How Audi’s all-wheel drive cars changed an industry
Jeremy Walton’s book quattro: the race and rally story 1980-2004 illustrates the journey that Audi took to perfecting all-wheel drive for performance cars. All-wheel drive seems so normal now while used in all kinds of cars. But it wasn’t always so.
All-wheel drive was something that burly off-road vehicles like the Land Rover and Jeep. They were widely used in World War II to go anywhere in any weather.
Audi was embroiled in lawsuits and Federal recalls of Audi’s model 5000 passenger cars in the mid-1990s due to “unintentional acceleration”. To counter bad publicity and change public perception of Audi cars, engineering and marketing forces came together to develop a totally new car with a new concept. The 80 coupe was the first consumer car to receive all-wheel drive in 1980. It was powered by Audi’s 200hp 5-cylinder turbocharged engine and was available for 11 years.
Proving the traction advantage of AWD
Mr. Walton details all of the technical hurdles Audi jumped over to turn a street car into a rally car winner. The first 3 race wins came in 1981 with the Audi 80 “quattro”. Six rally wins and the World Manufacturer’s Championship followed in 1982.
Five wins in 1983 yielded the Driver’s Championship but only second in the Manufacturer’s Championship. The new Sport quattro was developed in 1983 with rallying in mind and propelled the Audi rally team to the 1984 World Manufacturer’s title along with a 1-2 in the Driver’s Championship.
More technology and wins came over the course of the rallying campaign from 1985-1987. Special cars were devised for assaults on the grueling Safari Rally in Africa and Pike’s Peak in America. Wins ensued.
A change of course
With rally victories in hand, Audi came to the USA and went SCCA roadracing with the quattro. Audi created the turbocharged and all-wheel drive quattro 200 that had quite a lot of the street car under it. Horsepower and traction advantages yielded 8 wins in the 12 race Trans-Am series and netted both the Driver’s and Makes championships.
With that done Audi went on to create the 1989 IMSA-spec 90 quattro monster that still used the turbo 5-cylinder engine that now had 620hp. This was a pure racing car with just the A-pillar and steel roof from the street car being used. Seven wins couldn’t get a championship though but Audi’s point had been made.
Audi then turned its attention to racing production-based touring cars all over the world. Audi had success in America racing the S4 Competition quattro and then the RS6 in the SCCA Speed World Challenge.
The final frontier: everything else
Audi has gone on to sports prototype racing at LeMans and in America. The ultimate result was the R18 e-tron quattro that dominated LeMans while Audi has also proven the quattro system in World Rallycross racing with wins and championships.
Audi’s visionary use of all-wheel drive in performance situations has changed the auto industry. AWD is now in every SUV on the road and most supercars because of the massive traction and safety advantages of AWD.
And it started with the Audi quattro.
Read the whole fascinating story
quattro: the race and rally story 1980-2004 by Jeremy Walton is a must for all Audi connoisseurs. Printed by Evro Publishing. 304 pages with hundreds of color and black & white photos. It’s available from Motorsport Collector, on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller.