8th July 2021

The truth about the iconic Audi Sport quattro

It’s not often a car comes along that helps to define a genre, but the Audi Sport quattro is arguably that. The ultimate evolution of a car that, for some, is the very essence of the 1980s and perfectly encapsulates the bonkers Group B rally class that blew the doors off competitive motorsport. Despite its short life it remains a bona fide icon, even if its designer still isn’t convinced about its looks.

The Audi Ur quattro was launched in late 1980 and immediately struck a chord. Car magazines and buyers raved about its thrilling performance in a variety of driving conditions, as well as its muscular styling.

When the Group 4 version of the Audi quattro entered its first rally it won outright, and left a blueprint for competition cars of the future. The secret of its success lies in the four-wheel-drive technology its name refers to. Better traction and a surfeit of power, thanks to a five-cylinder, turbo-charged alloy engine with a 20-valve cylinder head, it delivered a sea change in how rally cars should be designed that continues to this day.  

But then Group B rallying arrived and that was a different ballgame. The homologation rules meant that the cars still had to be based on production cars, which had reined in manufacturer’s ambitions, but the new rules stipulated that only 200 roadgoing examples were required. That meant manufacturers could let their imaginations, and ambitions, run wild.

Lightweight designs, all manner of exotic materials and turbocharged engines running huge boost heralded an arms race with outright speed the goal. Audi was able to fend off the rest and take the Group B WRC driver's titles in 1983 and 1984 with modified versions of the original car, but its days were numbered. By 1984 smaller, more agile rivals had its measure: the pesky Peugeot 205 T16 being the pick of the pack.

Audi’s answer was break out the angle grinder and reduce the wheelbase by 320mm to deliver the Sport quattro. With up to 500bhp and the essential all-wheel drive, it preserved the overall quattro feel, but added some sizzle including reprofiled and wider wheel arches, bonnet vents and a spoiler. The result looked purposeful even when standing still but it was a blunt tool and Peter Birtwhistle, the English designer behind the car’s looks, is on record as describing it as ugly.

Ultimately the Sport quattro was successful in the 1985 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, but failed to prove its worth in Group B. The Peugeot 205 T16 carried off the crown that year and retained it in 1986, but by that point too many serious accidents, where the extreme nature of the vehicles was believed to be a contributory factor, meant that the category of car was cancelled.

However, because it was a homologation special you didn’t have to be a fully paid-up member of a rally team, and could still put a Sport quattro through its paces as a road-legal car. Performance was a little less extreme, with 306bhp but that was still enough to deliver 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 155mph as well as extraordinary stability, excellent cornering and amazing traction.

Around 20 of the 200 Sport quattros, built at Audi’s workshops in Ingolstadt, came to the UK, and if you’re lucky enough to own one you can expect a high six-figure sum when it’s time to sell.

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