As days go, today was a good one. Right up to the first braking zone, at least.
Alone in an original Audi Quattro from 1980, the problem dawned on me just a little too late, going a little too fast. Alone in an original Audi Quattro from 1980 meant using brakes from an original Audi Quattro from 1980. There was very little run off into some concrete. Brakes were applied. Little happened. Thoughts quickly degenerated from ‘wow, today is excellent,’ to ‘wow, I wonder how they’ll identify me when I’ve been smeared across a wall’.
Thankfully, whatever cosmic forces are at work upstairs appeared to be in a good mood, and enough speed was scrubbed from the Audi to turn into the hairpin - tyres squealing - without understeering out of shot and into concrete. Phew. Embarassing phonecall to Audi AG avoided, I pulled over to take stock.
It’s a blinder, this original Quattro. Built in 1980 as a showpiece, it’s a snapshot of a company on the cusp of building a legacy as a technological innovator. And it all spawned from a German military-spec off-roader, the 4WD VW Iltis. Audi chassis engineer at the time, Jörg Bensinger, clearly had a Top Gear moment: why not use such a four-wheel-drive system in a road-going car?
With all four wheels set in motion, the development began on stuffing an Audi 80 with an all-wheel drivetrain and powerful engine. The car was first shown at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show with production beginning later on in the year.
The car we narrowly avoided totalling is a minter, too. It’s an original Quattro with the 2.1-litre five-pot turbocharged engine producing a whisker under 200bhp, all channeled to that permanent four-wheel-drive system via a lovely five-speed manual gearbox. Top speed? 138mph, which in 1980, was great. Bear in mind, however, that in 1980 people thought Cliff Richard’s Living Dolls was great, too.
Whatever, it’s a superb engine, this, and it’s the reason we’re here. Last week we had a brief hotride in the mad, bad 520bhp A3 Clubsport Quattro concept built for Worthersee; a car that wants to test the absolute breaking limit of that five-time International Engine of the Year award-winning five-pot. But its roots lie in this grey Quattro.
It sounds mechanical, the old 2.1-litre lump, nothing like the raspy, spiteful, hard-edged DTM-spec turbo’d engine in the Clubsport, but with enough character and intake resonance - complete with a turbo whistle - for true retro-flavour. It’s a peach, and proof that you don’t need big power to feel like you’re going fast. You just need rubbish brakes and a black sense of humour.
That said, we’d just stepped out of the Clubsport, which has brakes bigger than Mars and a stopping force of unquantifiable pain. The Quattro wouldn’t see which way it went, but then it’s a throwback; unassisted steering, pedals close enough to properly heel-und-toe, a gearbox that feels like you’re actually moving big metal parts underneath, and brown velour.
It also signalled the beginning of Audi’s motorsport domination. This car, remember, will forever be immortalised as a champion of the rally stage, names like Rörhl, Blomqvist, Mouton and Mikkola emblazoned on enough bobble hats and brains to last several lifetimes.
So if you ever find yourself behind the wheel of one, remember all these good things about it. And also remember to brake really, really early.
Click on for more pics of when the Quattro met the Clubsport. Now, how much do you want to see that car on a rally stage?
Words: Vijay Pattni