Audi changed the game when they brought out the first Quattro rally car. Up until the 1980’s, if you walked the track after a normal rally car had completed a stage; there would be two tyre marks on the road. The Quattro left four, as stones were hurled from each wheel. It was a new phenomenon.
This isn’t to say that up until then four wheel drive was prohibited in rallies – it had been legal since a 1979 rule change – it’s just that no-one had thought of it. A Range Rover was never going to be able to compete against the rear wheel drive Escorts, Chevettes, Asconas, and later more specialised offerings such as the Lancia 037s.
That’s when Audi came up with an idea no-one had had before. Purely for the purposes of experimentation, they effectively crammed the running gear of a Volkswagen Iltis off-roader into a 1980’s saloon to see if it could cope with the rigours of icy Bavarian and Austrian winters. What resulted changed the rallying world forever.
Four wheel drive could put the power down better on every surface other than the most perfect – and these were naturally at a premium in rallying – from the icy tracks of the Monte, to the gravel tracks of Wales, and the plains of Kenya. It didn’t take long for every other manufacturer to follow suit and roll out their own four wheel drive prototypes.
When the road going Quattro was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980, it was an instant success. Handling may have been focused on the front wheels but it was awesome in all weathers, providing high-performance drivers with safety speed and comfort the like of which they had never seen. The grunt came from a turbocharged five-cylinder engine, which could initially produce 197bhp.