Auto Union (1949-1984): History of The Four Rings, Part 2

Audi Quattro (1980)

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Quattro – “A four wheel-drive vehicle with more power, that would be my car. That would put all others in the shade”, said Jörg Bensinger, chief chassis engineer at Audi, on his return from a winter test drive in Sweden in 1977. This was the start of a project to develop a permanent four-wheel drive system for a passenger car. Development work took just under three years. The new concept was modelled on the Iltis, an off-road vehicle built for the German military. Other names such as “quadro” and “Carat” (the German acronym for Coupé All-Wheel-Drive Turbo) were discussed before “quattro” was finally selected.

The Audi image at this time was a conservative one, and so, a proposal from chassis engineer Jörg Bensinger was accepted to develop the four-wheel drive technology in Volkswagen’s Iltis military vehicle for an Audi performance car and rally racing car. The performance car, introduced in 1980, was named the “Audi Quattro”, a turbocharged coupé which was also the first German large-scale production vehicle to feature permanent all-wheel drive through a centre differential. Commonly referred to as the “Ur-Quattro” (the “Ur-” prefix is a German augmentative used, in this case, to mean “original” and is also applied to the first generation of Audi’s S4 and S6 Sport Saloons, as in “UrS4” and “UrS6”), few of these vehicles were produced (all hand-built by a single team), but the model was a great success in rallying (something we’ll talk about later in the week). Prominent wins proved the viability of all-wheel-drive race cars, and the Audi name became associated with advances in automotive technology.

The transfer of the four-wheel drive principle from an off-road vehicle to a sporty saloon car called above all for an increase in ride comfort. This was ultimately guaranteed by an elegant hollow-shaft construction for the inter-axle differential which distributes power between the front and rear wheels. The five-cylinder turbo engine with 200 PS clearly positioned the Audi Quattro in the sporty, high-performance class.

Check back tomorrow for Part 3 in this week-long feature series!

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