History: From inspiration to domination in three short years
The Audi Quattro’s place in history was secured the moment it was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1980. It was an aggressive-looking, four-seater coupé, powered by a tuned version of the Audi 200’s inline five-cylinder engine, developing 200bhp. The big talking point was full-time fourwheel drive, which Audi fans will say is a first. Those into the 1966 Jensen FF might beg to differ, though. Whichever side of the fence you sit, there’s no arguing that the Audi was unique in 1980.
It’s difficult to comprehend that such a huge evolutionary step took a mere three years to leap from the drawing board to that motor show debut. But that’s what happened: the Quattro was conceived in February 1977, when one of Audi’s chassis development engineers, Jörg Bensinger, had an epiphany in pre-launch testing on the forthcoming Volkswagen Iltis military vehicle in Finland. He discovered it was efficient off-road and in snow and reckoned the compact all-wheel drive system could be used in the upcoming Audi 80.
Bensinger approached Audi’s director of technical development, Ferdinand Piech, with his plan. Piech also saw huge potential in the idea, especially in motor sport. Bensinger proposed working on the 4x4 Audi 80 variant with Walter Treser, director of predevelopment. A mule, powered by a turbocharged Audi 100 engine and based on an 80, was quickly put together. It was given the code name A1 – ‘Allrad 1’ – and featured a Hans Nedvidek-designed transmission based closely on the Iltis set-up.
By September 1977, Project A1 was OK’d by Audi’s board and given the official title EA262. From here, it really took shape. A mere six months later, and following the Volkswagen board’s full approval, the programme rapidly progressed, gaining a new Martin Smith-penned two-door body and muscular add-ons, including extended wheelarches, onepiece bumpers and aggressive looking front and rear spoilers. The main technical changes were the move to an intercooled version of the 200 5T’s turbocharged 2.1-litre five-cylinder power unit and the addition of a much-needed centre differential.
When reports that such a car was in development leaked to the press in the closing months of 1979, most commentators dismissed the possibility of such an addition to the Audi line-up. The company was concentrating on the 200 and new 80, they said, and a conservative carmaker like Audi wasn’t likely to indulge in such fripperies.
The Quattro first appeared in the UK in left-hand drive form in March 1981. These early cars featured chrome-rimmed quad headlights and lacked ABS.
When launched in a recession-hit Britain, the new Audi cost a cool £14,500. By way of comparison, at the lower end of the scale, an Opel Monza 3.0S cost £13,830, an Alfa Romeo GTV6 was £9495 and the Ford Capri 2.8 Injection was a positive bargain at £7995. A BMW 635CSi was £18,950, while a Porsche 911SC cost £16,732.
Despite being conceived for Group 4 rallying, it was a long way away from being a stripped-out homologation special. By the time the Quattro came here, equipment levels were relatively lavish; it received central locking, a stereo, optional sunroof, headlamp washers, tinted glass and power assisted steering. Luxury and performance combined.
The Quattro in this early 10-valve ‘ur’ form didn’t remain in production for very long, but enthusiasts still cite this model as the one to have, even with brown velour. In October 1982, the Quattro was launched in right-hand drive, and, in 1983, the front-end styling was tidied up, with large one-piece headlamps replacing the chrome-rimmed quads. And which, whisper it, improved the styling no end.