The 'original quattro'
"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 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.
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.
The quattros in rallying
Group B, with its less strict technical specifications, probably ushered in the most innovative era in rallying: a high-tech arms race, so to speak, in which the participating teams outdid each other in their efforts to speed up development work. Even during the 1981 season, the first in which Audi participated, the quattro began to hint at its later superiority. The Finnish Hannu Mikkola won two events and came third in the drivers' rankings, despite the teething troubles suffered by the car initially. In San Remo, the Frenchwoman Michèle Mouton became the first woman ever to win a world championship rally.
In 1982 the Ingolstadt-based motor team did justice to the technological lead claimed in the manufacturer's slogan "Vorsprung durch Technik". Mikkola, Mouton and their Swedish colleague Stig Blomqvist scored seven outright wins in eleven rallies, and finished the season with the manufacturers' title and the runners-up title for Mouton in the drivers' championship. In 1984, the long-awaited double success was achieved: Blomqvist took the driver's title almost unchallenged, with wins in five rallies. The season had already begun with a sensational 1-2-3 victory in Monte Carlo, with Walter Röhrl, a newcomer to the team, leading his Scandinavian colleagues across the finishing line after a breathtaking duel.
During the season, however, the initially unrivalled quattro began to encounter new and vigorous competitors, for example the Peugeot 205 T 16, the first pure competition car concept with mid-engine to be seen in rallying. The temptation for Audi to pursue a similar approach was great, and a prototype was in fact built. The idea was none the less rejected because it was felt that the rally cars should not be too dissimilar to those sold to the public.
Instead of this, the Sport quattro, a 331 kW (450 bhp) front-engined car, made its debut at the end of 1984. The wheelbase was shortened dramatically, by no fewer than 32 cm, in an attempt to make the car even lighter and more agile.
The Sport quattro, as it happened, was fated not to enjoy any great successes, even in its final evolution stage, the S 1. Its technical features nonetheless earned a place in rallying history if only because of their extreme character. The officially quoted power output of the five-cylinder aluminium-block engine was 350 kW (476 bhp), but with the recirculating air system that kept the turbocharger turning over at a high speed, the true figure was probably in excess of 500 bhp at 8,000 rpm. With a moderately high final drive ratio, the S 1 (which weighed only 1,090 kilograms) could accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h in 3.1 seconds. Some of the cars were equipped with a power-shift gearbox - a forerunner of today's DSG technology. The car had a lattice-tube structure clad with sheet steel and plastic panels. For the sake of better weight distribution, the radiator, fan and alternator were banished to the rear of the car. Vast wings and spoilers had the task of increasing downthrust on fast sections of the route; the brakes had a water spray cooling system.
In the spring of 1986 came the end for the Group B cars with their boundary-pushing technology. Audi decided not to enter for any further events in the series. Following serious accidents, the international organising body FISA resolved to change the rules and permit only near-series Group A cars to take part. As it happened, the S 1 was able to celebrate one final triumph: in 1987 Walter Röhrl took this car with its 441 kW (600 bhp) engine up the Pikes Peak run in Colorado, USA, with its 156 bends and maximum altitude of 4,301 metres.
This victory was emulated in the following two years by Michèle Mouton and Bobby Unser, giving Audi a hat-trick in this imposing American hillclimb event, the "Race to the Clouds". The best Audi time of 10 minutes 47.85 seconds remained unequalled for many years afterwards.