The Audi Quattro had an unmistakable line. Its shape, its technology and its sound marked an era
On January 20, with the start of the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally, a new era begins in the World Rally Championship. Following the trend of the market and the industry, and despite not going completely to electric mobility, the cars of the international rally competition will incorporate hybrid propulsion in what will be the new maximum category called Rally1. This will be a momentous change for the sport, the same change that brought about Formula 1 in 2014 and the World Endurance Championship a couple of years before, with the creation of the LPM1 class.
And just as for Formula 1, the hybrid era represented the biggest technical change since 1979, when the first turbo engines appeared, for the World Rally Championship, the arrival of this combined propulsion system will also be the biggest change since the last, the one that produced the arrival of four-wheel drive cars, in 1981.
At the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, Audi presented the Audi Quattro, the world’s first high-performance four-wheel drive car.
In 1967, a British manufacturer named Jensen had produced the first four-wheel drive car called the Jensen Interceptor FF, and in 1972, Japan’s Subaru adopted the 4WD system for the first time in a touring car in the Leone Coupe model. But it was only in 1980, with the arrival of the Audi Quattro, that four-wheel drive came to be considered an advantage and a technological advance for the automobile industry. Until then, the four-wheel drive was exclusive to military vehicles first and utility vehicles later. The forerunner had been the Willys Jeep, and then there had been a number of medium and large four-wheel drive pickups.
The appearance of the Audi Quattro was at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, but to get to that car, work had begun some four years earlier. In Ingolstadt, the headquarters of Audi, the engineers wanted to develop a high-performance sports car, based on the bodywork of the Audi 80 and the mechanics of the Audi 200, a powerful 5-cylinder turbo engine with a displacement of 2.2 liters.
The Volkswagen Iltis was the provider of all-wheel drive technology for the Audi engineers. This is how the Quattro concept of the German brand was born
But the power generated a lot of slip for a front-wheel drive, so if they wanted to make a car that took advantage of its low weight and high power, a solution had to be found. It was not very far, because within the Volkswagen group itself was the answer. For some time, VW’s experimental department had been developing the Iltis, a 4×4 vehicle intended to be a competitor to the Jeep, both for military and private use.
In 1978 rehearsals began, which were neither few nor simple. The system had to be adapted for a power car, which required efforts such as sudden traction at high speed. The development of the Quattro system took two years, during which a center differential was designed, for example, to avoid torsional deformations, and the system that allowed the rear-wheel drive to be partially or fully engaged or disengaged, allowing the car to have the traction that the driver chose.
Michele Moutón at the 1982 Rally de Portugal. It would be his first of three victories that year, in which he was runner-up in the world
In 1981, the Audi Quattro made its debut in the World Rally Championship and became the forerunner of all-wheel drive in competition. He made his debut at the Monte Carlo Rally but narrowly missed out on victory. Hannu Mikkola won the first six stages, but electrical problems delayed him to leave victory to Jean Ragnotti’s Renault 5 Turbo. However, in two weeks the vindication would arrive, Stig Blonqvist won the Swedish Rally on snow and marked in history the first victory of an all-wheel drive car in the world rally.
In 1982, the Audis won 7 of the 12 races, three in the hands of France’s Michele Mouton, who would end up as drivers’ runner-up at the end of the season, ahead of her two teammates, Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blonqvist. In 1983, Mikkola was Champion and in 1984, the Swede was consecrated, alternating half a year with the initial Audi Quattro, and the other half championship with the new Sport Quattro.
The Audi Sport Quattro was the first evolution. A shorter body, a more powerful engine. 200 units were manufactured, allowing them to be seen on the streets as well as rally races
The delay in the debut of this second model was due to the development of Group B, the FIA required that the cars had at least 200 units manufactured for the street in order to compete. Anticipating the next debut of the small Peugeot 205 T16 for that same year, Audi went ahead developing this version that received the nickname “shortly”, because it was shorter between axles, lighter because it was built in many parts with light materials such as fiberglass. carbon, and with a much more powerful version of its 5-cylinder turbo engine, incorporating a second camshaft and 4 valves per cylinder, which allowed it to go from the 306 CV they had before, to no less than 450 CV.
But it was not enough to run the 205 of Toivonen and Vatanen, so a year later, in July 1985, the latest evolution called Audi Sport Quattro Evo 1 appeared, a car that will go down in history as one of the most impressive for its enormous front and rear aerodynamic loads, due to having ground effect, and an engine that reached 550 hp. However, the volume of its body made it penalize against smaller cars and it only managed to win a single competition, the 1985 San Remo Rally, with Walter Röhrl at the wheel.
The Audi Quattro Evo 1 winning its last race, the 1985 Sanremo Rally, with Walter Röhrl at the wheel
“It was like riding a bullet that could ricochet out of control at any moment. The introduction of Porsche’s PDK gearbox meant you could go full throttle without losing power with a 530bhp car. So extreme was the S1 that Dieter Basche, the Audi member who helped me in the tests as a co-driver, ended up getting out of the car after going unreasonably fast on a test section saying: ‘Sorry, I can’t take it anymore.’ Even Christian Geistdörfer, my co-driver in the world championship, had trouble singing the notes to me because he no longer had the sound references for the gear change. From 0 to 100, the S1 took 2.6 seconds and 41.9 meters. After ten seconds and 359 metres, he was already at 200 km/h and the 400 meters with a standing start were done in 10.8 seconds”, comments the German pilot in his biography.
Precisely that difficulty in handling them, led these cars to their extermination. Two fatal accidents, one involving members of the public in Portugal, and another that left the balance of the Lancia crew made up of Henry Toivonen and Sergio Cresto charred inside their car in Corsica, forced the FIA to abolish banning the Group. B. Supercars would never race again.
The farewell to the Audi Quattro was on the Pikes Peak climb in 1987, with a landslide victory for Walter Röhrl
Audi prepared a 200 Quattro model to run in the less powerful Group A from 1987, with Rörhl and Mikkola as drivers. It was the Finn who won the last Audi World Rally Championship, winning the demanding African Safari. That same year 87, Audi decided to dismiss the Sport Quattro Evo 2 competing in the famous climb Pikes Peak, in the USA. Walter Rörhl was appointed to take the wheel of a car painted white, and equipped with even more spoilers than those he had already started, gave a brutal power control masterclass, and claimed victory over Ari Vatanen, who was driving a Peugeot 205 T16 that had also been specially prepared for the race.
The era of the Audi Quattro in the race ended. The car, in various versions, continued to be manufactured until 1991, when it became a legend and, at the same time, the basis for many Audi models that used their technology and prestige to shine in the car world.
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