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22 February 2005
25 YEARS OF AUDI QUATTRO

 

INGOLSTADT, Germany - Precisely 25 years ago, a car that was to change the automobile engineering world went on display for the first time: on March 3, 1980 the first Audi quattro was shown to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland. Before long, the many competition successes achieved by this model established a heritage of success that has remained undimmed by time.

The birth of the first quattro is a tale of initial driving tests in the snow and of a brilliant piece of technical thinking – the use of a hollow shaft in the gearbox to transmit the drive to the front and rear axles. With the concept refined by the addition of a centre differential between the axles, later to use the Torsen principle, the first quattro went on sale in late 1980. This coupe model with its sharp-edged styling became an immediate best seller: with its permanent all-wheel drive and 200-bhp, five-cylinder turbocharged engine, it was able to offer sporty high performance in a fascinating, revolutionary form.

Between 1982 and 1984 the quattro gained four world rally championship titles, and the exploits of its now legendary drivers have remained unforgotten to this day. Following these successes on loose-surfaced sand and gravel tracks, the manufacturer’s competition department concentrated on circuit racing, and here too the supremacy of the quattro permanent all-wheel-drive principle was patently obvious as the Audi quattro drivers collected all the most prestigious trophies in the USA and in Europe.

As the years wore on, the ‘original quattro’ grew into an entire family of roadgoing all-wheel-drive models, and today this technology represents one of the brand’s most substantial foundations. In the 25 years up to the end of 2004, Audi built 1,815,396 quattro vehicles, and the current model programme includes 74 versions with all-wheel drive. Thanks to thorough technical updating, the reputation of the quattro all-wheel driveline is today stronger and more active then ever before. ‘quattro’ stands not just for traction, but also for emotive appeal, safe driving and dynamism. The quattro models in the Audi range are both a driving force for the brand and an integral element of its innovative technology.

Permanently on course for success

Four rings, seven letters, 25 years: Audi’s quattro technology is now celebrating a noteworthy anniversary. A quarter of a century ago, on March 3, 1980, the ‘original quattro’ was the centre of attention at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland. This was the birth of a legend which clocked up innumerable motor-sport victories and a demonstration of still unsurpassed supremacy on the road.

Michèle Mouton, Stig Blomqvist, Hannu Mikkola and of course Walter Röhrl – these were the drivers that wrote a new chapter in rallying history during the 1980s and brought the Audi quattro four world championship titles. Before long, the cars with permanent all-wheel drive were enjoying equal success in circuit racing, including an overall win in the 1988 American TransAm series – and a truly triumphant year in 1996, when the A4 quattro Super Touring competition car gained the winner’s title in all seven national touring car championships for which it was entered.

The quattro technological principle not only established itself impressively in motor sport, but in roadgoing cars as well, where quattro has come to mean not only permanent traction but also exceptional dynamism and fast, safe travel. The quattro technological principle has become a major element in the Audi brand’s success with all the market significance that this implies. In 2004, for instance, Audi built 209,469 quattro vehicles, and since 1980 more than 1,800,000 cars with this permanent all-wheel driveline have left the assembly lines – streets ahead of any other manufacturer of all-wheel-drive models.

The quattro technical principle

A car that distributes the power from its engine to all four wheels is capable of withstanding higher lateral locating forces than one with only the rear or front wheels driven. Its traction and cornering power are both superior to these more conventional drivelines. Audi clearly grasped this basic principle of physics with greater clarity and determination than its competitors – it was this awareness that inspired the initial quattro driveline concept.

The development order for the all-wheel-drive project, bearing the internal company code 262, was issued in the spring of 1977. The basic stimulus came from three young Audi engineers: Jörg Bensinger was manager of the experimental running-gear department, Walter Treser was project leader and Dr. Ferdinand Piëch the chief technical executive. A modified Audi 80 with slightly lengthened wheelbase was used as a prototype, powered by the lengthwise installed five-cylinder turbocharged engine that was later to power the Audi 200 model. This transmitted its power to the all-wheel-drive system used on the VW Iltis military off-road vehicle, which Audi had developed. The driven rear axle was a second McPherson front axle turned through 180 degrees.

In January 1978, when tried out on the steep ‘Turracher Höhe’ mountain pass in the Styrian region of Austria, this prototype vehicle with the licence plate IN - NC 92 convincingly demonstrated its capabilities in the traction area, but on sharp, hard-surfaced corners there were evidently significant trapped stresses in the driveline. This situation arises because the front wheels follow a slightly larger curve than the rear wheels when the vehicle is cornering, and therefore have to be able to revolve slightly faster. The prototype was unable to cope with this situation, since unlike the Iltis with its driver-engaged drive to the front wheels, its two axles were rigidly connected. The Audi development team, however, held fast to its two main objectives: a permanent all-wheel driveline and the avoidance of a separate centre differential and second propeller shaft – components that were regarded as unavoidable on such vehicles back in the seventies.

It was Franz Tengler, head of the transmission design department, who hit on the brilliantly simple notion of installing a 26.3 cm long drilled-out secondary shaft in the gearbox, so that power could flow in both directions. At the rear end, this shaft drove the spider of the manually lockable inter-axle differential; this device was integrated into the gearbox and transmitted 50 % of the power from the engine to the rear axle, which had its own limited-slip differential. The remaining power flowed along an output shaft inside the hollow shaft to the front-axle differential. For the first time in automobile design history, this hollow-shaft concept permitted an all-wheel drive layout that was light in weight, compact and efficient. This was the decisive breakthrough, since it yielded a system that was not restricted to off-road vehicles with their high ground clearance but was ideal for sporty passenger cars.

For the start of the 1987 model year, another important new feature was added to the quattro concept: the Torsen differential, a self-locking worm and gear unit that took the place of the manual differential lock. As the name (which comes from the term ‘torque sensing’) implies, this device redistributes engine torque steplessly as required for traction purposes, so that in extreme situations the axle with the better traction receives up to 75 % of the available torque. Thanks to the Torsen differential, which develops its locking action only under load, the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system can still take effect when needed. Today, modern technologies such as electronically controlled differential locks in the axles and the ESP stabilisation program complement the action of the Torsen differential.

The ‘original quattro’

“We wanted to create the impression of a car that’s ‘glued to the ground’ – with capability rather than elegance in the foreground. And this formal concept has justified itself as effective, correct and credible.” These were the terms in which Hartmut Warkuss, who was head of design at that time, later described the first quattro. Derived from the Audi 80 Coupé, but with sharp-edged body styling, it was presented to journalists on March 3, 1980 at an indoor ice-skating rink close to the exhibition ground at which the Geneva Motor Show was being held.

The new five-seater coupé had a compact 2,524 mm wheelbase and an overall length of 4,404 mm. It ran on 6-inch forged alloy wheels supplied by the Fuchs company. Dr. Ferdinand Piëch was well aware of the fact that with this car he was writing a new chapter in automobile engineering. His speech concluded with the words: “Today sees the première of all-wheel drive for the roadgoing passenger car.”

The epoch-making quattro – the name was Walter Treser’s idea – was enthusiastically received: its revolutionary driveline concept and sporty character convinced the journalists immediately. The five-cylinder turbocharged and charge-air intercooled engine, with a displacement of 2,144 cc, developed 147 kW (200 bhp) at the maximum boost pressure of 0.85 bar and reached its maximum torque of 285 Nm at an engine speed of 3,500 rpm. The quattro weighed 1,290 kilograms and could sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds and reach a top speed of over 220 km/h. Its permanent traction, firm, sporty suspension settings and functional interior design revealed this new model to be an out-and-out ‘driving machine’.

The quattro took its place at the top of the manufacturer’s programme for that model year - not only in terms of its high performance, but also of its selling price: 49,900 German marks. Despite this considerable sum, sales figures rocketed when the first cars reached the showrooms in November 1980. In the first two full years of the car’s production cycle, almost 2,000 left the N 2 individual assembly building in Ingolstadt. The first 400 were needed as evidence that the Group 4 world rally championship regulations had been complied with.

The ‘original quattro’, as its fans now call it, remained in production until 1991; during this period 11,452 cars were built. In the first few production years the interior became steadily more sophisticated in its materials, but there were also a few minor technical changes, for example digital displays and speech-output warnings, the anti-lock braking system and running-gear modifications. An update was carried out in the autumn of 1987, and bestowed the Torsen centre differential and a slightly larger five-cylinder engine on the quattr the new power unit retained the original power output of 147 kW (200 bhp), but developed greater low-speed torque. In 1989 the power output was raised to 162 kW (220bhp) by installing a new four-valve cylinder head; the top speed increased to 230 km/h.

A special model in the quattro programme appeared in 1984, and still enjoys a legendary reputation: this was the Sport quattro with the wheelbase reduced to a mere 2,204 mm and a newly developed four-valve turbocharged engine with an aluminium cylinder block; this had a power output of 225 kW (306 bhp). Although nominally a roadgoing car, extensive use of Kevlar and other weight-saving materials confirmed that this special model was also a serious rally contender. 224 of this ‘short version’, as it was known, were built, and enabled Audi to homologate its rally entries in Group B. The purchase price, too, was high enough to ensure more than a modicum of exclusivity: 203,850 German marks.

The quattros in rallying

Group B, with its less strict technical specifications, probably ushered in the most innovative era in rallying: a high-tech arms race, so to speak, in which the participating teams outdid each other in their efforts to speed up development work. Even during the 1981 season, the first in which Audi participated, the quattro began to hint at its later superiority. The Finnish Hannu Mikkola won two events and came third in the drivers’ rankings, despite the teething troubles suffered by the car initially. In San Remo, the Frenchwoman Michèle Mouton became the first woman ever to win a world championship rally.

In 1982 the Ingolstadt-based motor team did justice to the technological lead claimed in the manufacturer’s slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik”. Mikkola, Mouton and their Swedish colleague Stig Blomqvist scored seven outright wins in eleven rallies, and finished the season with the manufacturers’ title and the runners-up title for Mouton in the drivers’ championship. In 1984, the long-awaited double success was achieved: Blomqvist took the driver’s title almost unchallenged, with wins in five rallies. The season had already begun with a sensational 1-2-3 victory in Monte Carlo, with Walter Röhrl, a newcomer to the team, leading his Scandinavian colleagues across the finishing line after a breathtaking duel.

During the season, however, the initially unrivalled quattro began to encounter new and vigorous competitors, for example the Peugeot 205 T 16, the first pure competition car concept with mid-engine to be seen in rallying. The temptation for Audi to pursue a similar approach was great, and a prototype was in fact built. The idea was none the less rejected because it was felt that the rally cars should not be too dissimilar to those sold to the public.

Instead of this, the Sport quattro, a 331 kW (450 bhp) front-engined car, made its debut at the end of 1984. The wheelbase was shortened dramatically, by no fewer than 32 cm, in an attempt to make the car even lighter and more agile.

The Sport quattro, as it happened, was fated not to enjoy any great successes, even in its final evolution stage, the S 1. Its technical features nonetheless earned a place in rallying history if only because of their extreme character. The officially quoted power output of the five-cylinder aluminium-block engine was 350 kW (476 bhp), but with the recirculating air system that kept the turbocharger turning over at a high speed, the true figure was probably in excess of 500 bhp at 8,000 rpm. With a moderately high final drive ratio, the S 1 (which weighed only 1,090 kilograms) could accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h in 3.1 seconds. Some of the cars were equipped with a power-shift gearbox – a forerunner of today’s DSG technology. The car had a lattice-tube structure clad with sheet steel and plastic panels. For the sake of better weight distribution, the radiator, fan and alternator were banished to the rear of the car. Vast wings and spoilers had the task of increasing downthrust on fast sections of the route; the brakes had a water spray cooling system.

In the spring of 1986 came the end for the Group B cars with their boundary-pushing technology. Audi decided not to enter for any further events in the series. Following serious accidents, the international organising body FISA resolved to change the rules and permit only near-series Group A cars to take part. As it happened, the S 1 was able to celebrate one final triumph: in 1987 Walter Röhrl took this car with its 441 kW (600 bhp) engine up the Pikes Peak run in Colorado, USA, with its 156 bends and maximum altitude of 4,301 metres.

This victory was emulated in the following two years by Michèle Mouton and Bobby Unser, giving Audi a hat-trick in this imposing American hillclimb event, the “Race to the Clouds”. The best Audi time of 10 minutes 47.85 seconds remained unequalled for many years afterwards.

The quattros in circuit racing

The Pikes Peak victories whetted the company’s appetite. In 1988 Audi took part for a year in the American TransAm race series. The engine installed in the Audi 200 quattro was the turbocharged five-cylinder unit that previously powered the world rally championship cars, in the meantime developing 375 kW (510 bhp), enough to secure the title for the American driver Hurley Haywood. Audi in fact took the chequered flag eight times, a total which secured the manufacturers’ title as well.

A year later the company switched to the IMSA GTO series, with its less strict rules. Only the silhouette of the Audi 90 quattro was retained: under the GTO’s carbon-fibre skin was a pure racing car. The five-cylinder engine, in its final development stage, produced 529 kW (720 bhp), and the car’s four driven wheels had 14-inch wide rims. With seven wins in 13 races, Hans Joachim Stuck took third place in the championship and the team came second in the manufacturers’ rankings.

In 1990 and 1991 Audi entered its flagship model, the V8 quattro, for the German Touring Car Championship. The 3.6-litre engine of this luxury saloon developed 340 kW (462 bhp). Despite the car’s basic weight of 1,220 kilograms, this was sufficient in conjunction with the car’s all-wheel drive to hold off less powerful but lighter rivals. Stuck took the championship title in the first of these two seasons; in 1991 the young Frank Biela pipped him to the post after a dramatic neck-and-neck finale on the Hockenheim Ring circuit. In 1992, when the season had already started, a dispute arose regarding the legality of the engine’s new crankshaft, whereupon the team withdrew the V8 quattro from the remaining races.

Audi’s most successful season in touring car racing was 1996. The A4 quattro Supertouring, with a power output of 221 kW (300 bhp) from its two-litre, four-cylinder engine, was entered for seven national championships – in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Belgium, South Africa and Australia – and won them all! In the German Super Touring Car series the winning driver was Emanuele Pirro; in Great Britain the victor was Frank Biela.

Series-production quattros

The ‘original quattro’ of 1980 did not remain alone for long. Starting in 1982, Audi introduced five further all-wheel-drive variants to its production programme: the Audi Coupé, the Audi 80/90 and the Audi 100/200. The last-mentioned model, the aerodynamic world champion of the 1980s, was like its predecessor also available as an Avant. Conceived as a front-wheel-drive car as was customary at Audi, all these models could be easily converted to permanent all-wheel drive without undue effort and expense. They reflected the manufacturer’s fundamental policy decision to offer a quattro variant in every model line. In the light of Audi’s motor-sport successes it is not surprising that they all sold extremely well.

A new leading model in the quattro range appeared in 1988: the V8, with an initial output of 185 kW (250 bhp), later also available with a 206 kW (280 bhp) engine. This car was only sold with permanent all-wheel drive, and at first only automatic transmission was available, so that two differential locks were fitted – an electronically controlled, hydraulically operated multi-disc lock in the inter-axle differential and a self-locking Torsen differential in the rear axle. When the successor to this model, the A8, was introduced in 1994, Audi offered front-wheel drive as an alternative, and this option is still available for the current A8 model generation, though only 7 % of the car’s purchasers take it up.

From 1990 on, the S models with quattro driveline did much to enhance the dynamic image gained by Audi as a result of its motor-sport successes. The leading contender in this respect was the S 2 Coupé, the designated inheritor of the mantle of the original quattro. Its cultured character proved that sportiness and refinement could be harmonised in an ideal way – an approach that was continued a year later with the S4 based on the Audi 100 model line.

Audi’s first RS model also impressed its fans. The RS2 Avant amazed the trade with its performance. This five-cylinder turbo model entered the market in 1994 and was built for a good year. Its engine delivered 262 kW (315 bhp). 2,881 customers opted for this sports car, which was based on the Audi 80 Avant. The RS2 has long since become a sought-after classic with a loyal fan club.

In 2000, Audi pursued this approach a stage further with the ultimate RS 4 and RS 6 models. Their powerful V8 engines put these two cars in the high-performance sports car category, but with luxurious equipment and trim and of course the no-compromise high quality typical of the Audi brand. In addition, the TDI diesel engines, with their vigorous pulling power, have been offered more and more frequently in conjunction with the quattro driveline – again a most harmonious combination.

The most successful Audi models in terms of sales volume are the A4 and the A6, and this is also true of their quattro variants. If the preceding model versions are included, 37,572 Audi A4 cars with permanent all-wheel drive had been built by the end of 2004. The figure for the Audi A6 is 601,204, the proportion with the quattro driveline having risen recently to 42 % in the case of the saloon.

Since 1999 the compact A3, the TT Coupé and the TT Roadster have also been available with the quattro driveline option. Since they have a transverse engine, these models use an electronically controlled Haldex clutch as a centre differential instead of the Torsen unit. 58 % of all the TT Coupés and 42 % of all the TT Roadsters sold in 2004 were fitted with permanent all-wheel drive.

The allroad quattro enjoys a special status: with its variable ground clearance thanks to air suspension, this Avant has established itself as a dynamic all-rounder which is equally at home on the motorway as it is in highly challenging terrain. Around 90,000 of this model have been built to date.

From 1980 until the end of 2004, Audi had built 1,815,396 cars with permanent all-wheel drive. If this is related to a total production – excluding the A 2 model line – of 12,030,207 units, the all-wheel-drive variants account for 15.1 % during the period.

In recent years, the proportion of quattro-equipped cars was regularly higher than one quarter of the total, and indeed reached 26.7 % in 2004. Audi is the leading international manufacturer of passenger cars with permanent all-wheel drive in the premium segment of the market. The current model programme lists 74 model variants with the quattro driveline.

The quattro’s emotive appeal

A tyre track in the snow: an elderly Eskimo respectfully points it out to his grandson as “quattro”. The monsoon season in India: only the German ambassador in his Audi A4 quattro makes it along the flooded, muddy roads to the Maharajah’s gala dinner. The ski jump that the Audi 100 quattro climbs by its own efforts – in the past 25 years, Audi has commissioned a whole series of unforgettable TV commercials aimed at maintaining public awareness of the quattro mystique and the emotive appeal associated with it.

The idea behind the ski jump spot took shape in 1986 at the BBDO advertising agency in Düsseldorf, Germany. When tested on a glacier in the Tyrol, an Audi 100 quattro proved capable of climbing a 39-degree gradient. The ski jump that was eventually found in Kaipola, Finland, had a slope angle of 37.5 degrees – or to put it another way, a gradient of 80 percent – a scarcely less difficult challenge. A crane lifted the car onto the ski jump’s take-off platform, where it was carefully secured in three different ways: by a concealed steel cable, a forward-mounted braking system and a safety net under the take-off platform. In the event, professional rally driver Harald Demuth, who had driven the quattro during his active career, had no need of any of these safety devices. He drove the Audi effortlessly up the 78-metre long ski jump, despite having only a very restricted view of the proceedings, since the nose of the Audi was of course pointed steeply upwards towards the sky.

This commercial bathed the Audi advertising concept in a warm and approving light from which it still benefits today. The overall strategy was, and still is, concentrated with no frills on the actual products – an approach typical of the Audi brand.

Product credibility is communicated beyond any doubt, the more so since the quattro models’ motor sport successes have shaped the Audi brand image more strongly than advertising campaigns costing millions could ever have done.

Principles of brevity and implication in understated form prevail in Audi’s advertising and are typical of the way the cars are presented. The quattro variants differ very little from their counterparts with front-wheel drive – they are not exotic members of the model programme but an integral element in the driving force behind this high-tech brand. quattro thus stands not only for ‘traction’ but for more – emotion, driving safety and dynamism, accompanied by technical competence and a dynamic outlook on life.

The exclusive character of this specific Audi lifestyle is the governing factor behind quattro GmbH, which began trading in 1983. Since 1996, which saw the debut of the S6 plus, this Audi subsidiary company has operated as a vehicle manufacturer; last year it equipped more than 7,000 cars in accordance with the purchasers’ individual wishes. quattro GmbH has a staff of 300 and its own development and production facilities.

Another tool at Audi’s disposal when it comes to maintaining the fascination of the quattro is the creation of spectacular concept cars. In the autumn of 1991, the company presented two mid-engined sports cars with permanent all-wheel drive in quick succession at the international motor shows in Frankfurt and Tokyo. These were the quattro Spyder and the Avus quattro – the latter unforgettable for many reasons, one of them being its gleaming polished aluminium body.

The concept cars that attracted much attention four years later in Tokyo were closer to motoring reality. The TT quattro was not far from production readiness in Coupé and Roadster form. Then came the 2003 ‘show cars’, also with permanent all-wheel drive: the large Pikes Peak, the elegant Nuvolari Coupé and the Le Mans quattro supersports model.


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