The Audi Sport Quattro

The Car that Changed Rally Racing Forever

March 30, 2015 Cars By Photo by Bonhams
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Good cars are a dime a dozen, and they get you from point A to point B daily, with little drama or fanfare. But great cars are a different breed. They’re memorable for more than just consistency. They inspire driving, and their road prowess is spoken of, lusted after and ardently sought after for generations. The Audi Sport Quattro sits in the realm of “Great”, and the Ingolstadt manufacturer has built its now-stellar reputation on the foundation of their permanent all-wheel-drive Quattro system. But that car is far more than just a historical moment for the brand. All past and present all-wheel-drive rally cars owe their status to the dirt-throwing wheels of the original, blocky Quattro. And what was once a cult favorite amongst the racing cognoscenti is now highly sought after at auctions because of its racing history, rarity and unabashed cool.

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What It’s All About

The Sport Quattro is known for one thing — changing rally racing forever. What was once a series for either rear-wheel- or front-wheel-drive cars changed when Audi took advantage of the new rules of Group B racing (they essentially made the sky the limit for the cars). Before the Sport Quattro, manufacturers thought all-wheel-drive systems were too complicated and too burdensome to bother with. Then the Sport Quattro built on the winning history of the Quattro A1 and A2 and quieted the naysayers. In 1984, with Stig Blomqvist at the wheel, the Sport Quattro won both the Manufacturer’s and Driver’s Championship. That victory continued to build the argument that all-wheel-drive setup could not only work, but could be the best.

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The traction present in conditions like mud, gravel, ice and snow gave the Quattro a leg up on the competition, and after it proved itself, all-wheel-drive became the de-facto drive system for most competition rally cars. The Subaru Impreza WRC, the Peugeot 206, the Ford Focus RS — all of these followed in the Quattro’s tire treads. To mark the shift, Audi has since given a lower-case “q” to every subsequent quattro that came after the rally icon. For homologation purposes, only a few were made, and those original capital “Q” Quattros are rarer than even the 272 Ferrari 288 GTO.

Technical Rundown

Although the Sport Quattro made Quattro’s all-wheel-drive famous, it wasn’t the first to run the system. A car named the Ur-Quattro ran Quattro first, but that model’s longer wheelbase, heavy body and balance issues (due to the longitudinally mounted engine) made it less successful in competition. So Audi engineers developed the more purpose-built Sport. The Sport Quattro benefitted from a shortened wheelbase that chopped off 12.6 inches between the B-pillar and C-pillar. The steel body was also lightened by the use of fiberglass and carbon Kevlar panels, solving the problem of the Ur-Quattro’s weightiness.

Front and rear differential locking. And yes, that is an "ABS off" switch.

Front and rear differential locking. And yes, that is an “ABS off” switch.

Even more impressive than the beautiful squared-ness of the Sport Quattro and the lightness of the body was the seemingly small-displacement engine that hid a beast underneath the hood. The 2.1-liter five-cylinder engine — whose relatively small size was required by the FIA because the engine’s big KKK-K27 turbocharger delivered 17 psi — emitted over 450 horsepower in competition trim. The road-going cars that were produced and made available only to Audi’s top-notch customers had an output of 302 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, providing a 0-60 sprint in 4.8 seconds and handily beating far more exotic cars like the Ferrari 308 and the Porsche 930 Turbo. The Sport Quattro’s other performance-enhancing features included Bosch electronic fuel injection, fully independent front and rear suspension, a five-speed manual transmission and an advanced selectable anti-lock braking system.

Its Place in History

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The Sport Quattro took the best of what Audi engineers had to offer in a hyper-competitive Group B racing environment and created a legend in the annals of racing history. What was once a car that was only known to racing enthusiasts is now one of the most sought-after cars at auction, with prices nearly doubling in the past few years. In January of this year, a pristine version sold for just over $430,000 at auction — evidence that the rare race-bred car is growing in popularity as a collector car.