The first Audi Quattro rally car changed the face of competition. Until the ’80s, if you followed a normal rally car through a stage, you’d see just two tyre marks on the road. The Quattro left four, as it hurled stones from each tyre: very peculiar.
It wasn’t that four-wheel drive wasn’t allowed in rallies – it had been since a rule-change in 1979, just that nobody had thought of it before, and a Range Rover was never going to be competitive against the lightweight rear-drive Escorts, Chevettes, Asconas and, later, more specialised kit such as Lancia 037s.
But when Audi achieved the masterstroke of stuffing four wheel-drive Volkswagen Iltis off-roader running gear into an 80 saloon, just as an experiment to see how it could cope with icy Bavarian and Austrian winters, the knock-on effect was to change the rallying world forever.
Four-wheel drive could put the power down better on all but the most perfect surfaces – and there aren’t many of those in rallying – from the ice of the Monte, to the gravel of Wales and the plains of Kenya. Soon every manufacturer had four-wheel-drive prototypes designed, built and pressed into service.
The road-going car was an instant hit when in was launched at the 1980 Geneva motor show. While it’s handling was largely front-wheel drive biased, it possessed mighty all-weather ability, providing high-performance drivers with safety, speed and comfort like never before. Power came from a turbocharged five-cylinder engine, initially producing 197bhp.
Which model to buy?
The Quattro evolved over the years, so there are many different versions to choose from. Early 10-valve cars are the rarest, while the slightly later post-1984 facelift models are the more common and also boast many changes that ultimately improved the car. The earliest quattros can be identified by their left-hand drive windscreen wiper layout, four square headlights and analogue gauges.
While most early quattros left the factory with a set of six-inch Ronal alloy wheels, although the optional seven-inch Fuchs are extremely desirable. Later post-1984 cars were fitted with eight-inch Ronal alloys.
Most enthusiasts tend to favour the last-of–the-line 20-valve cars, and these are the most valuable today. Although it’s the quickest and most powerful, some actually rate the earlier cars as being slightly sweeter to drive, so don’t make your mind up without first trying a few different examples.
Performance and spec
Audi quattro 20v
Engine 2226cc, in-line five-cylinder
Transmission Five-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power 220bhp @ 5900rpm
Torque 229lb ft @ 1950rpm
Top speed 141mph
• As you might expect, rust can be a serious issue with the quattro. Early pre-1985 models are by far the worst, but even the later galvanised cars can suffer corrosion issues – if not quite to the same extent. A car built after 1988 should be the best in terms of rust protection.
• Check the sills, which will rust especially if the car has been incorrectly jacked up, as well as the door bottoms and wheel arches. Finding some panels is becoming difficult; so don’t underestimate the job of replacing rusty panels.
• As always, crash damage is always a possibility, so check for mismatched paint, poorly fitting panels and bent chassis legs.
• There were three different versions of the distinctive five-cylinder engine. The earliest 10-valve 2.1-litre WR engine is the most troublesome, although is generally good for around 150,000miles before a rebuild is needed.
• Post 1987 MB engines, and the 20-valve RR powerplant are both substantially hardier, and if serviced regularly give very little trouble before hitting 200,000miles.
• The big thing to look out for is a failed turbocharger, which is generally diagnosed by checking for blue exhaust smoke. This is a bigger problem on early cars, although it’s a possibility on all of them.
• Start the car up from stone cold if possible. This will let you listen out for any ticking noises from the exhaust manifold, which can indicate a crack. As new manifolds aren’t available, this can cost a lot of time and money to put right.
• If the car is struggling to run without stuttering or pulling away cleanly, it’s likely the rubber intercooler hoses have perished.
• One of the major things to inspect is the external oil cooler that sits behind the front bumper, as the pipes can corrode, dropping the oil and destroying the engine.
• A car that fails to start, or runs very badly, it could be a failed inlet manifold pressure sensor. The giveaway is a constantly high reading on the turbo boost gauge.
• The timing belt needs to be changed every five years of 45,000 miles. This is a specialist job.
• Gearboxes are hugely expensive to rebuild, and are difficult to source second hand, but thankfully they are also very hard wearing.
• The synchromesh can wear on any gear if the car has been abused. It is easy to spot s weak or damaged synchro when the car is cold, as it will crunch into gears more easily.
• Expect a clutch to last for up to 150,000 miles, but if it has been changed ask which replacement was used. Sachs is the most reliable choice.
• Definitely check that the diff lock engages and disengages correctly. If it is slow to react it may just require lubrication.
• Suspension bushes tend to take a bit of a beating if the car is driven enthusiastically. Subframe bushes, both front and back, are usually the first to cause problems. Wishbone bushes also split and perish, but these are an easy fix.
• Rough roads, or lots of hard driving can cause the rear subframe to crack, although replacement is relatively cheap.
• The quattro is very sensitive to poor wheel alignment, and this should be checked annually. The steering will feel dull and a little lifeless if it isn’t set-up correctly.
• Although it’s almost impossible to feel play in the front wheel bearings, there will be groaning from the front end if you turn the steering while stood still, if they need replacement.
• The iconic Ronal alloy wheels can suffer from buckling on the inside due to the width. It’s hard to check this without removing the wheels, but if there’s a vibration at speed, this is the first port of call.
• Rear brakes will suffer from lack of use, causing issues with the handbrake. The only cure is a new pair of calipers.
• The electronics on the earliest quattros can be a little bit troublesome, although the post-1983 models are substantially better.
• Make sure all of the instruments are functioning – including the particularly special digital dashboard. Most problems can be traced to corroded connections or a tired fusebox.
• Interior trim is impossible to find new, so finding a car in great condition is your best bet.
Websites and clubs
March 1980: The Audi Quattro is introduced, with quad square headlamps, 6J wheels, 2144cc SOHC straight-five and LHD only.
November 1980: UK quattro deliveries start, initially LHD only.
September 1982: RHD cars go on sale and integrated Cibie headlights fitted.
October 1983: Car gets digital instrument pack, while Bosch ABS is made standard. Third and fourth gear ratios are modified to improve acceleration.
March 1984: Suspension lowered by 20mm, and wider Ronal 8J wheels fitted. Short-wheelbase Sport quattro Group B homologation special arrives: 214 built (164 road cars) with 20-valve 300bhp engine, five-speed gearbox.
September 1984: Mild front end facelift with new headlights and grille. Other changes include smoked rear light lenses and a painted rear spoiler.
November 1987: Engine grows to 2226cc, although the power output remains unchanged officially. A higher compression ratio and smaller water-cooled turbo improves drivability. Torsen centre differential introduced, while the sunroof is made standard.
October 1989: Engine upgraded to a new 20-valve unit pushing out 220bhp. The potential power increase was hampered by a new three-way catalytic converter. The interior was also given a bit of a refresh, while the quattro badge on the boot was no longer fitted.
Spring 1991: The final quattro rolls off the production line, after a total run of 11,452 cars.
Summary and prices
There are quite a lot of quattros on the market, but many will be hiding big bills so it pays to do your homework. A 10-valve quattro can cost up to £20,000 for the best (up to 50 per cent more for a quad-headlight model), with an average car coming in at between £12000-£15,000. Projects can be found for around £8000.
If you’re after the 20-valve model, then you’ll have to spend a lot more. They are the best sorted cars, and the fastest, meaning values have risen sharply in recent years. Expect to pay up to and above £40,000 for the very best. More rough and ready examples can be found from £25,000, with £30,000 buying something presentable.