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Hannu Mikkola and longtime co-driver Arne Hertz spray the course with mud on their way to victory at the 1987 Safari Rally in East Africa.Professional driver on a closed course. Always examine unknown areas in advance, adjusting your speed and driving style to road condition. NEVER enter water that has a current or where you do not know depth.
How a four-wheeled idea bore Audi rally fame and iconic road-gripping technology
On a gorgeous day in Nairobi in April 1987, legendary Audi Quattro driver Hannu Mikkola won his 18th and final World Rally Championship event. It must have been a surreal win after a sleepless three-day rally on some of the circuit’s toughest terrain and over five years atop the leader board with the Audi Sport program. But there he was, standing on the hood of his Audi 200 Quattro in the Winner’s Circle holding a giant bottle of champagne in the middle of East Africa. It proved to be the final WRC win before the Audi Sport program moved away from rally, but just the beginning of the multifaceted history of Audi Quattro—or “quattro®.”
Over a decade earlier and far from Nairobi, quattro® began as an idea in the ice and snow of Sweden. Testing the Volkswagen Iltis in the winter of 1976, Jörg Bensinger—chief chassis engineer for Audi—discovered that although the military vehicle had a high center of gravity, it handled better than other vehicles.
When he returned to the chassis department at the Audi research and development facility in Ingolstadt, Germany, Bensinger developed the idea to produce a four-wheel drive sedan that would maximize the benefits he found in his research with front- and rear-wheel drive vehicles and the ice-track-gripping Iltis. When he pitched the idea, Ferdinand Piëch—Audi director of technical development—agreed to proceed with development with the stipulation that a high-performance road car be constructed. Piëch rightly wanted to show off the advantages of Bensinger’s system in motorsport. In 1977, the Audi Quattro was born, first manifested as a converted Audi 80 with components from the Iltis all-wheel drive system.
Audi rally icon Michèle Mouton ready to race in her Audi Quattro.
Stig Blomqvist’s racing suit still fits him perfectly thirty years on.
quattro® began as an
idea in the ice and
snow of Sweden.
Mikkola and Hertz grip the icy tracks at the Swedish Rally on their way to their sixth WRC win with the Audi Sport team.
1976—Jörg Bensinger, chief chassis engineer at Audi, pitches all-wheel drive sedan to executives after testing military vehicles in the snow.
1977—The first prototype is an Audi 80 saloon with a grafted Volkswagen Iltis all-wheel drive system.
1978—Bensinger wins final approval from executives after a gripping presentation of four-wheel drive technology at Austria’s Turracher Höhe pass. Later, Franz Tengler develops the hollow gearbox shaft to help improve handling and eliminate the center differential and bulky transfer box, revolutionizing four-wheel drive technology.
1979—Development goes into overdrive, and legendary Audi rally driver Hannu Mikkola test-drives an Audi 80-based quattro® prototype.
1980—Audi Quattro is unveiled at the 1980 Geneva International Motor Show in Switzerland. The stunning new machine becomes available in German showrooms in November for DM 49,900.
1981—Audi Sport and the iconic Quattro vehicle celebrate their first World Rally Championship (WRC) win in only their second competition at the Swedish Rally with Mikkola behind the wheel.
1982—Michèle Mouton records her first WRC win ever at the Rallye de Portugal. The win helped Audi on their way to their first WRC manufacturer’s championship.
1983—Audi manufactures our 5,000th Audi Quattro, far outpacing the initial sales target of 400. Audi 80 with quattro® all-wheel drive goes on sale in Germany.
1984—Audi Sport Quattro S1 with its 400-bhp five-cylinder is debuted by Walter Röhrl at the Tour de Corse in France.
1985—Mouton’s record-breaking Pikes Peak International Hill Climb victory caps back-to-back wins at 14,115 feet.
1987—Röhrl blows by the evasive 11-minute mark to complete the 12-and-a-half-mile, 4,720-foot climb around 156 corners in a record-shattering 10 minutes, 47.85 seconds.
1990—Production of the Audi Quattro comes to close. The road-gripping technology of quattro® all-wheel drive lives on in our vehicles.
Months later, Bensinger gave the presentation of his life when he showed up unannounced to give executives a demonstration of the all-wheel drive technology on a frigid January morning in 1978. At Austria’s Turracher Höhe pass—famed for its steep 23 percent incline through the Alps—the team’s prototype gave a gripping performance and proved just what such a vehicle was capable of on extreme, winding, icy roads. With a turbocharged five-cylinder engine and running components borrowed from the Audi 80 and Audi 100, the project got the fast track from management that was eager to show this technology to the public.
After many iterations of mules and prototypes and a sharp-edged exterior design from Head of Design Hartmut Warkuß, the Audi Quattro was unveiled to an excited pool of journalists and enthusiasts gathered at the 1980 Geneva International Motor Show. Conscious of what the moment represented to Audi and its drivers, Piëch famously told the press that day, “Today sees the premiere of all-wheel drive for the road-going passenger car.”
The Audi Quattro made its first rally start—and win—less than a year later in snowy Austria, and it ultimately won 24 WRCs between 1981 and 1987 with iconic drivers like Michèle Mouton, Stig Blomqvist, Walter Röhrl and Mikkola behind the wheel. But more than winning rallies, Audi was interested in winning knowledge. Today, the insights learned from the races the Quattro participated in appear in the evolving all-wheel drive systems in every one of our vehicles with the quattro® badge.
When driving during cold, snowy, or icy weather conditions, ensure that your vehicle is equipped with appropriate all-season or winter weather tires. Even with appropriate tires, you must always drive in a manner appropriate for the weather, visibility and road conditions.
Walter Röhrl and long time co-driver Christian Geistdörfer showing championship focus before a race.