Audi Quattro: Creating a Rally Legend

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Quattro (stylized as “quattro” [all lower case, mind you]) is synonymous with the Audi brand, but the beginnings of the quattro technology and quattro GmbH likely aren’t what you would have expected. Carfection visited Audi Tradition, the historian section and “secret vault” of the Audi brand to get the full scoop.

The first Audi Quattro was actually akin to Frankenstein’s monster: using the 4WD and center differential from the VW Iltis military vehicle combined with an inline-5 cylinder turbocharged engine. By utilizing the center differential, front and rear differential speeds could be controlled semi-independently, allowing for greater control in snowy conditions. The year was 1980: quattro had been born.

Audi took their Audi Quattros rallying, and began winning very quickly. Prior to the introduction and domination of the Audi Quattros rally had largely looked past all-wheel and 4WD setups due to increased complexity and weight. The tides turned and soon every competitor was sporting some form of 4WD.

With that competition came innovation and change to the Quattro. The original car’s shortcomings became apparent: inefficient 2-valve heads, with a power cap of 360 horsepower; an overly-long (for rally) wheelbase and generally heavy platform. The year was 1985: the new Quattro was born. It was over a foot shorter (36cm) than it’s predecessor, improving transitional response, weight and weight distribution; the 2-valve motor was replaced with a more modern and capable 4-valves per cylinder engine; and the body work was lightweight. How lightweight you may ask? In 1984 (practically the stone age) Audi had replaced most of the body panels, with the exception of the doors which were production Audi 80, with fiberglass/carbon fiber composite. The end result: a production road car with crazed flared fenders; 306 horsepower; 250 KPH top speed (150MPH) and under 5 seconds from a standstill to 60mph. The later race cars based off the Sport Quattro were making 600 horsepower, and using a revolutionary for the time sequential gearbox. Group B was old news by then, but the Quattro S1 did manage to decimate Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb before Audi retired from rally altogether.

This rally heritage and quattro technology has heavily influenced Audi road cars since. In fact, many have speculated that Audi’s success is owed mainly to rally and that the brand would not be anywhere near the technological and luxury giant it is today without the quattro tech.

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