1980 Audi ur-quattro
1980 Audi ur-quattro; photo courtesy Audi. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Peter Bleakney

Photo Gallery:
Condensed history of the Audi quattro

In 1977, Audi chassis engineer Jörg Bensinger found it intriguing that a four-wheel-drive Volkswagen Iltis jeep could out perform any vehicle in the snow, no matter how powerful. He proposed the idea of a passenger car with full-time all-wheel-drive to Ferdinand Piech, Audi’s Director of Technical Development at the time, and got the green light.

The initial prototype was a red two-door Audi 80. It was soon established that the car needed a centre differential, after the wife of Professor Ernst Fiala, Volkswagen Group’s Development Director, complained of “hopping” (binding) and difficulty parking while on a shopping excursion in Vienna.

Engineers Hans Nedvidek and Franz Tengler fashioned a remarkably simple, compact and effective bevel-gear centre differential that re-routed 50 per cent of the power to the front differential via a driveshaft rotating within the hollow main shaft.

1981 Audi Rallye quattro A1
1981 Audi Rallye quattro A1. Click image to enlarge

Based on the Audi Coupe GT, the first Audi quattro bowed at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show. Commonly refereed to as the ur-quattro (ur is German for primordial), this hand-built car featured front and rear lockable differentials, a longitudinally mounted turbocharged and intercooled inline 10-valve five-cylinder displacing 2144 cc and producing 197 hp and 210 lb.-ft. of torque. In a car weighing just 1,290 kg, those were healthy numbers. It was the first high-performance production vehicle to use electronic engine management.

Each quattro took seven days and 40 hours of labour to build. It was priced at DM49,900, a hefty premium over the DM20,000 of the Audi Coupe GT.

The car readily lent itself to competition, and for the first couple of years the 310-hp rally version of the quattro was largely unbeatable. It won its first outing – the 1981 Janner Rally in Austria with Franz Wittmann at the wheel. The second place car was twenty minutes behind.

Audi’s two early quattro rally stars were the firey French woman, Michèle Mouton, and the quiet Finn Hannu Mikkola. Mouton, nicknamed the “Black Volcano”, drove black cars, while the “Northern Light” drove white.

1985 Audi Sport quattro S1
1985 Audi Sport quattro S1. Click image to enlarge

Mouton became the first woman to win a world championship rally, driving a quattro to victory in the 1981 San Remo Rally. Hannu Mikkola took the championship in 1983, followed by Swedish quattro driver Stig Blomqvist in 1984. The car pictured here is a 320-hp 1981 Audi Rallye quattro A1, driven by Hannu Mikkola and Arne Hertz.

The Sport quattro made a brief appearance from May 1984 to July 1984. The wheebase was chopped 32 cm, the block was aluminum and it featured the first four-valve cylinder head from the Volkswagen Group. It claimed one victory at the 1984 Ivory Coast Rally.

At the end of 1984 the Sport quattro S1 was introduced to compete in the no-holds-barred Group B category. Two-time world champion Walter Röhrl joined Audi in 1984 and used the S1 to great effect. It featured Kevlar body parts, huge wings, water-cooled brakes, a torsen centre differential, and the radiators and alternator were moved to the rear. A Porsche PDK twin-clutch six-speed transmission was experimented with briefly. A recirculating air system kept the turbos spooled up while the driver was off the throttle.

1985 Audi Sport quattro S1
1985 Audi Sport quattro S1. Click image to enlarge

Although very successful, it didn’t dominate like its predecessor because competitors like Peugeot, Lancia, Ford and Austin Rover were building thoroughbred mid-engine racers while the S1 was still based on a production car.

By the time the “Killer Bs” were banned in 1986 due to a number of driver and spectator deaths, the outrageously winged and scooped S1 was making close to 600 hp. It is still considered the most powerful rally car ever to turn a wheel in anger.

Following Group B, horsepower dropped by 50 per cent. In the words of Herr Röhrl, “After that, they weren’t real race cars.”

Röhrl decided to retire from WRC, but not before setting a Pikes Peak hill climb record in a specially prepped 600+ hp Audi Sport quattro S1 on July 11, 1987. The record stood for ten years, and arguably still stands, as it was broken only after parts of the route were paved.
While 11,452 road-going quattros were produced from 1980-1991 (cars from 1989 got a 220-hp 20-valve 2.2-litre upgrade), the car was only available in Canada from 1983-1986, with 99 sold.

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