Time-Warp: 40 Years of Audi Quattro in Photos

Like any great invention or discovery, there were sceptics who considered it sacrilegious in the beginning. Such was the case with the Audi quattro. Today, with the benefit of four decades of hindsight, it’s clear that the German carmaker was simply ahead of the curve with its all-wheel drive technology. The company is marking the 40th anniversary of its groundbreaking quattro (not “Quattro”) this year.

It began as a project to win glory for Audi in motorsport competition. When the powers that be allowed four-wheel drive cars – which nobody thought would be fast or durable – to compete in the highest level of rally-racing competition, Audi went all in. Until then, AWD was largely a technology for trucks, but Audi saw that quattro had potential not just for competition sports cars, but also for luxury sedans and all sorts of daily-driven cars. (And for that, Canada thanks you, Audi.)

The company quickly built something like Frankenstein’s monster: the chassis of the Audi 80, a modified all-wheel drive system from the strange VW Iltis that won the Dakar, and a square-edged couple body with boxy wheel-arch extensions. That coupe was known simply as the Audi quattro. Unbelievably, the first prototype was developed by a 12 man team in just six months. The Audi quattro went on to decimate its rally-racing rivals, and claim victory at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and that was just the beginning. Quattro technology has helped Audi dominate the legendary Le Mans 24 Hour, winning 13 times since the turn of the millennium.

On the road, Audi’s rivals have only recently come to the realization that every sort of car and SUV can – in real-world driving – benefit from the added traction and steady handling offered by all-wheel drive. Meanwhile, the German brand has been perfecting its unique quattro system for 40 years, and it shows: More than 11 million quattro vehicles have been sold by Audi over the last four decades.

It’s not all just history though; there’s a new chapter of the quattro story being written now, one fueled by battery-powered dual or triple-motor quattro systems running on pure electricity.

The automaker is rightfully proud of its quattro system, a history which Audi has carefully detailed in this series of facts and photos to mark the 40 anniversary of this breakthrough technology.

Here, a visual history of the past 40 years of Audi’s quattro.


49,900 German marks was the base price of the original Audi quattro at its launch in 1980. For reference, Porsche offered the 911 SC for the same price. The Audi made 197 HP; the Porsche 911 SC produced just 4 HP more.

23 races were won by quattro drivers Michèle Mouton, Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist and Walter Röhrl in the Rally World Championship with Audi in the five years from 1981 to 1985.

12 engineers assisted project manager Walter Treser in the development of the first Audi with permanent quattro drive from February 1977.

The winter of 1976/77 is when the idea of developing the quattro technology came about at Audi. A series of test drives in Scandinavia, in which a VW Iltis also took part, brought it about. On the snow-covered roads, the military all-terrain vehicle developed at Audi impressively demonstrated the potential of its all-wheel drive.

10 minutes and 47.85 seconds was the time with which Röhrl triumphed with the Audi Sport quattro S1 at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1987. In the fastest part of the 20-kilometer course – with an altitude of 1,435 meters (4,708 ft), an average incline of seven percent and 156 bends – he was measured traveling at a speed of 196 km/h (121.8 mph).

6 minutes and 29 seconds was the lead that Walter Röhrl held over the runner-up at the Rallye Sanremo in 1985 with the Sport quattro S1. In the last race of the season, the British RAC Rally, Röhrl used a dual-clutch transmission that was actuated pneumatically. A precursor of today’s S tronic gearbox, it was a real first at the time.

11,452 examples of the original quattro were made between 1980 and 1991. Originally, only 400 were planned.

Nearly 11 million vehicles with quattro drive have been built by Audi since 1980 (as of September 30, 2020).

1981 was the year Audi officially entered the rallying scene for the first time with the quattro. Finishing around 21 minutes ahead of the competing cars, Franz Wittmann won the Jänner Rallye in Austria, which was part of the European Rally Championship. The local hero triumphed in all 31 special trials. Prior to that, in November 1980, a quattro had been used at the Algarve Rallye in Portugal as an unclassified but timed course car with tremendous success.

3.1 seconds is how long it takes the Sport quattro S1 with the medium manual transmission ratio to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h. The rally car that Audi used for the first time in 1985 produced 469 HP with its five-cylinder turbo engine and weighed only 1,090 kilograms (2403.0 lb). Not a car for the faint of heart!

80 percent was the incline of the ski jump in Kaipola, Finland, where Audi filmed a legendary commercial in 1986. Professional rally driver Harald Demuth mastered the snow-covered 47-meter (154.2-ft) ascent in the Audi 100 CS quattro.

In 1988, the Audi 200 competed in the TransAm Series in America. Here too, Audi topped the manufacturer’s and driver’s rankings at the first attempt.

Around 710 HP is what the five-liter turbo in the Audi 90 quattro produced, which competed in the IMSA GTO series in 1989 – the 2.2-liter four-valve powerplant summoned no less than 325 HP from every liter of displacement. The drivers, Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck, won almost every second race in the North American series. Audi exploited the technical rules of the IMSA series to the full: A tubular trellis frame supported a greatly widened plastic body, while the tires were up to 360 millimeters (14.2 in) wide.

1994 saw Audi launch the RS 2 Avant in Europe (but sadly not in Canada). It was the first ever RS model. Its quattro drive incorporated an electromechanically activated locking differential at the rear axle for sharper handling near the limit.

In 2007 the first Audi R8 supercar was launched. Its quattro drive was tailor-made: a cardan shaft ran from the transmission in the rear to an unregulated viscous coupling on the front axle. In its current generation, the R8 uses a controlled multi-plate clutch. Thanks to quattro, it’s the ultimate daily-drivable supercar.

3 times in a row, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro won the Le Mans 24-hour race between 2012 and 2014. A V6 TDI drove the rear wheels, while a flywheel accumulator supplied recuperated energy to two electric motors on the front axle. As a result, the race car was able to utilize this temporary quattro drive system during acceleration.

486,000 euros was the price one fan paid for an Audi Sport quattro at an auction in London in 2016. Only 214 units of this super-quattro with 302 HP were built. At its launch in 1984, it cost 195,000 German marks.

2019 saw circuit and rallycross champion Mattias Ekström drive up part of the snow-covered “Streif” ski racing course at Kitzbühel. He did it in an Audi e-tron quattro with three electric motors, overcoming an incline of up to 85 percent.

From 148 HP in the (European market) Q2 quattro right through to 612 HP in the R8 V10 performance quattro supercar, Audi offers permanent all-wheel quattro drive throughout the entire model range.

2 percent of all cars that Audi delivered to customers in Canada in 2019 had a quattro drive. As a result, the country in North America has the highest proportion of all-wheel drive cars in the world.

More than 80 percent of the roughly 20 models that Audi will launch globally in 2020 will have at least one quattro variant.

32 S, RS and R models currently offered by Audi on the market. All of them have quattro drive as standard.

40 millimeters (1.6 in) is how much wider each of the wheel arches are on the Audi RS 6 Avant with its pronounced quattro blisters compared with the A6 Avant. The designers are thereby emphasizing the strong quattro character – an obvious callback to the original Audi quattro.

30 milliseconds is how long it takes for the Audi e-tron and e-tron Sportback to shift torque from the rear axle to the front axle. It takes three times as long for a human to blink. No mechanical clutch is engaged with the electric all-wheel drive; instead, electricity is simply distributed – and with lightning speed, too.

3 electric motors supply propulsive power in the new Audi e-tron S and Audi e-tron S Sportback – a world first in volume production. The two electric motors on the rear axle enable electric torque vectoring, the need-based distribution of propulsive power to individual wheels on the left and right.

Up to (717.6 lb-ft) of torque is produced by the three electric motors in the Audi e-tron S. The two fully electric SUV models achieve a power output of 500 HP in boost mode. The more motors the better!