Quick Audis have an odd repute today. For all of the hits – R8, RS6, that beautiful mid-Noughties RS4 – there are twice as many misses. In opposition to sharper German rivals, RS merchandise usually really feel a bit aloof.
Maybe we must always all be pressured to drive one in every of these alongside each new RS. As a result of the Quattro feels no extra excessive. Which is sufficient, given its superlative stance and superb motorsport previous, to make my tummy sink. I’ve longed to drive one in every of these and the very fact it’s not a scary, histrionic homologation particular like a few of its contemporaries feels one thing of a letdown.
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Phrases: Stephen Dobie // Images: Jonny Fleetwood
However, communicate to anybody with vivid recollections of this automotive’s launch – on the 1980 Geneva motor present – and it’s shortly obvious I’ve nestled into its heroically retro upholstery with the unsuitable expectations. My head is filled with yellow ’n’ white rally vehicles throwing up rooster tails of snow. The truth, in street automotive trim no less than, could be very totally different.
That is the start of the usable efficiency automotive. The one you hop in no matter climate or street situation and drive with nary a priority for the way both would possibly deteriorate. For those who’re something like me, you grew up with the market awash with vehicles of this ilk – mainly Japanese rally reps – and now see fast 4WD stuff as a staple of the automotive market. All these cheap-lease Golf Rs owe their existence to the subdued gray automotive earlier than you now, although, and it solely takes a shallow dip into historical past to understand simply how courageous and revolutionary this concept was.
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Earlier than the Quattro, 4WD meant going off-road. The concept of bringing it on the street, particularly with fast, gritted-teeth driving in thoughts, should have appeared like insanity when common Ford Escorts had been nonetheless doggedly RWD. Some extent confirmed by the Quattro’s late Seventies growth mule, which was a humble Audi 80 saloon with the transmission of a VW Iltis navy particular shoved in. As an object, it was crude, however a tenacious efficiency on snow satisfied the cash males to signal the mandatory cheques.
The tip product was totally different, after all. When the Quattro appeared in March 1980, it used centre and rear diffs, locked by way of cables hooked up to a pair of pulleys sat discreetly between driver and passenger. For these of us accustomed to Sport buttons and Drive Choose dials, they give the impression of being downright hilarious as we speak. And had been it not for the unseasonably heat, dry tarmac forward of us, I’m unsure I’d give you the chance to withstand experimenting with them.
The Quattro lived for 11 years, its mechanical specification evolving all through, although at all times comprising a five-cylinder turbocharged engine, 4WD and a handbook gearbox. Yep, this automotive revolutionised using turbos, too. By 1991, the engine had 20 valves, the dashboard was digital and there was a new-fangled Torsen differential beneath all of it.
However the automotive we’ve got right here is among the originals, registered in 1981: 10 valves, analogue dials and a extra archaic setup that doesn’t even embody ABS (which, by the way, arrived in Quattros a number of years after launch… and will initially be turned on and off with a button on the sprint). Chrome-trimmed quad headlights and orange indicators guarantee it appears a world other than latter variations, and I’d argue higher for it, whereas these attractive arches had been necessitated by wider tracks.
Its 2.1-litre engine produces a now modest 197bhp and 210lb ft. Fiesta ST figures, nevertheless it solely has Fiesta ST weight to shift, so it’s brisker than you would possibly hope. Comfier, too. There’s seating for 5 (ish) and a heated seat (singular). On the motorway it’ll cruise beneath 3,000rpm and it shrugs off wind and street noise higher than many trendy vehicles.
I’ve began with boring stuff as a result of it contextualises what’s to return. The Quattro doesn’t journey over itself on dangerous roads and reveals supremely evenly proportioned grip, feeling barely fallible irrespective of how a lot ham-fistedness you inflict upon it.
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Whereas that engine sits forward of the entrance axle, the Quattro doesn’t plough into corners like over-reactionary street testers would have you ever consider, and nor does it fall into oversteer for those who’re silly. It should have felt completely transformative 40 years in the past to drive a automotive so reliable, regardless of the climate. And the best way its dynamics have resisted age is astonishing.
There’s no have to deal with it any extra delicately than a present RS. It does admire tact, thoughts; braking easily, blipping downchanges and never dashing gearchanges feels the proper and correct factor to do. However you aren’t skating round on crap tyres feeling your approach round archaic ranges of traction. That is an extremely skilled machine, one nearly too ruthless in its method for those who relish stolen moments of mischief.
The Quattro was nothing wanting a sensation in rallying, with a pair of drivers’ and constructors’ championship wins on its CV. The latter of every got here in 1984 with Stig Blomqvist (pictured) on the wheel.
“It was tough to consider the distinction between two- and four-wheel drive,” he tells me. “I bear in mind the primary time in Ingolstadt after I took a take a look at run within the automotive on some dust roads. It was unbelievable. But it surely wasn’t tough to adapt, as a result of I got here from FWD vehicles and the method was comparable. Simply with much more traction!”
He’s most complimentary concerning the Quattro’s reliability, although. “Individuals say it was costly however for those who seemed throughout the entire season, it wasn’t. We had been fairly a brand new, younger workforce and the fellows had been actually into it, they had been excited to work on the automotive. The one small drawback we had was to get the engine mapping proper for various altitudes.”
Naturally he obtained a street automotive to make use of, too, which Stig saved in Sweden. “After that I didn’t need to have a 2WD automotive anymore. I finally gave it again, however a good friend of mine purchased it later. I’m attempting to purchase it again now, however not with any success but. In some way I’ll attempt to persuade him.”
The extra time I spend getting beneath the Quattro’s pores and skin, the extra I’m rooting for Stig to reacquaint himself. For all of the tenacity beneath, there’s really loads of room for the driving force to become involved. Having a stubby little stick in the course of the inside actually helps. Its 5 gears are lengthy, so get lazy along with your adjustments and also you’ll drop beneath 2,500rpm and into the small properly of turbo lag.
There’s no flattering paddleshifter to save lots of your blushes right here, however that simply retains you alert the place an RS3 or 4 would possibly persuade you to nudge throughout to D and zone out. Flick- flacking by hedge-lined bends at evening, the Eighties- power excessive beam making an attempt to punch by the darkness as you retain these revs excessive and the spine-tingling 5cyl sound slicing by the silence, it’s unattainable to not think about you’re by yourself particular stage.
What we in the end have is a automotive that brings uncanny ranges of efficiency to the on a regular basis however wants a little bit of cajoling into having enjoyable; there’s extra in widespread between this Quattro and a contemporary RS than I’d dared think about. That is the blueprint of the fast Audi, and of the usable efficiency automotive, full cease. It could be 40 years outdated, however for those who can see previous the set-square styling, peculiar diff pulleys and scant airbag depend, it might (nearly) have credibly launched at Geneva 2020. World virus however…