Ur Quattro, front end detail

On heroes and their influence: Audi Ur Quattro

In the 1980s, Ford was so proud to offer something beyond carburation that the fastest Capris and Granadas, and later the top-spec Ford Orion Ghia, were dubbed “Injection”. Elsewhere, “Turbo” came and went as a model designation in its own right – these days Porsche is among the few marques that regard the exhaust-driven compressor as anything more than a means of engine aspiration. 

Four-wheel drive seems still to be clinging on as a novelty, though – Mercedes and BMW both take great pains to point out which of its cars has drive to all four wheels, but it was arguably the other German marque that started it. Yes, four-wheel drive is nothing new – Mercedes had four-wheel drive race cars in the 1930s. But, other than Citroen with the Traction Avant, few significant car makers have had the chutzpah to name a car after its drivetrain layout. Enter Audi with the Quattro in 1980, and a legend was born.

Ur Quattro, front 3/4 shot

It’s a car that, from my point of view, has always lived in the background as something to admire – a doer of good things, but nothing to raise particular passion. Perhaps because I was born and raised in Essex – devout Ford territory – it was the Sierra Cosworth that raised my pre-pubescent blood pressure, and the RS200 came to mind when I thought of four-wheel drive rally cars. I always respected the Quattro, but it wasn’t until I was rather more grown up that I appreciated for form as well as function.

Now I’m 38, I find the ur Quattro quite painfully handsome. Let the superlatives flow; no metaphor is too hackneyed. If the plain Audi GT is clean and elegant in a slightly homely way, the Quattro’s box arches and tasteful aerodynamic addenda work like the beautifully judged evening dress that makes you realise just how hot Claire in human resources really is.

Key in hand, the Quattro is a car you approach with an sense of trepidation. This is a car so storied and steeped in historical significance that it builds up a kind of emotional barrier you have to break through before you can get properly acquainted. Fortunately, peering around the interior, picking out all the standard Audi GT parts and marvelling at the diagonal-stripe upholstery helps to break the ice.

Ur Quattro, under the bonnet

There’s such a sense of occasion when the bold digital dashboard glows into life that turning the key almost courts disappointment. The engine starts immediately, with barely a spin of the starter motor before it catches and five cylinders settle into an unintimidating idle. Listen attentively, though, and you can just pick out the syncopated beats that soundtracked years of childhood TV rally reports.

The beat intensifies as you pull away, but the initial driving impression is one of competence, rather than involvement. Whereas a Sierra Cosworth grabs you by the lapels from the outset, relentlessly jabbing you like Rocky Balboa’s sparring partner, the Quattro takes you by the hand and gently escorts you to the playing field. It’s up to you just what game you play when you get there.

The thing was; a matter of minutes before I slotted behind the wheel of the Quattro (whose cockpit was virtually made to measure for my oddly proportioned frame, I might add), I had been savouring Audi UK’s beautifully preserved 1979 100. And in that thing, despite it mustering just 115hp to heave its sizeable frame around Millbrook’s punishing hill route, I had fun from the moment we started rolling. 

1971 Audi 100

There’s a particular satisfaction to be found in a car whose dynamic limits are relatively low, but which behaves in a benign manner when you take things too far. The 100 was a joy, with yards of steering lock and tyres that squeal rewardingly at modest speeds, but seemingly without threat of ejecting me from the road and into the scenery. 

In the 100, you’re pleasingly invested in the process of driving at even modest speeds, while the Quattro seems to be doing everything for you. But that’s like saying that falling down the stairs is a more vivid experience than taking a bath. The fact is that the Quattro just gets on with the business of being driven with such brutal efficiency that you forget it’s a process at all.

The Quattro seemed almost grumpy when driving at five tenths, as if sulking that it was capable of so much more. And, while the drum and bass exhaust note was captivating, nothing much had yet defined it as anything particularly special. It was unflinchingly obedient, though. It required absolutely none of the “old car” allowance I tend to make when behind the wheel of a thirty year-old machine. However; there was revelry to be had – it’s just denied to any driver that doesn’t make the effort to find an opportunity. 

The reality of the matter is that the Quattro has such a deep well of talent that a schmuck like me is ill-equipped to properly explore it. Still, despite having two passengers on board, a strong desire to avoid breaking the car, and an even more firm resolve to earn a tosspot reputation among my colleagues, I had a damn good try.

Audi Ur Quattro rear 3/4 view

I had to wake the engine up. So far, that 20v, turbocharged five-pot way up front had done little but supply a musical accompaniment. I hadn’t yet heard its upper register, though, and began to carry a little more speed through corners in the hope of clearing its throat and freeing the Audi’s inner soprano. And, though most of the hill route’s corners are resolutely slow-in, fast out, there are some that can be dispatched with a reflexive flick, and these particularly suit a car with four-wheel drive traction. 

When the turbocharger is spinning, the Quattro becomes a paintbrush in the fingers of an artist, but it was as good as I could do to daub the canvas with abstract blobs. It flattered my attempts at probing its capabilities, though, there’s no doubt whatsoever: every time it grabbed hold of the tarmac and thrust me through my chosen apex, it almost convinced me that I was the talented one. I never lost the sense, though, that the car yearned for wider, faster roads and a more skilful driver.

I had been granted a tantalising taste of just what the Quattro could do, and I got a second dose at the end of my drive. Returning to where the heritage cars were parked on this occasion, there’s a short gravel access track which I entered at what I thought was a modest, respectful speed. Yet, as if it sensed that it was on its favourite terrain, my passengers and I felt the car dance around us, just slightly. For just a few seconds, power was being squirted to each wheel as and when it needed it, and the Quattro felt very palpably alive. 

I know I’m one to rather emotionally overdo it in prose, but I felt something of a tingle run through my spine, as if i had encountered something esoteric that I might never know again. Now on grass, we trundled to the spot from which we had set off, I silenced the engine and watched that LCD cluster flicker to black. Exhale.

The Ur Quattro, even by today’s standards is a very, very capable car, but there’s far more to it than that. It’s been eclipsed by far faster machinery by now, of course, but to have any more performance than this reeks of gluttony and excess. What we have here is a car with the very spirit of rallying encoded into its DNA, and it never lets you forget just how significant a role it still plays in the theatre of motoring. 

As a driving experience, well, you get what you deserve. It’s only too willing to show you what it can do – if it feels that you’ve earned it.

(All images Chris Haining /Hooniverse 2019. Thanks to Audi UK for letting me play in their Quattro and 100. Really. Thank you)

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10 responses to “On heroes and their influence: Audi Ur Quattro”

  1. outback_ute Avatar

    Nice one Chris. Coincidentally a guy at work was telling me about having a spin in his brother’s new R34 Skyline GT-R on the weekend. It is basically stock, so he was told it would probably feel a bit slow compared to modern cars, and he definitely found the interior to be dated, but it was still a thrill.

    Plus they are about twice the price of what they used to be a few years ago.

    1. JayP Avatar

      I have a head start on ya! I have a few more but they’re locked away… or I forgot where they are.

      1. fede Avatar

        wow, very nice!

      2. theskig Avatar

        I have the Majorette, the one with yellow stripes on the side!

  2. nanoop Avatar

    Don’t forget to mention the engineer behind the quattro who came from Porsche, literally, and went on to make VW Number One while creating the corporate culture of fear that made Dieselgate possible.

  3. desmo Avatar

    The more often I see pics of these old wedges, the more I think that 80s edge design should come back. It was sensible and sporty without bravado.

  4. crank_case Avatar

    The only pre-quattro car that made a big deal of being 4WD that I can think of is the Jensen FF – FF stands for Ferguson Formula, after Harry Ferguson of Ferguson tractor linkage fame that saved countless farmers lives and limbs. Ford built a prototype Mustang with the system (remember Ford already was in partnership with Ferguson for tractors, that they ripped him off on, but that’s another story) in the 60s and rally history might have been very different, but then we wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy the RWD Escort era of rallying. 4WD and group B is cool and all, but it’s the naturally aspirate RWD cars like Escorts/Alpines/Imps/Davrian/Lotus Sunbeam/Porsche 911/AE86/BMW M3 that I most enjoy watching, they’re all about that balletic balance through the corner, where the 4WD Quattro was suited to a more brutal style, just brake it hard into the corner, try to scrub the understeer just enough to turn in without spinning, then power out as soon as possible. 4WD isn’t better at cornering, it’s just got better going in and out of them, they’re really point and squirt machines.


    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      And ABS before anyone else, too.

      And long before that, another European make introduced AWD, four wheel brakes AND the six cylinder engine. The 1903 Spyker.


  5. JayP Avatar

    Try being a fan of Audi in Texas… in the 90’s when Audi USA was about to exit the market.
    I labored on with an early 5000, later 5000s quattro and 2 A4s. As dealer support and quality started to waiver I found driving Fords less hearbreak.

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