Audi was not the first to offer an all-wheel-drive sport coupe—Jensen briefly offered the FF in the late 1960s and early 1970s—but Audi brought the concept to the mainstream with the Quattro. They promoted it by successfully integrating all-wheel-drive into their main product line and subsequently dominating the world rally scene.
Developed in the Scandinavian snow during 1977 and launched at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, the all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro rewrote the rally books. In the Ur-Quattro's first appearance, (Ur is German for original), it was used as a course car to clear the roads in the 1980 Algarve Rally in Portugal. Had it been entered, it would have won by 30 minutes.
The car's aggressive good looks didn't translate to the inside, which looked almost identical to a 4000 sedan. Most U.S. cars had leather seats with diagonal pleating. The boost gauge and the differential control knob in the console were the only giveaways to the special nature of the car.
The Quattro inherited an acceptable rear seat from the ordinary coupe, but U.S. cars missed the updated single-lens headlights of the Euro cars, making do with four square sealed-beam units. Several Quattro enthusiasts retrofit the Euro lights and add a set of round driving lights.
The five-cylinder, 172 brake horsepower, DOHC turbocharged motor applied power to all four wheels evenly, through a brilliant center differential. The A1 and A2 versions of the Quattro coupe quickly dominated the World Rally Championship, winning three races in 1983 and five in 1984. In 1981, Audi driver Michele Mouton was the first woman to win a WRC rally, and won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1985.
For 1984, Audi developed the Sport Quattro S1 Group B rally car, which bore little relationship to the Ur-Quattros. The body was made of carbon-kevlar, the wheelbase was chopped 12.6 inches, wheels were wider and arches flared. Competition models produced 444 horsepower, while street versions made do with 302 horsepower. In all, 224 Sport Quattros were built, costing four times the price of the A1 and A2 Quattros, at 203,850 German Marks.
An even faster S1 E2 model was introduced in 1985, with competition cars producing over 500 brake horsepower, through a high-speed turbo that diminished turbo lag by utilizing a recirculating air system. The Group B rally cars gained even more outrageous bodywork with a sloped front spoiler, and huge rear wing to improve down-force.
After a string of accidents, the "Killer B" rally group was cancelled at the end of 1986, when it became apparent that even the best drivers couldn't keep up with these pocket rockets. The final versions of the S1 E2 used a "power-shift" gearbox, which is the forerunner of the DSG dual-clutch technology used today. At 591 horsepower and the ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, Sport Quattros are some of the most powerful rally cars ever built. For the Group B swansong, Audi driver Walter Rohrl took a 1986 team car to Pikes Peak in 1987, and swept the board.
Although considered relatively exotic when new because of its drivetrain, there is very little to the Quattro that seems exotic today. Like most early turbos, post-shutoff heat soak could cause oil to cook, which will ruin turbo bearings and impellers. New or rebuilt KKK turbos are shockingly expensive, and allowing a cool-down period of several minutes after a hard drive is advisable. Blown head gaskets are also a family flaw in Audi engines, and electrical issues and brake booster problems are common.
The short-wheelbase, high-horsepower Sport Quattro will always steal the limelight from its older brother, even though it wasn’t obtainable in the U.S. However, Ur-Quattros appeal to an emerging generation of collectors, and perfect examples are becoming more expensive. Vehicles that were used as daily drivers and now require a bit more work are still relatively easy to locate.