His­tory: From in­spi­ra­tion to dom­i­na­tion in three short years

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Driven -

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.

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