The original engine was removed from A1 and in its place the new turbocharged 2.2-litre, five-cylinder powerplant from the flagship Audi 200 was squeezed in. Developing the turbocharged high-performance car to Ferdinand Piech’s exacting standards would take until January 1978, when the senior managers of Audi were invited to cross Obersalzberg into Austria and the snowy Gurktal Alps, where the full potential of EA 262 would be theirs to sample.
The Turracher Hohe is one of the steepest passes on the mountainside, with the road reaching 23 degrees of elevation in places. Before the top brass arrived, the man whose reputation rested upon the success of their outing also took a drive.
‘Piech was behind the wheel of one of our first prototypes and when the car came to a stop at the Turracher Hohe mountain pass, local people were there fitting snow chains,’ Walter Treser recalled. ‘And then, while assembling the snow chains, the locals kept glancing at the [Audi] with its summer tyres with expressions of pity on their faces. They fitted snow chains and then Piech just sped off on summer tyres through the swirling snow.’
When the time came, EA 262 repeated its performance in the hands of Volkswagen sales director Dr Werner Schmidt and marketing director Edgar von Schenck. Wide-eyed at the experience, the combined might of Audi and Volkswagen management then sat round a table in the Alps and thrashed out the next course of action. Ferdinand Piech, aided by his lieutenants, took control of the situation.
Piech suggested that the turbocharged four-wheel-drive car should be built using the forthcoming Audi Coupe as its basis. This, he reasoned, would make the more stylish halo vehicle and it would serve as a better basis for a competition car, while still utilising the new B2 platform that would go under the Audi Coupe, Audi 80, Audi 90 and Volkswagen Passat. Only 400 examples of this special version would be needed to get the required FIA homologation to enter their magnificent four-wheel-drive supercar in the World Rally Championship, where it would compete on ice and snow, on gravel tracks and on paved roads against relatively simple cars like the Ford Escort and Saab 99.
Despite the tantalising success of their drive up Turracher Hohe, Piech met some resistance from the senior staff towards his plan. For one thing, the coupe was already a prestige model in the Audi range that was not yet launched – usurping it with an expensive high-performance version did not make commercial sense. Moreover, the management was not convinced that they could sell 400 examples of an expensive supercar. Piech prevailed only in getting their agreement to continue testing prototypes with the Audi 80 body alongside a handful of coupe examples.
While Treser and his fast-expanding team got to work on the prototypes, many meetings were held on how to sell the idea of a high-performance four-wheel-drive car to the public.
The performance version of the coupe had to look different to the standard model. It also had to comply with the body dimensions permitted by the Federation Internationale de Sport Auto (FISA), the world’s sanctioning body for motor sport, in order to compete in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The job of styling Ferdinand Piech’s supercar was handed to a young Englishman called Martin Smith. ‘The design of the coupe that the Quattro was based on was basically finalised when I arrived, so my brief was to make the Quattro look technical, to stress that it was the first 4×4 performance car,’ he later said.
‘I worked with a design model, and changed the fenders, the front end and the rear spoiler. I also came up with the flared arches… We submitted the final model to Toni Schmucker [then Volkswagen board chairman] for approval and I remember it was in metallic white and the Audi rings on the side were in orange.’
Another great question to be resolved was what the finished car was going to be called. For a project that was so precious to them, the engineers did not want Volkswagen’s marketing men to have the final call and when word reached them that the name Volkswagen was keenest on was Carat, the measure of gemstones and precious metals, the development team was appalled – Carat was a low-cost women’s perfume!
‘I tried the whole time to find a name that was not just a name but more a type of classification,’ Treser recalled. ‘And then we came up with Quattro – with two t’s and an r that rolled off the tongue much better.’
At the first opportunity, Treser and Bensinger went to the Volkswagen marketing men armed with Ferdinand Piech’s blessing and a scale model of Martin Smith’s handiwork. ‘The name Carat was presented in this meeting, I said: “Surely you don’t want to name this beautiful car after an ordinary women’s cologne?” I showed them the model, which didn’t make me any friends, but in the end it helped make sure that Quattro won out,’ Treser said with a chuckle.
In April 1978 a coupe-bodied Audi was transported in secrecy to the Hockenheimring circuit, newly established as the home of the German Grand Prix. Also present was a Porsche 928, which packed a punch of 240 bhp to the 160 bhp then being put out by the prototype Audi. Despite the endless straights that have sadly been shorn from Hockenheim’s majestic layout, the two cars lapped at almost an identical time thanks to the huge difference in cornering speed.
One month later, in May 1978, the boardroom fell. All of Piech’s demands would be met – there would be an initial production of 400 coupes called the Audi Quattro and there would be an entry in the World Rally Championship from which to showcase the technological marvel that his team had created An in-house competition department was Writing a book about a subject like the Audi Quattro is a daunting prospect, primarily because German cars, above all others, inspire such devotion. Whether it is Audi, BMW or Porsche, every specific sub-type, trim stripe and wiring loom is common knowledge to the cognoscenti – upon which the credibility of the end product will hinge.
Some things are basic enough: the original 2,144 cc 10-valve engine is the WR, the later 2,226 cc Group B homologation engines being the MB (10-valve) and RR (20-valve). But if ever you wish to enter a motoring bearpit, try the nomenclature of the Audi Quattro. At times it is like negotiating, like Monty Python’s Life of Brian, between the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front.
Read any coverage of rallies from 1981-86 and the Audi Quattro is mentioned, its ‘Q’ proudly capitalised whether in long or short wheelbase form. Of course the shorter cars of 1984 onwards were also called the Audi Sport Quattro. But what of the final, iconic monster? Audi Quattro S1 ? Audi Quattro S1 E2? Audi quattro E2?
In the British media particularly, the old standard has been that the original coupe of 1980-91 should be called the Quattro, as it is a noun, but that thereafter all later four-wheel-drive cars such as the Audi 200 quattro and Audi A4 quattro should be lower case as an adjective describing the transmission system. But in fact this is not so.
Thanks to the good offices of Franz Lang and the IG-Audi Sport team, comprised of original team members, much original documentation for the rally cars has been produced, and it is to these that this work will show deference. In the workshop nobody ever said ‘have you got a spare bonnet for an S1 E2?’ and if you use such terminology today you get a raised eyebrow and a sigh. The short wheelbase car was the Sport quattro and the winged car the S1. So it is that for the remainder of the book, the following terms will be used:
■ Group 4 (1981-82): Audi Quattro
■ Group B (1983-86, long wheelbase): Audi Quattro (suffix A1 or A2)
■ Group B (1984-86, short wheelbase): Audi Sport quattro
■ Group B (1985-86, redesigned short wheelbase): Audi Sport quattro S1
■ The term ‘Ur-Quattro’ (Ur being the primitive ancestor to modern cattle in Europe), has become popular among enthusiasts in recent years, after the phrase was once used by Jorg Bensinger and then proliferated via the Internet. If you’re a keyboard-wielding car guy then you know what an Ur-Quattro is but the phrase is much more recent than the cars that it describes… and describing a car like the Quattro in bovine terms seems somewhat disrespectful, unless you happen to be Jorg Bensinger.
Here endeth the lesson!
The Audi Quattro road cars would not be revealed to the world until the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, where in glistening pearlescent white paintwork the concept wrapped brilliantly within Martin Smith’s elegant coachwork left onlookers flabbergasted. Despite a price of DM49,900 – two-and-a-half times that of the Audi Coupe – in the end, all 400 of the original cars were sold swiftly. In fact, the Quattro would remain in production until 1991 by which time more than 11,000 of them had been built.
The road car’s story was one of pure success based upon that moment in Geneva when the world finally sat up and took notice of Audi. But if the public was suddenly wild about this elegant sports-coupe, it is easy to imagine the shockwaves that it sent through FISA and the manufacturers competing in the FIA World Rally Championship because this was decidedly not the sort of thing that they had been expecting at all…