Audi's 1980s rallying revolution - Motorsport Moments

A humble 4x4 inspired engineers to build the Audi Quattro, the car that transformed the WRC

Some racing cars are so good that they define the era in which they competed. But it takes a really special model to revolutionise the sport as a whole. The Audi Quattro is one such vehicle.

The Quattro was the brainchild of Volkswagen engineer Jörg Bensinger, who noticed when testing the company’s Iltis military 4x4 that it was much quicker in poor conditions than more powerful machinery. He and colleague Roland Gumpert proposed the idea of a four-wheel-drive performance car to VW overlord Ferdinand Piëch, and approval for the Audi Quattro was given in 1977.

The car premiered at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, but Piëch had already decided that the coupé’s four-wheel-drive technology made it ideal for motorsport. Indeed, in 1979, before the Quattro was made public, Audi had applied to FISA, motorsport’s governing body, for four-wheel drive to be made legal in rallying. The rule makers and other manufacturers saw little reason to object, because the Ingolstadt brand was a relative unknown, and four-wheel drive was deemed too heavy and complex to be competitive.

So when the Quattro made its competition debut on the 1980 Algarve Rally, there was little more than idle curiosity among rally veterans, even though Flying Finn Hannu Mikkola was driving. As it turned out, the event would go down in history as Mikkola, running as non-competitive course car, set times that would have won him the event by almost 30 minutes.

There was genuine trepidation, therefore, by the time Mikkola and team-mate Michèle Mouton turned up at the start of the 1981 World Championship. Sure enough, the car was a winner in only its second event, as Mikkola cruised to victory on a snowy Swedish Rally. Two more wins would follow in that debut season, although teething troubles prevented a full-scale assault.

The Quattro’s complexity, bulk and weight distribution remained an issue on asphalt, but slowly the team, now led by Gumpert himself, worked through the issues. Mikkola would go on to score championship success in 1983, while Stig Blomqvist backed that up with his own title in 1984.

However, even by the time of that second success, the likes of the purpose-built Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 were snapping at the big Audi’s heels. The Quattro was created for Group 4 rules, and as new models arrived to take advantage of the fabled Group B category, it became harder for the front-engined Audi to stay in touch. 

The shortened Sport Quattro went only some way to correcting this, and even the vehicle’s most famous incarnation, the bewinged E2, won only a single WRC round – although the car had later success at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb in the US. 

By 1985, in fact, Audi was testing a mid-engined Quattro, giving works driver Walter Röhrl a real thrill when he sampled it. But the car didn’t make it to competition before Group B span out of control and was banned.

Even so, the Quattro’s legacy as a sporting trailblazer is secure. Forty years after its debut, it’s still a car that Audi refers to in marketing material; a sign of the key role it played in cementing the brand’s status.

What's your favourite rally car? Let us know in the comments below...

Continue Reading


New 2022 BMW M2 spotted wearing lighter camouflage
BMW M2 2022 spy - front
BMW 2 Series Coupe

New 2022 BMW M2 spotted wearing lighter camouflage

Fresh spy shots provide our best look yet at the new 400bhp BMW M2, ahead of the car’s launch later this year
13 Jan 2022
Hennessey Venom F5 in new high-speed testing video
Hennessey Venom F5 - action

Hennessey Venom F5 in new high-speed testing video

Hennessey has posted a video on social media showing its new 1,792bhp twin-turbo V8 Venom F5 hypercar screaming down a runway
11 Jan 2022
Best new cars coming in 2022
Best new cars coming in 2022 - header image
Best cars & vans

Best new cars coming in 2022

The world may be changing all the time but that doesn't stop manufacturers planning ahead. From electric crossovers to hatchbacks, these are the new m…
10 Jan 2022
New Audi Q6 e-tron: details and specs of 2022 electric SUV
Audi Q6 e-tron - spyshot 2

New Audi Q6 e-tron: details and specs of 2022 electric SUV

All we know so far about the new Audi Q6 e-tron - which uses an all-new platform jointly developed with Porsche
24 Dec 2021

Most Popular

Best electric cars to buy 2022
Best electric cars
Electric cars

Best electric cars to buy 2022

There are more electric cars than ever to choose from, so we've picked some of the best you can buy in the UK now
10 Jan 2022
'The best car in the world is Korean'
Opinion Mike Rutherford

'The best car in the world is Korean'

Mike Rutherford praises Hyundai and Kia's joint win in Best Cars of the Year
16 Jan 2022
Top 10 best hybrid cars to buy 2022
Best hybrid cars - header image
Hybrid cars

Top 10 best hybrid cars to buy 2022

Hybrid power is the way forward if the car industry is to be believed so we've found the top 10 best hybrid cars to buy now...
2 Jan 2022