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Audi Quattro EA 262: behind its launch

A vehicle that was never actually planned and was ultimately only released as a special edition became a great commercial success and one of the most famous cars with four rings in the grille. We are talking about the Audi Quattro, which was launched in 1980 and in the following years shook up the World Rally Championship. Much has been written about this vehicle over the intervening 40 years. The Audi Quattro enriched the market with a completely new type of car: high-volume passenger cars and permanent four-wheel drive.

Until its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980, there were only a few small-production vehicles with this drive technology, including the Jensen Interceptor FF. In addition, some racing car manufacturers such as Bugatti and Lotus had dabbled with the technology and, of course, there were already off-road vehicles available with switchable or permanent four-wheel drive. But a normal car for everyday use? Who will buy something like this? There are not many foresters in the world to benefit from this. At least, that was the opinion of most manufacturers until the 1970s. Audi would probably have kept this way of thinking too, if test director Jörg Bensinger had not had to drive the support car during testing winters in Sweden. This car was a Volkswagen Iltis, which some German readers may still know from their time in the German army. Bensinger quickly discovered that he could easily outrun the real test vehicles on snow and ice slopes, although the Iltis only had 55 kW / 75 hp. Bensinger recorded this observation and began to wonder whether such a transmission could do as well in a normal passenger car.

He sought to speak to the board member of Audi's vehicle development department, one Ferdinand Piëch, and found him to be a supporter of the project.

Under his patronage, he brought together a small team of engineers and insiders around the head of pre-development, Walter Treser, and built a first prototype based on an Audi 80. Interesting detail: This prototype already had a five-cylinder engine, one of the details for which the last production car would become famous.

The Audi Quattro, testing a prototype rally car in a gravel pit near Ingolstadt. It looks like a road car, right down to the Fuchs alloy wheels.

The IN-NJ-40 was an Audi Sport test mule for the '81 Group 4 rally car. Piëch and Bensinger are working on the development of the future Audi Quattro. Uncertain about the success of the model, managers plan to reduce production to 400 examples.

This car was taken to a winter test in the Austrian Alps in March 1978, where important decision makers from the Volkswagen Group were expected to be present. They knew nothing about this project before. They took it with humor and put the prototype through its paces, quickly proving that it was vastly superior to the rest of the test vehicles equipped with conventional drive systems. World-class Finnish professional rally driver Hannu Mikkola comes to Ingolstadt to experience the latest developments. After a test drive with the Audi prototype, he immediately declared that he would be ready to drive this car as soon as it could be entered in a rally. When they were told that the development team was in a hurry and couldn't get winter tires for the four-wheel drive prototype, so all testing had been done with summer tires (on snow!), the decision was almost certain.

After further testing in the summer in southern Algeria in 1978, it was finally decided that this drive system would go into production.

In early 1979, certain members of the press were invited to come and test four different cars: two front-engined, rear-wheel-drive cars, a front-engined, front-wheel-drive Audi, and a four-wheel-drive prototype again fitted with summer tires. but the journalists are only informed of this after their tests. Once again, the all-wheel drive concept was convincing in every respect.

In March 1980, the finished vehicle was presented at the Geneva Motor Show. However, Audi's sales forecast was for only a few cars, as they considered it a technological medium for advertising purposes. Therefore, they had gone to the trouble of building an independent car with a Coupé body instead of simply equipping the Audi 80 sedan or another existing model range with the new drive technology. It should be clear from the start that something new was coming to dealerships. The presentation was preceded by the naming process. According to the first plans, the car should have been called “All-Rad-Antrieb Turbo Coupé” or “CARAT”. However, as there was an inexpensive perfume of the same name, this idea was quickly abandoned and the team switched to the Italian word for four, "quattro". It should be noted that the name of this car is still written in lowercase, as is the company quattro GmbH, founded three years later.

The body design followed the style of the time and Audi's then-current design language. Sharp corners and edges dominate the image. The car does not appear to have a curve ruler available in the design office, but only at first glance. If you look closely, for example, you will see deliberate curves on the fender flares, which perfectly support the overall image and give the car a powerful but not too aggressive appearance. The Audi Coupé, which was launched at the same time, had to do without the wide fenders.

This impression continues inside, because here too mainly angular shapes have been used for the dashboard. The speedometer reaches up to 160 mph and therefore already shows Audi's new self-confidence with this car. In the center console, the driver can engage or disengage the two differential locks. Under the hood, customers had no choice. Only a 2.1-liter five-cylinder with turbocharger and 147 kW/200 hp appeared in the technical sheet. In 1984 a version with a catalytic converter was added, which produced only 119 kW / 162 hp on all four wheels of the same displacement. The quattro's curb weight was 1,335 kilograms. It went on sale in Germany at an entry price of 49,900 DM.


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