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Hammond drives the icons: Audi Quattro

  1. All the way to the track, I’d struggled to pin down the modern car that best represented what the Audi Quattro was in its day. I knew it was waiting there for me, and when I arrived I wanted to do so with a context, a reference point already fixed in my mind so that I could approach this genuine legend ready to grab hold of it and not be overawed by its status and history.

    The Audi Quattro never really changed, visually, from first arrival in 1980 to end of the road in 1991. That’s not something that happens often, if ever. It won the World Rally Championship in 1983 and 1984. It spawned an entire generation of four-wheel-drive rally cars and rally-car wannabes. It won the gruelling Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with Michèle Mouton in 1985, setting a world record in the process. And it won again in 1987 with Walter Röhrl at the wheel.

    Words: Richard Hammond
    Pics: Justin Leighton

    This feature first appeared in the August 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. All the names associated with it are legends. In the hands of legendary rally car god Stig Blomqvist, winner of the 1984 WRC in one, it was entirely unbeatable. It moved things on forever when it arrived.

    Was it a Nissan GT-R of its day, I wondered, a giant-killer using new tech to devastating effect? Or an Audi R8 - something new and different? Only time will tell which of the modern crop measures up to its myth-building pedigree. I had no way of knowing what to compare it with.

  3. And then, when I arrived and saw it, I knew what it was and is. It’s an old prizefighter. Its ears are pulverised now and it staggers sometimes when it moves, but, my god, its gnarled old hands can still hammer the crap out of the young pups if it chooses to, and it feels every inch the battered, time-served old hero.

    By 1991, when the car I’m driving was built, the engine was a 2,226cc 20v DOHC making 220bhp. Top speed was 143mph. There’s none of that ‘fast for its day’ stuff going on here, or even ‘still feels fast today’. It IS fast, today or any other day.

  4. There’s really no bull with the Audi, no sense of it being designed as much for bar-room bragging rights as for genuine ability. It absolutely is what it always promised to be, nothing more and nothing less. The Martin Smith-designed wheel arches still look like they’re struggling to contain the car’s muscles beneath their taut flares, and they are. It sounds glorious too: an uncomplicated, mechanical bellow - no self-conscious audio enhancements here.

    This is my first proper drive in one, and it feels like I’d fall apart before the car ever would, whatever we try and get up to out on the track. It feels, in fact, like the rally car it really is. I’d love to be able to use such a device to the limit of its capabilities. The reality of it is, I’m very unlikely ever to manage that. It is, simply, better than me.

  5. I was privileged to be driven in one by Stig Blomqvist, many years ago. I was nearly sick - hangover-related issues on the day - but was entirely and gloriously dazzled by the meeting of man and machine as they made the seemingly impossible into fabulous reality. It just seemed so natural, so organic the way he plugged into the car and used it as an extension of himself and his own imagination.

    Getting to the limits of such a car would take time, a lot of it. But thanks to build quality and rock-solid values, you would probably have that time. And I, for one, would be very, very jealous. Yes, there would be things designers and engineers would do differently today if they made it again. I like to think they’d put the steering wheel and the pedals on the same side, for instance - it is a very offset driving position. But it’s not often that a genuinely brand-new thing comes along.

  6. And when it does, it tends to stick in the mind for a long, long time. The Audi Quattro was and is such a thing.

    Click on for more pics of the Quattro…

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