Audi Quattro – the car that changed the rule book

Posted: 21/10/2012 in Classics and Legends
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Translated from Italian, “quattro” means “four”. In the car industry, however, it’s a name of a legendary car that changed the world of motorsports and the way we think about cars.

The Audi Quattro had a difficult beginning. It was the brainchild of German engineers Jörg Bensinger and Roland Gumpert. They got the idea for the four-wheel driven car after testing a military off-road VW Illtis. At the time nobody – even the chief Audi engineers – believed in the idea. The common perception was that AWD (all-wheel drive) was only applicable for military vehicles. Jörg and Roland, however, were determined to turn their project into reality.

In addition to the AWD, the two German engineers decided to give the new Audi a serious power plant – the turbo-charged 5-cylinder 2.2 liter engine – for an additional punch.

Three years after the Quattro project began, the car was completed. Audi realized that they needed a good way to promote the car and its unseen-at-the-time capabilities. It was a very good moment: the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) introduced Group B, allowing manufacturers to enter new types of cars into the World Rally Championship (WRC). Rallying history was about to be re-written after Audi entered the Qattro.

At the hands of masters like Stig Blomqvist and Michel Mouton, Audi won the first two championships it took part in. This brought enormous fame to Audi and the demand for road-going versions of the car increased dramatically. Just to put this in perspective, before the first racing season, Audi conducted a survey in France asking people what they though about their company. Seven percent of the French people replied that it was a washing machine.

In the years that followed, Audi continued to take an active part in WRC, producing one of the most famous and recognizable rally cars of all time – the Quattro S1E2. The additional spoilers and flared wheel arches gave the car a more aggressive look, while the shorter wheel base made the car more agile through the corners. The Audi engineers also managed to boost the engine power to 470 bhp.

The S1 had one very distinctive feature – its sound. Spectators could hear the revving engine of this beast from three miles away. You know S1 is something special when you hear the whine of the transmission, the chattering of the turbo on the overrun, and the occasional bang from the exhaust between gears. As if it was truly a fire- breathing dragon.

Unfortunately, the car didn’t have a long run. Audi pulled out from rallying after the 1986 Portugal race, when the Portuguese national champion  Joaquim Santos (driving a Ford RS 2000) ran into a group of spectators, killed three people, and injured more than 30.

A year after Audi left the WRC, the Quattro had its most memorable moment. It took on the famous Pike Peaks Hill Climb in Colorado, USA. The car was the Pike Peaks version of the S1, which had even more power – 590 bhp (unofficial figures claim more than 620 bhp). Walter Röhrl manged to set one of the fastest times ever recorded on the all-gravel track at the time.

The Quattro was pulled out from production in the end of 1990. Since then, “quattro” is used to mark Audi’s 4WD cars, while the original Quattro is referred to as “Ur-Quattro.” There were rumors about a new Quattro in the making, and Audi even went to the lengths of making a concept Quattro and giving it to the motoring press for testing.

As much as I would like to see and drive a new version of the Quattro, I think Audi shouldn’t make another one.  It’s like one of those movies – the first one is a masterpiece but than they make a sequel and it’s just not good enough. This is one of the cars that should remain in the past: a mythical beast that only few were able to tame.


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