Journal: The Ur-quattro Was Audi's Engineering Dream

The Ur-quattro Was Audi’s Engineering Dream

Avatar By Alan Franklin
April 15, 2013
24 comments

Before Quattro was a household name, before it was fitted as standard to slews of crossovers and staid, automatic sedans, before the mighty R8 reinvented the entry-level supercar, and long before the current era of AWD, turbo dominance in WRC, there was the “Ur”.

Ur translates roughly from German as “the first”, or “the origin”. Though officially called simply “Quattro”, fans of the car have given it this nickname in order to distinguish it from its lesser, younger siblings.

It all started sometime in the late seventies, when Ferdinand Piëch, grandson of Dr. Porsche and the man behind the Le Mans-winning 917, challenged Audi’s best engineers to build a new car, its only design requirements that it be the embodiment of their collective dream drive. Enter chassis engineer Jörg Bensinger, who proposed the basic Quattro formula after being inspired by his discovery that nothing could out-perform a VW Iltis (sort of a light Jeep used by German military) on snow, regardless of power.

Released in 1980, the Quattro was not only the first AWD and turbocharged passenger car, it was also the first rally car to take advantage of this new layout, only recently allowed through WRC rules changes. Across several different iterations and formulas, the Quattro was nearly undefeatable, making Michèle Mouton, Stig Blomqvist, Hannu Mikkola and Walter Röhrl among the most famous rally pilots of all-time. So utterly dominant was the boxy new LWB hatch that soon after its competition debut, all major manufacturers competing in international rally racing abandoned their RWD, naturally aspirated machines completely, instead adopting Audi’s revolutionary new recipe for all-road, all-condition traction and agility.

Hanging way out over the front axle (nearly touching the grill!) the Ur’s turbocharged inline five churned out anywhere from 200 to 217 HP in its lifetime, the higher figure from later cars which supplanted the original’s SOHC, 10-valve head for one with double the cams and valves. Inside, the Quattro was all-business, with typical German austerity to the layout of things, meaning lots of dark-colored plastics and simple, but effective ergonomics—the highlight of which were center-console mounted differential controls. The heated Recaros were pretty awesome, too, though the red-on-red digital instruments of later cars are a bit more controversial—personally, I love ‘em. Nothing says 1980s like big red LCDs.

Known for their resolutely neutral balance, the Quattro displayed little or none of the chronic understeer later performance-oriented AWD cars show (are you paying attention, Subaru?). Combined with unbeatable traction in nearly any kind of weather, a well-controlled and compliant ride, strong four-wheel discs and a comfy, well-equipped cabin, it was a new kind of GT. There was simply no faster way of covering ground in comfort than in a well-driven Quattro, which goes a long way towards explaining its popularity among Skiers and residents of mountain towns.

In total, Quattro production reached only 11,452 cars between 1980 and 1991, ensuring their mystique, and prices, remain high. Today, the Ur’s legacy lives on in unexpected places. Lamborghini and Bugatti, for instance, equip every car they make with AWD systems honed with knowledge gained through decades of Audi experience, allowing previously unimaginable amounts of power and torque to be harnessed in a way that allows mere mortals to drive cars capable of speeds unattainable even in Formula 1—and it all began back in the dying days of disco with a magical, unmistakable five cylinder warble.

Photo Sources: VWVortex.com, TheDriversDaily.com, AutoTrendReview.blogspot.com, MotorLegend.com

Join the Conversation
Related

24
Leave a Reply

16 Comment threads
8 Thread replies
2 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
14 Comment authors
robclubleydjs030972..Greg SparkTony DoyPer Eldh Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
trackback

[…] above the remodeled (and still sizable) central grille that are meant to evoke Audi’s famous original Quattro model from the 1980s. Out back, there’s a redesigned rear diffuser with central vent. There are […]

trackback

[…] the remodeled (and still sizable) central grille that are meant to evoke Audi’s famous original Quattro model from the 1980s. Out back, there’s a redesigned rear diffuser with central vent. There […]

trackback

[…] above the remodeled (and still sizable) central grille that are meant to evoke Audi’s famous original Quattro model from the 1980s. Out back, there’s a redesigned rear diffuser with central vent. There are […]

trackback

[…] above the remodeled (and still sizable) central grille that are meant to evoke Audi’s famous original Quattro model from the 1980s. Out back, there’s a redesigned rear diffuser with central vent. There are […]

trackback

[…] above the remodeled (and still sizable) central grille that are meant to evoke Audi’s famous original Quattro model from the 1980s. Out back, there’s a redesigned rear diffuser with central vent. There are […]

trackback

[…] above the remodeled (and still sizable) central grille that are meant to evoke Audi’s famous original Quattro model from the 1980s. Out back, there’s a redesigned rear diffuser with central vent. There are […]

trackback

[…] above the remodeled (and still sizable) central grille that are meant to evoke Audi’s famous original Quattro model from the 1980s. Out back, there’s a redesigned rear diffuser with central vent. There are […]

robclubley
robclubley

Finally got mine on the road after nearly three years. Very much my dream car.
https://www.facebook.com/ProjectRustyquattro

Tony Doy
Tony Doy

The car is undeniably a milestone in automotive Engineering, but I’d have to disagree with Alan’s “resolutely neutral” handling. Having owned a well sorted 1983 10V Urq, the engine mass hanging out in front of the front wheels made for basic understeer behavior that you had to drive “around” to make rapid progress. The early center / rear diff technology didn’t really help (either locked / unlocked). In contrast, driving a 2012 STi on a track day IS a neutral and very predictable experience – maturity in AWD and differential tech making this possible. Still miss the Urq a little… Read more »

Per Eldh
Per Eldh

Neutral balance..? You drunk or paid by Audi?
Watch any video out there and you’ll see why when Peugeot entered the game, Audi’s time in Group B was up.
By 1984, it was clear mid-engine was the key and the 205 won pretty much everything, until Lancia came with its Delta S4. Still Peugeot won the WRC in both 1985 and 1986, while the Quattro S1 helplessly tugged its way thru the corners. Eventually Lancia and Peugeot even matched Audi in BHP, which made them lag even further behind.
Such stories Audi doesn’t seem to keen on telling today! 🙂

Greg Spark
Greg Spark

@Per Eldh: that’s harsh. And wrong. Have you actually driven an Ur quattro at the limit? I own a 20V RR and I can tell you that it is only modern multi-diff electronically controlled AWDs that have conquered the inherent understeer of front heavy AWD drivetrains better than the Ur quattro did. That Audi did it in the infancy of AWD is truly miraculous and your derision of such an engineering achievement reflects more on you than on Audi. And no I’m not paid by Audi. Or drunk…….maybe you could discuss things rather than mock people?

Andrew Chow
Andrew Chow

The last surviving urQuattro in Singapore, maintained with no regard to cost:

[IMG]http://i580.photobucket.com/albums/ss249/ACSGP/L1080573.jpg[/IMG]

djs030972..
djs030972..

Hi Andrew – I am based in Singapore and very keen to contact you re your Audi as I need some advice….. I can be reached on dan1972@gmail.com
Thanks<
Dan

Judd Evans
Judd Evans

New to Petrolicious, found the site via a nice video report re the Ur Quat. I’m a big Audi fan, have owned an Ur Quat, and currently keep a regularly used 286,000 mile 1991 200 20V TQ Avant for the dogs and myself here in the mountains of Colorado. I’ve had a pearl white Avant , 3 different 91 TQ sedans, and a 94 UrS4. Great cars! My DD Avant has 3 sets of tires and wheels, race track, winter, and touring and is probably the only 2 tone Audi wagon in existence , Lago blue and black. I’m now… Read more »

Burt Munro
Burt Munro

It was also available in the lower-priced-higher-volume NA FWD version, the Audi Coupe.

Not quite as weird as the 400 5+5, but far more likely to be seen than a real Ur Quattro (at least in my ‘hood).

BEreal
BEreal

My buddy Pete and I had the pleasure of piloting an ’81 Quattro through Western Europe in the winter of ’82 while on holiday from college. Blasting the Autobahn and attending the start of the Paris de Car race were a few of the highlights. Translating forward to today, my daughter loves her A3 (Quattro w/DSG). Good article to spur old memories.

john tolle
john tolle

Magic! That sums it up. I always come back to it and the 20 valves.

Niklaus Gingro
Niklaus Gingro

Great article! Thanks for throwing some Audi in the mix! The Ur Quattro will forever be on my bucket list, but they’re getting very hard to find in the US – but if you like them the UrS4/UrS6 has the same 20V Turbo 5, with a bit more practicality (4 doors, huge trunk, and an avant UrS6 if you can find one), and can be had for much less money.

Niklaus Gingro
Niklaus Gingro

Yup, that’s mine! ‘95.5 UrS6 – amazing car!

Jonathon Glazebrook
Jonathon Glazebrook

Looks just like mine…’cept I was one of the lucky ones to find a nicely maintained Avant.

Niklaus Gingro
Niklaus Gingro

Looks fantastic! I’ve got the same wheels with summers on mine.

Walter Moore
Walter Moore

My daily driver is a 95 S6 as well. I agree – a bargain, reliable as old cars go, and such a great engine.