“We wanted to create the impression of a car that’s ‘glued to the ground’ – with capability rather than elegance in the foreground. And this formal concept has justified itself as effective, correct and credible.” These were the terms in which Hartmut Warkuss, who was head of design at that time, later described the first quattro. Derived from the Audi 80 Coupé, but with sharp-edged body styling, it was presented to journalists on March 3, 1980 at an indoor ice-skating rink close to the exhibition ground at which the Geneva Motor Show was being held.
The new five-seater coupé had a compact 2,524 mm wheelbase and an overall length of 4,404 mm. It ran on 6-inch forged alloy wheels supplied by the Fuchs company. Dr. Ferdinand Piëch was well aware of the fact that with this car he was writing a new chapter in automobile engineering. His speech concluded with the words: “Today sees the première of all-wheel drive for the roadgoing passenger car.”
The epoch-making quattro – the name was Walter Treser’s idea – was enthusiastically received: its revolutionary driveline concept and sporty character convinced the journalists immediately. The five-cylinder turbocharged and charge-air intercooled engine, with a displacement of 2,144 cc, developed 147 kW (200 bhp) at the maximum boost pressure of 0.85 bar and reached its maximum torque of 285 Nm at an engine speed of 3,500 rpm. The quattro weighed 1,290 kilograms and could sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds and reach a top speed of over 220 km/h. Its permanent traction, firm, sporty suspension settings and functional interior design revealed this new model to be an out-and-out ‘driving machine’.
The quattro took its place at the top of the manufacturer’s programme for that model year - not only in terms of its high performance, but also of its selling price: 49,900 German marks. Despite this considerable sum, sales figures rocketed when the first cars reached the showrooms in November 1980. In the first two full years of the car’s production cycle, almost 2,000 left the N 2 individual assembly building in Ingolstadt. The first 400 were needed as evidence that the Group 4 world rally championship regulations had been complied with.
The ‘original quattro’, as its fans now call it, remained in production until 1991; during this period 11,452 cars were built. In the first few production years the interior became steadily more sophisticated in its materials, but there were also a few minor technical changes, for example digital displays and speech-output warnings, the anti-lock braking system and running-gear modifications. An update was carried out in the autumn of 1987, and bestowed the Torsen centre differential and a slightly larger five-cylinder engine on the quattro: the new power unit retained the original power output of 147 kW (200 bhp), but developed greater low-speed torque. In 1989 the power output was raised to 162 kW (220bhp) by installing a new four-valve cylinder head; the top speed increased to 230 km/h.
A special model in the quattro programme appeared in 1984, and still enjoys a legendary reputation: this was the Sport quattro with the wheelbase reduced to a mere 2,204 mm and a newly developed four-valve turbocharged engine with an aluminium cylinder block; this had a power output of 225 kW (306 bhp). Although nominally a roadgoing car, extensive use of Kevlar and other weight-saving materials confirmed that this special model was also a serious rally contender. 224 of this ‘short version’, as it was known, were built, and enabled Audi to homologate its rally entries in Group B. The purchase price, too, was high enough to ensure more than a modicum of exclusivity: 203,850 German marks.