The Audi Quattro is a famous and historically significant road and rally car produced by the German automaker Audi. Notably, it was the first four-wheel drive grand tourer since the Jensen FF of 1966.
It is considered one of the most significant rally cars of all time, and was one of the first to take advantage of the then-recently changed rules which allowed the use of all-wheel-drive in competition racing. Many critics doubted the viability of all-wheel drive racers, thinking them to be too heavy and complex, yet the Quattro was an instant success, winning a rally on its first outing. It won competition after competition for the next two years.
When Audi presented the first generation quattro to an international public at the Geneva Automobile Show in spring 1980, this signalised one of the most important innovations in modern automotive technology.
The idea of all-wheel-drive was not new - shortly after the invention of the automobile around the turn of the century, the first constructions with four-wheel-drive appeared. The technology is a necessity in building offroad vehicles - there were even several attempts to use 4WD in Formula 1. However, Audi was the first automobile manufacturer in the world to perfect permanent four-wheel-drive for large scale production.
“We wanted to create the impression of a car that’s ‘glued to the ground’ – with capability rather than elegance in the foreground. And this formal concept has justified itself as effective, correct and credible.” These were the terms in which Hartmut Warkuss, who was head of design at that time, later described the first quattro. Derived from the Audi 80 Coupé, but with sharp-edged body styling, it was presented to journalists on March 3, 1980 at an indoor ice-skating rink close to the exhibition ground at which the Geneva Motor Show was being held.
The new five-seater coupé had a compact 2,524 mm wheelbase and an overall length of 4,404 mm. It ran on 6-inch forged alloy wheels supplied by the Fuchs company. Dr. Ferdinand Piëch was well aware of the fact that with this car he was writing a new chapter in automobile engineering. His speech concluded with the words: “Today sees the première of all-wheel drive for the roadgoing passenger car.”
The ‘original quattro’ of 1980 did not remain alone for long. Starting in 1982, Audi introduced five further all-wheel-drive variants to its production programme: the Audi Coupé, the Audi 80/90 and the Audi 100/200. The last-mentioned model, the aerodynamic world champion of the 1980s, was like its predecessor also available as an Avant. Conceived as a front-wheel-drive car as was customary at Audi, all these models could be easily converted to permanent all-wheel drive without undue effort and expense. They reflected the manufacturer’s fundamental policy decision to offer a quattro variant in every model line. In the light of Audi’s motor-sport successes it is not surprising that they all sold extremely well.
The epoch-making quattro – the name was Walter Treser’s idea – was enthusiastically received: its revolutionary driveline concept and sporty character convinced the journalists immediately. The five-cylinder turbocharged and charge-air intercooled engine, with a displacement of 2,144 cc, developed 147 kW (200 bhp) at the maximum boost pressure of 0.85 bar and reached its maximum torque of 285 Nm at an engine speed of 3,500 rpm. The quattro weighed 1,290 kilograms and could sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds and reach a top speed of over 220 km/h. Its permanent traction, firm, sporty suspension settings and functional interior design revealed this new model to be an out-and-out ‘driving machine’.
The quattro took its place at the top of the manufacturer’s programme for that model year - not only in terms of its high performance, but also of its selling price: 49,900 German marks. Despite this considerable sum, sales figures rocketed when the first cars reached the showrooms in November 1980. In the first two full years of the car’s production cycle, almost 2,000 left the N 2 individual assembly building in Ingolstadt. The first 400 were needed as evidence that the Group 4 world rally championship regulations had been complied with.
A new leading model in the quattro range appeared in 1988: the V8, with an initial output of 185 kW (250 bhp), later also available with a 206 kW (280 bhp) engine. This car was only sold with permanent all-wheel drive, and at first only automatic transmission was available, so that two differential locks were fitted – an electronically controlled, hydraulically operated multi-disc lock in the inter-axle differential and a self-locking Torsen differential in the rear axle. When the successor to this model, the A8, was introduced in 1994, Audi offered front-wheel drive as an alternative, and this option is still available for the current A8 model generation, though only 7 % of the car’s purchasers take it up.
The ‘original quattro’, as its fans now call it, remained in production until 1991; during this period 11,452 cars were built. In the first few production years the interior became steadily more sophisticated in its materials, but there were also a few minor technical changes, for example digital displays and speech-output warnings, the anti-lock braking system and running-gear modifications. An update was carried out in the autumn of 1987, and bestowed the Torsen centre differential and a slightly larger five-cylinder engine on the quattro: the new power unit retained the original power output of 147 kW (200 bhp), but developed greater low-speed torque. In 1989 the power output was raised to 162 kW (220bhp) by installing a new four-valve cylinder head; the top speed increased to 230 km/h.
A special model in the quattro programme appeared in 1984, and still enjoys a legendary reputation: this was the Sport quattro with the wheelbase reduced to a mere 2,204 mm and a newly developed four-valve turbocharged engine with an aluminium cylinder block; this had a power output of 225 kW (306 bhp). Although nominally a roadgoing car, extensive use of Kevlar and other weight-saving materials confirmed that this special model was also a serious rally contender. 224 of this ‘short version’, as it was known, were built, and enabled Audi to homologate its rally entries in Group B. The purchase price, too, was high enough to ensure more than a modicum of exclusivity: 203,850 German marks.