design produces the carbon fiber body panels for the supercar maker Pagani (makers of the Zonda). Their experience in carbon fiber work is second to none. Modena Design has custom designed carbon fiber parts for his RS4 sedan project including a front bumper, front fenders, all four doors, rear bumper, and rear trunk lid. Currently, Nick's car weighs 110 kg (220 lbs) less than stock. Approximately 90 kg (200 lbs) of this weight savings is from the front of the car. Once the carbon fiber parts are fitted, Nick expects the car to weigh 230 kg (505 lbs) less than stock with a target weight of 1420 kg (3125 lbs).
There is more to this weight reduction than just the numbers. As a testament to the methodical step-by-step modification of the car, the weight reduction has also improved the weight distribution and center of gravity without sacrificing the luxury features, which make the S4 a special car to begin with.
After a brief introduction, walk around, and question/answer session, it was agreed that we would meet up the following day for a test drive. Fair enough. My initial skepticism was beginning to turn into curiosity and excitement.
Nikolaos showed up at the hotel promptly the next day. The car was warmed up and ready to go. We then set off at a normal pace through the side streets of Kraluv Dvur. It was obvious that the car attracted attention not only from the sound, but also the low-slung menacing stance thanks to the H&R suspension and wide 18" BBS wheels. I later came to find out that many people recognize the car as it has been featured in numerous magazines, TV programs, car shows, posters, and more.
The first thing I notice is how firm yet controlled the suspension setup is. The ride is noticeably stiffer than my STaSIS Tracksport setup with 600 lb front springs and 700 lb rear springs. Nick informs me that we're off to his favorite set of twisty roads to run the car though the paces.
Soon we are nearing the outskirts of town and Nikolaos slows down in order to leave some "running distance" between the next car and us. Nick then proceeds to downshift into 2nd gear and hammer the throttle. This is when the difference between the torque tuned S4 and high strung RS4 engine becomes readily apparent. Although there isn't much pull below 3500 RPM due to the higher volume RS4 intake system, the power comes on very strong at 4000 and doesn't let up until 7000+ RPM. The fury from 6000 RPM to redline is something normally only seen in high revving normally aspirated engines. Where the standard S4 heads, cams, and intake are running out of steam at the far end of the tach, the RS4 motor pulls even harder. It's a proper racing engine.
The landscape is getting blurry as we pass into triple digits and we're approaching a sharp bend. That's when the next unexpected event happen - I'm no longer sitting in my seat! Nick gets hard on the brakes and I'm literally lifted right out of the custom Recaro racing seats and suspended only by the seatbelt. The 6 piston Movit brakes (344 x 32 mm front/322 x 28 mm rear) are that good.
Coming hard out of the corner in 2nd gear, all four Pirelli Pzero Corsa 255/35 ZR18 tires are spinning and clawing for traction on the rough Czech pavement. I'm then informed that these barely street legal track oriented tires need a little heat to maximize the grip. The car was dead neutral powering out past the apex with the suspension doing an excellent job of handling the broken road surface.
Soon we're coming up on the car that was only a speck just a few moments ago. Nick reminds me that he knows this road very well. Meanwhile, we are passing hordes of cold-war era Skodas like they're going in reverse. Each time we come into a corner, we brake a little later, a little harder, and come out a little faster as everything begins to heat up to optimal operating temperature. I sit there silent with a huge grin on my face. As fast as we were going, the car really wasn't even breaking a sweat. A car this fast must be driven on the track to be truly appreciated.
A few minutes later we're though the serpentines and I have a few free moments to think and collect my thoughts. The power was impressive, although not entirely unique. Getting quick acceleration out of an S4 is not a particularly difficult task. What really impressed me was the braking, suspension composure, and overall balance of the car. I have driven a number of high performance cars in my time including offerings from Porsche, BMW, Audi, Corvette, SVT, etc. and never have I witnessed a street car which brakes as violently as this car. Once warm, the braking, cornering, and acceleration grip is endless. This car is not equipped with ESP, but it's a moot point as you'd be a fool to exceed the capabilities of this car on a public road.
As we're on our way back to town, Nikolaos pulls over and gives me a turn behind the wheel. I ease out the special MTM clutch (rated to over 600 hp) and pay careful attention to the abrupt take up and extra responsiveness afforded by the lightweight single mass flywheel. Behind the wheel, my first impression is that the powerband is amazingly smooth. This is what people expect from MTM and this car is no exception; even when tuned to nearly 500 horsepower. This car is the smoothest, most responsive, and most tractable tuned S4 I have ever driven. The throttle response is linear. The same goes for the brakes. The pedal is firm and easy to modulate. Body roll? Brake dive? Utterly none, as can be expected. The best description is "balanced". The car goes, turns, and stops in a way that's really confidence inspiring. It's as fast as nearly any street car out there and undoubtedly faster than the up and coming B7 RS4.
I, along with many, initially rolled my eyes at the idea of putting nearly $200,000 into an Audi S4 conversion project. After seeing and driving the result, I must admit my feelings have changed. Everything became clearer. Budget constraints simply were not a priority when undertaking this project which allowed Nick to weigh his options and order up the "best" parts he felt were available. This really is the ultimate one-off S4, which can excel on the track without sacrificing the luxury normally associated with Audi's S and RS cars.
The Audi and Quattro GmbH engineers who have been involved with this project love the car and admit it demonstrates how they would design the car given unlimited budget constraints. Audi's involvement with the project is a testament to the quality of the transformation. To this date, it is the only non-RS car officially recognized by Quattro GmbH to compete in the RS Driver's Challenge held at Germany's Hockenheim Ring. Two years ago Nick took 4th overall and last year 2nd amongst a very competitive field of RS cars, some with 600+ horsepower. Everything is fully documented and certified with the ultra strict TÜV (German department of motor vehicles) meaning it passes all safety and emission standards.
When it was all said and done, Nikolaos dropped a big question on me. Knowing my experience with Audis and S4's, he asked me if I would have done anything differently. I was really stumped by this question. At that moment I looked at him with a blank face and said "nothing". After thinking about it, my answer more or less stands. If I were to drive the car on the street every day, I would change the clutch to a less aggressive and more "streetable" setup. Perhaps after time I could get used to the stiff MTM clutch, but I much prefer the feeling of my custom RS4 setup.
For those interested in owning the ultimate all around B5 Audi, the car can be purchased for 69,980 EUR including many extras. With less than 9000 km on the odometer, the condition of the car is showroom new.