The 1980’s rally scene was fast, dangerous and full of some of the most exciting cars ever produced. The most influential of all these rally machines has to be the mighty Audi Quattro. It was a car that changed the sport forever and is the genesis of current day Audi. So why is the Quattro so influential, and what makes it the rally legend that it is today?
To answer this, we need to look at rally cars before the time of the Quattro. Prior to the 1980’s, rally cars were limited to 2WD. Manufacturers like Lancia, Ford and Fiat dominated the rally scene. Audi showed little interest in the rally scene until changes to the international rally regulations allowed four-wheel drive cars to compete.
The basis of the Quattro was Audi’s 80 (B2) car and it shared many of the same parts and body panels. Audi’s chassis engineer, Jörg Bensinger, first proposed the idea of a high performance, four-wheel drive version of the Audi 80 in 1977 and the first Quattro was released to the European market 3 years later.
The Quattro was originally fitted with a 197hp, 2.1-litre inline 5-cylinder 10 valve, turbocharged engine, but that was eventually replaced by a 2.2-litre unit that produced peak torque lower in the rev-range. This was again changed in 1989 when Audi fitted a 20 valve engine that produced a handsome 217hp.
Audi Quattro Rally
Audi launched the original competition Quattro in the same year as the first production one was released. The car originally competed as a development vehicle before it was raced on a formal basis from the 1980 Janner Rally. Largely based on the bodyshell of the production Quattro, the rally Quattro produced 300hp in competition form.
Following a successful 1980 season the Quattro performed even better in 1981. Audi’s four-wheel drive system gave the Quattro a unique advantage over its competition and the car would go on to take its first win in the hands of Hannu Mikkola at the 31st International Swedish Rally. The development of the Quattro didn’t stop there though, with Audi introducing the A1 and A2 Evolutions of the car in response to the new Group B rules.
Audi’s Quattro A1 debuted at the 1983 WRC season opener in Monte Carlo. It went on to win the Swedish Rally and Rally Portugal with Hannu Mikkola piloting the car. The A2 Evolution, driven by Stig Blomqvist, Mikkola and Walter Röhrl, won a total of eight world rallies, with three in 83 and a total of five in 1984.
The Sport Quattro
In 1983, Audi anticipated that their traction advantage and the overwhelming horsepower of the Quattro would not be enough. By the middle of the 1984 season, Audi’s predictions rang true with the arrival of a purpose built rally machine, the Peugeot 205 T16. In comparison to the T16, the Quattro was front heavy, large, and suffered significant understeer.
To combat the little Peugeot Audi needed to introduce another version of the Quattro in 1984, the Sport Quattro S1. Audi produced a limited run of the Quattro S1 for Group B homologation and it fixed a number of significant issues with the car.
To quicken the Quattro’s turn in Audi did something interesting, they shortened the wheelbase which actually made the weight bias to the front worse. Despite this, the shorter wheelbase made the car more unstable and sped up the turn in, which could offset the understeer problems if driven properly.
This car featured an all-aluminium alloy 2.1-litre 20 valve 5 cylinder, turbocharged engine. In road-going trim this produced an impressive 302hp and the rally version created a mind bending 444hp. The car also featured a carbon-kevlar body with wide and aggressive wheel arches that accommodated the new Quattro’s wider tyres.
Audi not only entered the Quattro S1 in the Group B rally series, but it also entered and won the 1985 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with the car. Michèle Mouton was behind the wheel of the S1 and set a record time of 11:25:390 in the process.
Following the S1, Audi introduced the Sport Quattro S1 E2 at the end of 1985 to take the fight to Peugeot and Lancia once again. The 2.1-litre 5-cylinder engine was updated once more and this time it produced an official 470hp, with the unofficial figure up to 590hp during the Rally of Finland. Audi managed to achieve this by using a recirculating air system for the turbocharger. When the driver took their foot off the throttle, the aim was to keep the turbo spinning at high rpms with this new setup.
To tame the incredible engine, Audi tricked out the Sport Quattro E2 with new aggressive aerodynamic package. This featured distinctive wings and spoilers at the front and rear of the car. To increase performance even more the Sport Quattro E2 was put on a diet. Audi managed to get the E2 down to 1,090kg, which meant the car could go from 0-100km/h in just 3.1 seconds. Some models were also fitted with a “power-shift gearbox” a predecessor of the DSG technology.
Röhrl described the Sport Quattro E2 as one of the most intense machines he ever got the chance to drive: “With this car, you have to think two corners ahead. Finding the correct balance between a decent pace and outright speed was a big challenge.”
Sadly, Audi’s efforts to keep the Quattro at the top of the WRC were in vain as the Peugeot 205 T16 still dominated the 1985 season. Audi also had others to contend with, Lancia unleashed their insane Delta S4 at the end of the season, claiming a number of successive victories. Ford also introduced their Group B car, the RS200 adding to Audi’s woes. Rumours began to circulate of a 1,000hp monster Quattro, but rally experts all agreed that no amount of extra horsepower would help the Quattro.
In the end, the Audi Sport Quattro E2 only participated in six WRC rallies before Audi called it a day after spectator deaths at the Portugal Rally in 1986. This unfortunate accident gave Audi an out and was a somewhat face saving act as their car was not as fast as the Lancia Delta S4 or the Peugeot 205 T16. There were some successes however, with Röhrl and Christian Geistdörfer winning the 1985 San Remo Rally.
Audi Sport Quattro S1 E2 Pikes Peak
While the Quattro revolutionised the WRC, it was the Pikes Peak Hill Climb event where the car’s four-wheel drive system really showed its dominance. At the time, the hill climb stage was mostly gravel, which made the Quattro’s four-wheel drive system a distinct advantage. The advantage of Audi’s system was so great in fact, that the car won six Pikes Peak events in a year; John Buffum (1982-83), Michèle Mouton (1984-85), Bobby Unser (1986) and Röhrl in 1987.
Many people felt that the Sport Quattro S1 E2 didn’t achieve its full potential in the WRC as its season was cut short when Audi abandoned its Group B program in 86. To prove that they were still on top of the rally game, Audi prepared a special version of the car specifically for the 1987 Pikes Peak race. This was to be the ultimate iteration of the Quattro and showcased what the Group B car could have evolved into.
While the Quattro S1 E2’s name stayed the same as the Group B version, the car was completely different underneath its skin. A completely new tubular spaceframe construction replaced the monocoque chassis found on the original. The result of this let Audi make a substantially lighter car with improved 50/50 weight distribution.
Once again Audi was up against the Peugeot 205 T16. Peugeot’s engineers stretched the 205’s wheelbase in the hopes of gaining stability, which was usually more desirable for a high speed course like Pikes Peak. Audi took a different approach to the French company. They kept the same wheelbase as the rally Quattro S1 E2, but completely redesigned the suspension to a double wishbone setup to tame the car’s handling. To improve stability itself, Audi used aerodynamic improvements such as adding “double stack” rear spoilers and that iconic monster front splitter.
The Quattro’s engine remained the same, but with some improvements to increase power. Audi stated that the official power of the Pikes Peak Quattro S1 E2 was around 600hp, however many insiders claimed that it was closer to 1,000hp. These rumours were put to bed when Walter Röhrl later stated in an interview that the car actually produced 750hp. He also stated that the cars throttle was like an “on/off switch” thanks to the new boost into exhaust” recirculating anti-lag system. The car also used the same dual clutch power shifted “PDK” 6 speed transmission that was originally developed for the Group B rally Quattro.
This insane Quattro gave Röhrl the opportunity to set a blistering run up Pikes Peak. Röhrl didn’t disappoint, he set a record breaking run of 10:47:850, which not only made him the record holder, but also made him the first person to break the 11-minute mark. In doing so, Röhrl and Audi also defeated a fleet of three specially prepared Peugeot 206 T16s. Following the event, Audi immediately retired the Quattro from rally competitions, but this time as a legendary champion and car. Following this, Audi decided to shift its focus on circuit racing from that point onwards.
The Audi Quattro revolutionised the rally world and in many ways the motoring world today. It wasn’t the first car to use a four-wheel drive system, but it did take the idea and turned it into a world beating technology. From the first Audi Quattro to the Pikes Peak Qauttro S1 E2, the car made its impression on the world and solidified itself as not only a rally legend, but a motoring icon as well.
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