PH HEROES: AUDI QUATTRO
David Vivian says happy thirtieth to the car that changed performance motoring forever
The Geneva motor show in 1980. Nice flowers
Thirty-one years ago, all Audis were good but dull. A year later, one had become the most famous car in the world. The Audi making its world debut three decades ago in 1980 didn't just take centre stage on its maker's stand at that year's Geneva salon, it became the focus of the entire show.
This gave Audi's engineers (including one Ferdinand Piech) the idea of developing a high-performance road car with four-wheel drive - one that could be used to the full in almost any conditions. The complete GT and, regulations permitting, ultimate rally weapon. And yet that wasn't really the clever bit. What made the Quattro concept so viable and enduring was that it was essentially a hum-drum amalgam of stock parts slotted together in an extraordinary way.
The Audi 80 floorpan and basic bodyshell from the forthcoming Audi Coupe were chosen, even though the 80's dead axle rear suspension wasn't compatible with the 4wd system. It was ditched and replaced by the front subframe and MacPherson strut suspension turned through 180 deg and with rigid track rods holding the steering arms (and allowing for rear toe-in adjustment). Audi 200 drive shafts and disc brakes were used front and rear, and the new power-assisted steering being developed for the Audi Coupe was specified.
The all-wheel drive hardware weighed just 165lb more than a light fwd system but only 70lb more than a rear-drive layout, while the anticipated mechanical efficiency losses never materialised. Audi discovered that tyres generate less rolling resistance when driven gently than when freewheeling. Prototypes went faster when driven by all four wheels than when the rear driveshafts were removed.
So the Quattro shaped the genre of affordable supercars for ordinary blokes. The Quattro evolved, too, and was such a potent weapon on a winding road in its final 1991 220bhp 20-valve incarnation that its currency hasn't significantly devalued 19 years on. Just look at the performance stats: 146mph top speed, 0-60mph in around six seconds, 100mph in eighteen. Two decades on, its performance and all-drive chassis are still right on the pace. It feels modern, supple, subtle and remarkably desirable. Even the boxy style and blistered wheelarches are starting to look good again.
But, 30 years ago, the Quattro made dog meat of most cars on a hard road. That included everything from featherweight two-seaters to full-on exotics. The enduring beauty of the experience is the accessibility of that core talent. There's a click-'n'-go simplicity to the Quattro that makes you a better driver than you ever thought you were. You don't need a Pentium Loeb processor in your bonce to do the business. Strap up, drive fast, never want to stop. What remains remarkable is how much of the performance you can safely use, and how often. And how effortlessly.
So, 30 years on, here's a car that urges you to get involved with your driving and do it properly: to brake a little later and turn in a little harder; to get on the power earlier and eat up the next straight.
If the car has a secret weapon, it's probably its uncanny ability to get its power down the instant you nail the apex. It's a cumulative thing. On that long and winding road it can add up to a substantial advantage. So that's the Quattro, a true 20th century icon. Audi may have built a better driver's car in the R8, but it has yet to match the Quattro's impact.