It’s hard to believe that it is now 40 years since the launch of the quattro and 30 years from the inception of the quattro Owners Club.
It would have been magical to drive the car in the early days of the quattro when ‘normal’ cars made the quattro look and drive like something from another planet. For memory, the top cars of the 1980’s were: Ford Escort, Vauxhall Cavalier, Ford Fiesta, Austin/MG Metro, Ford Sierra, Vauxhall Astra, Ford Cortina, Ford Orion, Vauxhall Nova, to mention a few…
Nothing even close to competing with the quattro, which re-wrote the rulebook for performance cars.
For any of us lucky enough to have been in Geneva on 4th March 1980, it must have been quite something, with at the time a relatively small manufacturer, Audi, to produce something so staggeringly different.
But how and why did Audi dream up the idea of a four-wheel drive performance car? Audi Chassis Engineer Jorg Bensinger saw the potential for four-wheel drive in all conditions, but at the time there was no potential to build such a car. After winter testing of the Iltis (a four-wheel drive utility jeep like vehicle) during 1976, he became convinced of the potential and discussed his ideas with Audi’s Director of Technical Development, Ferdinand Piëch. Mr Piëch was interested in the concept but insisted that such a car had to be “high performance”, maybe with motorsport possibilities.
Unofficial work began with a tiny team of engineers under Walter Tresser. In March 1977 the first 4-wheel drive Audi, an Audi 80, was equipped as a mobile test bed for their ideas. In September 1977 the project was officially authorised as A1 for four-wheel drive. Later the project was coded EA 262.
In January 1978, a demonstration of the A1’s ability was given to Audi sales director Dr Werner Schmidt and the head of marketing Edgar von Schenck. The “Turracher Hohe” is Europe’s steepest mountain road with gradients up to 23%. The A1 climbed this convincingly with summer tyres and no snow chains. This helped to convince Audi’s senior management of the potential of 4-wheel drive. In May 1978, the Audi Product Strategy Commission gave the go ahead for development of the A1 up to the production stage.
A small team of no more than 12 engineers took the project forward. The traditional method of providing 4-wheel drive was via a cumbersome transfer gearbox. Engineer Hans Nedvidek provided a clever solution. A centre differential was fitted to stop tyre scrub when cornering at slow speeds and make the car civilised to drive. From this differential, power is fed to the rear through a prop shaft and forward through an ingenious hollow shaft within this prop shaft. A simple, lightweight solution allowing permanent 4-wheel drive. This was crucial to the success of the quattro drive system.
Motorsport, specifically rallying, was always part of the plan to showcase the benefits of 4-wheel drive. However, there was a problem, 4-wheel drive cars were banned from the World Rally Championship. From 1977/78, Audi started lobbying the German Motorsport Federation and persuaded them to take the case to the FIA. In 1979, the FIA year book (the ‘yellow book’) included a section with new wording which authorised the use of 4-wheel drive. At the time none of the established rally teams took this seriously; surely 4-wheel drive was for cumbersome off-road vehicles. In only a short time they had to think again. Was it not for this regulation change, the quattro would not have been able to showcase its talents as effectively.
400 cars were required for homologation in Group 4 but thankfully, the quattro was a sensation, resulting in a total production of 11,452 cars between 1980 and 1991.
Events secretary Phil Jameson has plenty planned for the coming year and we are supporting each Area to have an Anniversary Meeting at some point in 2020. It will be a long time before the 50th Anniversary so make the most of it. The quattro has been recognised and promoted at more events across the country and in the motoring press than ever before. There should be something to suit us all this year so please, get the cars out there and have a great quattro year.