Five reasons the Audi ur-Quattro is still such a legend
Shahzad Sheikh – AKA Brown Car Guy – is an automotive journalist with three decades of experience on various titles including the Middle East edition of CAR Magazine and Used Car Buyer.
Don't worry, this is not going to be a history lesson on the Audi ur-Quattro – that's been done a ton. Having said that, this thing is such a crux in the annals of automotive chronicles, that I must impart a little of its origin story, in order to explain why this relatively humble-looking squared-off coupe is a motoring legend of mythical proportions. It all starts, as it so often does, with puppy love.
1. I might have had a teenage crush on Michele Mouton
French, dark haired, attractive - I'm obviously not talking about 80s rally legends Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, Walter Rohrl, Juha Kankkunen and Ari Vatanen. Big fan, love you guys, but sorry, move aside and make way for the undisputed queen of WRC, Michele Mouton.
Beauty, brains and brilliance behind the wheel of a car - she nearly nabbed the overall World Rally Championship crown in 1982 - she was only 12 points behind Rohrl and 27 points ahead of Mikkola. If it wasn't for mechanical problems she would have won. She remains the only woman to have achieved second place in the WRC.
Anyway the car she drove, was of course the Audi Quattro – so at the periphery of my adolescent adoration I became aware of this amazing machine she piloted. Even more so in '84 when she campaigned the ferocious short wheelbase Sport Quattro – Beauty and the Beast personified!
2. Four-wheel drive FTW - I mean, literally
Whilst we're talking of WRC – the Audi Quattro will forever be inextricably linked to rallying. It was the first four-wheel drive entrant (Audi immediately taking advantage of the change of rules) and proceeded to dominate the sport whilst Lancia, Peugeot, Toyota and all the others played catchup. The Quattro won the championship twice and clocked up 23 major rally wins in five years. Arguably it's the most significant rally car of all time.
It was based on the B2 generation Audi 80 Coupe re-engineered by Jorg Bensinger and Walter Treser to incorporate four-wheel drive. At the time 4WD was employed mostly by dedicated off-roaders – the Jeeps and Land Rovers of the world. Fitting those conventional systems to road cars made them feel crude, uncomfortable and juddery.
So Bensinger had to get clever and convoluted to overcome this with driveshafts within driveshafts, a five-speed transaxle, lockable centre diff and another rear diff. Independent suspension helped and the wheelarches were flared to house the bigger wheels – giving the Quattro its unmistakable menace.
Hmm... yeah okay I kinda lied about this not being a history!
3. Take your friends for a ride
Anyway cue wavy lines, and zoom back to the present, where I can barely believe that the very very nice man at Audi is handing me the keys to their precious 1990 ur-Quattro and wishing me a good day. Forget that – this is a great day!
Resplendent in white with all the impudent snazziness of a true 80s icon, the ur-Quattro turns heads even in the car park. Not beautiful by any objective terms, but brutishly handsome, and a captivating presence even to the uninitiated. You just know this thing is special, despite its humble Audi 80 DNA.
Here's the thing though, that 80-based mild-mannered alter ego endows with it usability and practicality not normally found in lust-worthy motors. Once you can negotiate the narrow opening to the rear, there is room enough for two, perhaps even three adults, and even at 6ft 2in, I fitted fine. There is decent boot space, but don't be deceived by the fastback shape, it's not a hatchback.
At the driver's seat it's spacious and comfortable, the digital instrumentation (introduced from 1983 onwards) is so Knight Rider, visibility is great, it's surprisingly well equipped (there's even a trip computer!) and the squeaky seat was nonetheless supportive and comfy. This is not a concourse show car, so the interior certainly looks lived-in, but crucially, it all feels solid and durable.
4. Every commute is a timed section
Turbo lag is not the scary monster all those 80s roadtests made it out to be, especially with this level of surefootedness, and because by the time they got to the 1989 217bhp 20v version (earlier models had 197bhp), they had improved power delivery. Even today this car picks up speed quickly and feels indecently rapid for its vintage. There's a raspy metallic thrum from the motor, with deep intakes of breath on lift-off – brilliant! It sounds smooth, not intrusive.
The steering initially feels light, but fine on the go with good responsiveness. European gear changes of this era were often clunky, but not this – it's sweet and tight with good ratios. Frequent changes are a joy and even sitting in fifth on the motorway it cruised effortlessly. I expected the clutch to be a pain but it was spot on, and the pedals are well spaced for heel-and-toeing. The brakes need advanced planning – as with most old cars – but once they bite they're good. This has ABS which can be disabled, along with the switchable diff lock – that's for when you take it rallying!
I'm sticking to b-roads though, and while the ride is surprisingly comfortable, this car does lean, roll and pitch when you really start to hurry it up – which I guess is why it looks so dramatic on film and earned a starring role in the TV show Ashes to Ashes. But it remains grippy and planted. If you really look for it, you'll detect an early hint of understeer, but generally you can put your trust in its ability to swiftly change direction.
Most importantly of all, it's inherently satisfying and enjoyable. You can drive it gently around town, but the harder you go, the better it gets. It's a wrench to having to give the keys back. I circle Audi HQ several more times just to eke out a few more moments with this automotive superhero. Sigh.
5. Make millions, or at least some thousands
They made less than 11,500 original Quattros from 1980 to 1991, so these are aren't exactly plentiful. The 1985-86 Sport Quattro with even more pumped kevlar reinforced bodywork and a plethora of air intakes to feed the larger turbo and intercooler is highly sought after with values ranging from £150,000 to 'I could by a manor house in Yorkshire for that!'
'Regular' ur-Quattros are theoretically available from £15,000 up to £70,000 for the most pristine examples according to guides. At the time of writing I found only one for £16k – a modified 1989 example with a swapped out engine. A 1986 example with 121,000 miles for £22k was more sensible. Though a 1991 car (87,000 miles) allegedly sold for £25k, seemed either a bargain or too good to be true.
A red 1989 ur-Quattro (139,000 miles) and a clean leather interior was being offered for £33k – the same price as new! The best example I found was an immaculate 1990 black car (143,000 miles) priced at £58k. That might be a tad optimistic, but here's the thing – buy any of these ur-Quattros, use them and enjoy them and be assured that they'll hold value if not appreciate significantly.
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