The Quattro is the car that gave Audi a reason to exist.
Nearly 40 years old in 2019, this is the story of the car that put Audi on the map. Before it, Audi was a maker of posh Volkswagens. After it, it properly competed against blue-blooded German rivals, as it does to this day:
It put the ‘Technik’ in Audi’s ‘Vorsprung’ and the fear of god up bright-eyed early buyers who discovered that the Quattro’s feeling of utter invincibility did not mean that it was utterly invincible.
But most of the time this 198bhp, turbocharged four-wheel-drive coupé could claw its way around corners like a cat that had just felt the paws of Fido on its fur.
It could bound between them pretty effectively too. Its blown 2.1-litre, five-cylinder motor, which made the most intoxicating warble, was capable of propelling the Quattro’s modest 1300 kilos to 62mph in 7.1sec, which back then was quick, if not quite supercar swift.
Yet many proclaimed this Audi a supercar – a new kind of supercar that could romp to B from A whatever the weather, and with a civility that was alien to most Italian exotics, and the Porsche 911 too.
The press’s enthusiastic ravings encouraged owners to drive their Quattros hard, many of them mistaking traction for lateral grip. There were no wild tail swings when you deployed the full 207lb ft of torque, or torque-steering tugging at the wheel; the Audi simply slingshotted in whichever direction you pointed it.
Dividing the torque by four, coupled to the turbo’s delayed-action pumping, fuelled the idea that the Quattro drove with the studs of a 100-metre sprinter spearing from its tyres, until you got to the first wet corner.
That’s when the slow-witted brakes would scare you with their pulse-freezing lack of bite, and when that finally arrived it was followed by screechy lock-up and some fast-track skating towards the object that you were trying to avoid. So no, early Quattros did not have ABS.
This was not the only problem in store for the hard-charging Quattro driver; the Audi’s sudden, untelegraphed transition to oversteer provided the odd fright too.
But this was actually an immensely safe car, these issues usually being brought on by the naively emboldened. Why mention these small flaws in a car that has gone down as one of the all-time greats? Because they caused its early career to waver, even Audi’s modest initial forecast of 2500 beginning to look faintly unattainable.
But the Quattro recovered, because ABS arrived, along with some rally success (pictured) and also because Brits, who had been buying it a lot more slowly than predicted, could get now it with right-hand drive.
That set the Quattro off on a career that would last for 11 years and 11,452 cars, demand from the UK extending its life on more than one occasion.
It was also suitably high-tech inside. It may look dated today, but back then this was about as good as it gets, LCD displays and all the other interior features were the very best of the time and can still even hold their own today.
The road ahead
But more important for Audi than any of this was what the Quattro did for its image. Previously a maker of wannabe BMWs that many considered to be the jumped-up VWs that several of them actually were, this car launched Audi on a technological path all of its own: the quattro four-wheel drive option, a car feature that it had the virtual monopoly on for many years.
Together with marketing that captured the 1980s to perfection, the Quattro positioned it for much of Audi’s success ever since.