Audi quattro: This is how the German icon that popularized quattro all-wheel drive was born and gained fame

40 years ago, at the Geneva Motor Show, Audi unveiled the legendary Audi quattro, its first standard four-wheel-drive sports car. It was also the second coupe in history to incorporate this technology: the way was opened by the Jensen FF in 1966. And it is that, with few exceptions, this system had been essentially heritage of off-road or industrial vehicles.

But, in addition, it was a before and after for Audi for being in charge of opening the door to quattro all-wheel drive, which is already a hallmark of the Ingolstadt firm. To which are added his successes harvested in competition, to which he was deeply linked since his birth.

The origin of the Audi quattro suspension

To attend the germ of the Audi quattro we have to go back to the winter of 1976. In those, the German firm was testing the Volkswagen Iltis, a military vehicle that Audi was developing for the German army in Scandinavia, but, in parallel, it was also working in a high-performance sports car based on the production Audi 80, but with the turbo engine of the Audi 200.

The brand was more than satisfied with the Iltis’ dynamic qualities on low-grip surfaces and the Audi engineers had a great idea: what if they incorporated all-wheel drive into their sports car? Thus, in the spring of 1977 the 262 project began which, three years later, would become the Audi quattro.

Basically, the objective of Audi was to develop an all-wheel drive that, to be compatible with a street sports car, had to be compact and light, in addition to having a central differential. Thus, to solve the problem of size and weight in a transmission with a transfer case like the one used by SUVs, the firm’s technicians came up with the solution: concentric hollow shafts.

In this way, the quattro all-wheel drive was born, which had up to three independent differentials, a central one that was responsible for distributing power to the two axles through two other differentials, and two axles, one primary and one secondary, which was hollow. This allowed, according to the brand, that the size of the gearbox was similar to that of a front-wheel drive car.

In addition, since the differentials were independent, the system allowed the driver to operate on them, in such a way that, by means of a command located in front of the gearbox, he could lock the central and rear devices, in order to adapt to each situation.

The Audi quattro in its decade of life

With the quattro transmission ready to equip it in its new sports car, the Audi quattro was born, which was presented at the Swiss exhibition in March 1980, landing on the German market at the end of that year and at a price of 49,900 marks (about 4.2 millions of old pesetas).

Its sharp and square lines, very much in the style of the sports cars of the 80s, such as the DeLorean DMC-12, were accompanied by a 5-cylinder, 2.1-liter turbocharged engine whose 200 hp was transmitted to all four wheels by traction. Permanent total quattro. This first Audi quattro was 0-100 in 7.1 seconds and its maximum speed was set at 220 km / h. It also featured sports seats, fog lights and alloy wheels as standard.

Until the end of its production, in 1991, the Audi quattro received several technical modifications. For example, in 1987, the manual-locking center differential was replaced by a Torsen, which improved traction efficiency by distributing torque variably, as well as allowing independent axle rotation.

This enabled the all-wheel drive to no longer be incompatible with the ABS anti-lock braking system. However, in this new system it maintained a conventional differential on the rear axle, which could be locked in low grip conditions.

On the other hand, in 1984 a new version of the German sports car was released on the market. It was the Audi Sport quattro, unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1983. At first, this more powerful version was designed to take the baton of the quattro at the World Rally Championship (WRC). But, to be admitted in competition, the regulation required manufacturers to produce a minimum of 200 street units.

The Audi Sport quattro was distinguished by a shorter wheelbase, earning the nickname ‘Shorty’, for its lighter body (in aramid and carbon fiber) and because the 2.1-liter five-cylinder supercharged engine was tuned, adding a camshaft and four valves per cylinder, instead of two. Thus, the Sport quattro reached 306 hp and 350 Nm of torque, with a maximum of 3,700 laps.

The ‘Shorty’ had the honor of becoming the first supercar ever conceived at Audi headquarters, the predecessor of the current Audi R8, as well as the most powerful production model produced by the firm with the four rings.

Winner horse

Talking about the Audi quattro requires talking about competition and, specifically, the World Rally Championship. In 1981, months after it began to be sold, the quattro premiered in the WRC at the Monte Carlo Rally, the first appointment on the calendar, where despite signing the best time in the first six special stages and having a margin of almost six minutes, did not reap the victory due to a failure in the alternator.

However, he did not have to wait long to climb to the top drawer: he did so two weeks later, at the Rally Sweden. And although that first year of the Audi quattro in the WRC had lights and shadows, with its two drivers disqualified in the Rally of Greece and up to five withdrawals, Hannu Mikkola managed to finish third overall and Audi signed a fifth place in the constructors category.

In 1982, the title of pilots would still resist him but not that of constructors. Altogether, between Mikkola, Mouton and Blomqvist they added seven victories of the twelve available in the calendar, and the French pilot Michèle Mouton climbed to the second drawer of the podium that season, being only 12 points behind Walter Röhrl. To which, by the way, Audi Sport would later sign.

The first drivers’ world championship would come in 1983, with Hannu Mikkola at the controls of the Audi quattro and, in 1984, already with the Audi Sport quattro, the double, with Blomqvist as first classified at the end of the season and Mikkola second. To this award-winning year was added the World Constructors’ Championship, which was also for the German team.

The legacy of the Audi quattro

The quattro opened a door to all-wheel drive on the shoots of the four rings: since the launch of the German sports car, the firm has produced more than 10.5 million four-wheel drive cars, among which we find not only sports cars, but also other segments.

Today, all-wheel drive quattro, in its different configurations, is present in all models in the Audi range, with the exception of the A1. Thus, this system accompanies versions of high-end suckers, such as the A8, the superlative Audi R8 or the Q7 and Q8 SUVs.

In addition, it has always been linked to the sports versions of the brand, being on the menu of S and RS variants, and now it has also begun to associate with its pure electric family, with exponents, for now, such as the Audi e-tron and the newcomer e-tron Sportback. And more to come.

Last year alone, 45% of customers who bought an Audi chose a model with a quattro drive. The spirit of the Audi quattro remains alive in all of them. And let it be for many more years.

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