March 2, 2000

Fourfold success - Twenty years of Audi quattro

Twenty years ago Audi launched a vehicle whose name has become synonymous with an unique success story: the Audi quattro, first exhibited on March 3rd, 1980 at the Geneva Motor Show, carried off innumerable victories in rallies across the globe. Later generations of the legendary "original quattro" also went from victory to victory on the racetrack.

However, it wasn't only in the area of motorsport that the Audi quattro's debut signalled the breakthrough of a new idea. The permanent four-wheel drive affirmed its supremacy in series production too, demonstrating its lead in traction, safety and everyday driving enjoyment.

In the Audi quattro all four wheels are driven permanently. The advantage: in the ideal case each wheel needs no more than half the propulsive power required in a conventional single-axle driveline. Because the total force transmitted by each wheel - the aggregate of propulsive and lateral locating force - is limited, an Audi quattro can transfer a correspondingly greater lateral locating force to the road surface: a necessity for guaranteeing excellent cornering stability and outstanding straight-line running on both wet and dry surfaces.

Of course, an Audi quattro is particularly capable of demonstrating its traction advantage on wet roads, gravel and snow, on slippery surfaces or on partially iced roads. Conventional cars fitted with purely electronic control systems can also prevent the driven wheels from spinning. However, this method works only be reducing the propulsive force.

Not so in the Audi quattro, where the self-locking Torsen centre differential ensures that the engine's power is distributed uniformly to front and rear wheels. Any sudden differences in speed - for example if only the front axle hits a patch of black ice - sees the system responding like lightning: up to 75 percent of torque is then redirected to the wheels turning more slowly - in this case, the rear wheels. Torsen is a purely mechanical system.

In transverse-engined cars - such as the A3, S3 and the TT- a special variation on the quattro technology has been used since the autumn of 1998. The Haldex electro-hydraulic clutch responds particularly quickly to changes in traction conditions and ensures that drive distribution is immediately optimised for both front and rear axles.

In 1977 Audi technicians paved the way for the success of the quattro technology. The then chief technician at Audi, Dr. Ferdinand Piëch - today chairman of Volkswagen AG's Board of Management - suggested building a high-performance sports car based on the Audi 80 floor pan. The basic version of the 200 bhp five-cylinder turbo engine powered the Audi 200, the basic body was taken from the Audi 80 Coupé. This mixture saw Audi entering uncharted waters: up till that point in time four-wheel drive vehicles were almost as clumsy, high off the road and inelegant as commercial vehicles negotiating rough terrain.

From the very start the Audi engineers opted for permanent four-wheel drive. The driver doesn't have the bother of switching into this mode, but has optimum traction available at all times should an unforeseen critical situation arise. The special trick in the technological operating principle for the quattro: a hollow-shaft within the transfer case fulfils both the task of power distribution and compensation between the axles.

From 1984 onwards the driver team at Audi was joined by the German Walter Röhrl; in his debut event, the Regensburg-born double world champion took first place in the Monte Carlo rally. The Audi Team ended the season with a double title: alongside the constructors' world championship the drivers' championship went to Stig Blomqvist. As in the previous year various national titles accompanied this success.

The Sport quattro version - with shortened wheelbase - and the martial-looking, quattro S1 with spoiler continued the "four rings" victory trail on the world's rally circuits. Among the most spectacular successes were without doubt the multiple victories chalked up in the legendary hill-climb race held on Pikes Peak in Colorado, USA.

The bowl tracks of the North American championships also played host to Audi quattro triumphs. Participation in the Trans Am STC championship came to a end in 1988 with eight individual victories, the drivers' and the constructors' titles for the Audi 200 quattro saloon. At the wheel - as well as US drivers - were top German drivers Walter Röhrl and Hans-Joachim Stuck.

These two drivers also drove the amazingly powerful Audi V8 quattro cars which were entered for the German Touring Car championship in 1990. Once again the record proved impressive: eight victories and Stuck won the driver's championship. A chapter in the success story that is a long way from being over, as the title victory in 1999 by the A4 quattro driven by Christian Abt amply demonstrates.

Even more impressive than the sporting triumphs is the quattro principle's success in series production models. More than 820,000 quattro cars have been built so far. 66 model versions with quattro drive are available in the current Audi model programme, powered by four, six and eight-cylinder, spark-ignition and TDI engines. The S and RS models - the most powerful and sporting Audi model variants - are equipped with this driveline too. It's no surprise then that every fourth Audi now sold is a quattro.

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