It's hard to believe, but Audi's quattro system is 30 years old this year.
Previous attempts had been made at taming four-wheel-drive to the extent that it could be used to enhance sporty road cars, but none had fully succeeded in the way Quattro has. Development of the system started in 1977, when Audi engineer Jörg Bensinger realised that the Volkswagen Iltis, a four-wheel-drive military jeep-typevehicle, could out-handle pretty much any other vehicle in the snow. Starting with a red, two-door Audi 80 mule, Bensinger began testing how the Iltis' four-wheel-drive system would work in a car designed for performance.
The quattro as launched at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show
In the event, the first prototypes proved to be difficult to park and something of a handful to drive, until designers Hans Nedvidek and Franz Tengler hit upon the idea of incorporating a second Audi 80 differential into the system. Placed longitudinally and driven via a hollow propshaft, this transformed the handling and moved the project on to the point where the groundbreaking Quattro Coupe could debut at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show.
The Geneva launch quattro as modelled by Minichamps in 1/43
Priced at more than twice as much as the similar-looking Coupe GT, the Quattro was intended for rallying and a select group of owners who were willing to pay for performance. But those who opted for the Quattro got plenty for their money, including the permanent four-wheel-drive system, a turbocharged engine, bigger brakes and a total of 160bhp (rapidly increased to 200). The Quattro was handbuilt at a rate of three cars per day, with a rigorous testing programme that included running at 100mph on a rolling road, a trip round Ingolstadt and the Autobahn at up to 4000rpm and spraying the cars with 3500 litres of water to ensure 100% waterproofing. A right-hand-drive version appeared in 1982.
Outside, the Quattro gained only minor styling tweaks during its lifetime. At the age of three, it got single-piece headlamps, followed by a slightly raked grille, smoked rail-lamps and a body colour boot spoiler, while the Audi rings and "quattro" script on the bootlid changed from transfers to badges.
Under the skin, though, the car underwent ongoing refinement, gaining drop -links to the front anti-roll bar mountings to make it quieter, and a re-designed rear suspension mount which eliminated the need for the rear anti-roll bar was no longer required. When the car entered the US market in 1983, it also gained further suspension revisions, including new springs and shock absorbers, lowering the ride height by 20mm, in spite of new, larger wheels. The engine remained the same until 1988, when the 2144cc unit used since the car's launch was replaced by a new 2226cc unit, known as the MB engine, increasing top speed to 140mph and shaving 0.4 seconds from the car's 0-60 time, taking it down to 6.7 seconds. The MB engine only lasted one year, however, before being replaced by the RR Unit. This new 20-valve engine was required after Audi decided to dump the old 10-valve engines to slash the Audi range's emissions. Performance fans needn't have worried, though, as the RR unit increased the car's top speed by 5mph and cut the 0-60 time even further - to 5.9 seconds. The RR engine continued to power the car until it was discontinued in 1991.
By the time the original Quattro left the Audi range, the four-wheel-drive system it pioneered had found its way into many other Audis of all shapes and sizes. Over the next few weeks, we'll take a look at a few of these amazing vehicles in 1:1 and smaller!