Introduction: The 1980's

This is the decade when Audi's Vorsprung durch Technik philosphy really broke through with the launch of the Audi quattro, widely reckoned to have rewritten the rule book for high performance cars.

Members of the press were so amazed at its roadholding, speed and security that they bracketed it with supercars from Ferarri, Lamborghini, Porsche and Lotus.

From the moment of its launch, people's expectation of Audi rose to a new level, and the company began its prolific introduction of new technology, while simultaneously raising quality standards.

Innovations poured from Ingolstadt, ranging from the flush glazing that was the most obvious visual evidence of the new Audi 100 saloon's low-drag body to the ingenious Procon-Ten safety system and corrosion-proof galvanised bodysells. Audi was among the very first manufacturer to sell direct injection diesel engines, too.

But its most dramatic innovation was the quattro permanent four-wheel drive system. First fitted to the high-performance coupe of the same name (this model is nowadays known as the ur-quattro, above, or original Audi quattro), the quattro drivetrain rapidly spread through the range.

Some of its success stemmed from Audi's determination to prove the worth of four-wheel drive in the frenzy of competition, the quattro demonstrating that to win a rally this was the drive system needed. It was proven by two world drivers' championships and a pair of World Rally Championship constructor's titles.

But all-wheel drive didn't merely penetrate rallying's forest and Tarmac stages - it was considered a breakthrough worth emulation by virtually every major manufacturer around the world, from Alfa Romeo to Volvo, from Porsche to Audi's sister company Volkswagen. The impmact of this innovation is still being seen today.

The 1970's also signalled Audi's upscale ambitions with models that took it closer to the luxury segment, the 100-based 200 saloon confidently being renewed before the launch of the luxury V8 saloon in 1988.

Audi's quality standard, though already high, advanced significantly in the 1980's, with 'just-in-time' production delivery techniques being introduced, while a new Quality Centre brought all staff from this discipline under one roof from 1986.



Audi introduces the quattro, the world's first volume produced four-wheel drive high performance car.


Audi displays a research vehicle at the Frankfurt Motor Show illustrating the scope for saving raw materials, reducing the weight, improving economy and advancing the car's environmental acceptability. Many of these ideas appeared in the next Audi 100.

Audi enters the World Rally Championship with the quattro and wins three events.


The new Audi 100 records the lowest drag coefficient of any production car to date, at 0.30Cd.

The Audi 80 quattro offers all-wheel drive to a wider audience. By 1984, there are quattro versions of every Audi model in the range.


Catalytic converters are available across the range, Audi being the first car maker to achieve this in Europe.

The limited edition, homologation special Sport quattro is released.


The Audi 90 quattro is launched.

Audi wins driver and constructor World Rally Championships.


Audi is first to put a fully galvanised bodyshell into high volume production with the 100/200 ranges. A 10-year corrosion warranty is provided.

An image of an Audi 100 bodyshell lifted by two women is released. Made from aluminium it signals future thinking.

Audi NSU AG is renamed Audi AG, and its headquarters are moved from Neckarsulm to Ingolstadt.


The third generation B3 Audi 80 is introduced, with a galvanised body, a 10-year anti-corrosion guarantee and a drag coefficient of 0.29Cd.

A new quality centre is opened at Ingolstadt, bringing all quality functions under one roof.


The B3 Audi 90 is launched, signaling the end of the B2 chassis (except the ur-quattro which continued to 1991).

Audi quattro

Audi quattro

1980-1991 11,452 built

This is the car that redefined Audi, a trailblazer that gave the company a glamorous edge, an enviable international competition record and the right to challenge traditional super manufacturers.

The quattro became a bedroom pin-up of teenage boys, and provided Audi with a technological advantage that the rest of the car industry scrambled to copy.

The quattro was not the world's first high performance, permanent four-wheel drive coupe, but Britain's 1968 Jensen Interceptor FF was a highly specialised, very low volume model. It was the quattro that put all-wheel drive on the map as a real-world option.

The quattro was loosely based on the Audi 80 from which the prototype was developed. The longitudinal driveline made it relatively easy to extend a propshaft to the rear, while the rear suspension was essentially the front suspension and subframe turned through 180 degrees.

A centre differential allowed drive to be apportioned between the two axles, preventing wind-up. Power came from the 200 saloon's 2.1-litre 200bhp turbocharged 'five', allowing a 137 mph top speed and a 0-60 mph time of 7.3 seconds.

Yes it wasn't the quattro's performance so much as its astounding roadholding, agility and refinement that created an impact. Suddenly, the Audi quattro was one of the fastest point-to-point cars on earth.

The quattro was partially hand-built on a dedicated line at Ingolstadt, every car undergoing extensive static and test-track quality assurance including a 100 mph run. The first UK cars were left-hand drive, but right-hand drive became available in late 1982, when the quattro's popularity grew to the point where UK demand kept it in production beyond Audi's planned deletion date.

Audi 80/90

Audi 80 quattro


Having launched the quattro, Audi wasted little time introducing the quattro system to more affordable models. The 80 was the least expensive way to acquire quattro technology within the range, but provided the same, permanent all-wheel drive security.

Audi 90

1984-1987 129,068 built

Having achieved some success with the 200, which was a better-equipped, more upmarket version of the Audi 100, Audi applied the same principle to the 80 and produced the 90. It was available with two more powerful five-cylinder engines and a quattro option.

Audi Coupe GT, Sport quattro

Audi Coupe GT

1980-1987 169,017 built

This is the car from which the quattro was spawned, although the faster model appeared first. The Coupe could also be had with quattro, although the majority sold were front-drive. Engines ranged from a 1.8 four cylinder to a 2.3 five cylinder. Unlike most coupes, this Audi could seat four, even five at a push, and had a decent boot to go with it. But it was best-known for its fine road manners, clean handling and above average build quality.

Audi Sport quattro

1983-1982 224 built

This brutal-looking beast was a road-going version of the Group B World Rally Championship quattro, Audi building just over 200 examples to meet homologation rules. The most obvious modification from standard was a shortening of the quattro's wheelbase (by 12.4 inches/320 mm), which gave it a new wheelbase of 87.6 inches/2,224mm. The shrinkage was performed in the interests of rally stage agility. To ensure the car was as light as possible all the removable body panels were constructed from carbon-fibre and Kevlar composites. Its initial price was 203,850 German Marks, which is equivalent to $143, 405 USD in 2014 (104,226 euros).

In road-going form it produced 306 bhp, weighed 1300kg and erupted to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds, and 100 mph in 12.6 seconds. The standard quattro's engine was downsized slightly from 2144cc to 2133cc to allow this turbocharged engine to qualify in the under 3.0-litre class, and it eventually developed between 5-600bhp, making the Sport the most potent rally car of its era. It helped to win Audi both the driver's and constructor's championships in 1984, with Stig Blomqvist at the wheel.

Audi Sport quattro S2

The mysterious S2. Two grainy photos appeared back in the 80's of this mysterious production car. Rumour had it that Ferdinand Piech gave the unofficial green light on this prototype, and that three examples were made and one was test driven and approved by Walter Rohl. A journalists son heard of the testing going on in Austria of this car and managed to snap two pictures of it. The cars were reportedly destroyed by the order of VW. Some think it was the car that would compete in the upcoming Group S rally, but after the demise of Group B, there was no Group S formation.


Audi quattro system

It was while Audi's chief chassis engineer Jorg Bensinger was winter testing the Volkswagen Illtis off-roader in Finland early in 1977 that he had the idea for a road-going four-wheel drive Audi.

Though Volkswagen-badged, the Illtis was an Audi development, a successor to the DKW Munga off-roader and Bensinger noticed that, despite its modest power output, this small Jeep-like vehicle intended for the military was quicker on the snow-packed roads of Finland than a lot of far more powerful vehicles.

Bensinger contracted engineering boss Ferdinand Piech and suggested developing an Audi 80 four-wheel drive protoype. Piech gave the go-ahead, and the red Audi 80 development car was christened A1 or Allrad 1. Its driveline was built by Hans Nedvidek, who had formerly built F1 gearboxes for Stirling Moss and Jan Manuel Fangio, by using an Illtis diff at the rear.

Although there was no centre differential to apportion torque between the axles, the system was always conceived to be permanent four-wheel drive on the basis that the driver would always get the benefit.

By September the same year the project received managements backing, although Piech's visionary idea was not so much an all-wheel drive family saloon as a high performance coupe that could thrash the opposition and take Audi into motorsport's big league.

Piech's next challenge was to persuade Audi's owners Volkswagen to give it the go-ahead. Volkswagen's board was invited to Austria's steepest mountain pass, the Turracher Hohe, for 'tyre-testing' in January 1978, when it would be snowbound. The 160bhp prototype had no trouble climbing the pass, not only without snow chains but on summer tyres, convincingly demonstrating its superiority. Though few board members could see a market even for 400 such cars, Bensinger made himself personally responsible and the project got the green light.

A centre differential was added to the formula when the wife of Volkswagen development head Professor Ernst Fiala drove the car into Vienna and complained that it 'jumped around' in tight corners and when manoeuvring. She had been experiencing driveline wind-up, which was ingeniously eliminated by Nedvidek, who fitted an Audi 50 differential behind the transmission.

Digital Dashboards

In the early 1980's, electronic dashboards and voice synthesisers were at the forefront of high-tech car design. Audi was right there with the leaders, introducing a digital dash on the ur-quattro in 1983. It was memorable for the synthesised voice provided by Patrizia Lipp. Later, the green illumination would change to orange, following submarine practice.



An Audi 80 GTE wins the European touring car championship.

An Audi quattro appears as a course car on the Algarve Rally. Finnish rally driver Hannu Mikkola unofficially finishes the course almost half an hour earlier than the winner.


The quattro wins at its first attempt on the January Austrian Rally. Mikkola wins the car its first World Rally Championship event in Sweden, as well as the San Remo and British RAC Rallies.

Audi quattro-driving Michele Mouton is the first-ever woman to win a World Rally Championship event, with victory on the San Remo rally.


Audi wins the World Rally Championship manufacturer's title outright, with Michele Mouton runner-up to Walter Rohl (then driving for Opel) in the Drivers' Championship and Hannu Mikkola third.


Mikkola wins the Drivers' title in the World Rally Championship; Audi is the runner-up for the Manufacturer's title. Stig Blomqvist wins the RAC Rally in an Audi quattro.


Audi wins both the drivers' and manufacturers title with Stig Blomqvist. The team take a 1-2-3 in the Monte Carlo rally, Walter Rohl driving the winning car (This was Walter Rohls' first year driving for Audi). This is Audi's most successful year in rallying.


North America's notorious Pike's Peak hillclimb is won my Michele Mouton in an Audi Sport quattro S1.


A serious accident involving another competitor in the Portuguese Rally leads Audi pulling out of the World Championship.

From Wikipedia
"The Rally of Portugal has an important aspect which once made it so famous or maybe infamous; crowd control. During the 1970s and especially the 1980s, Portugal was known for spectators standing on the roadway even as the cars drove by, often resulting in near-collisions, and finally in the 1986 season a collision between cars and spectators. It was the last year the Group B cars domininated the WRC scene. And it was because of a tragic accident which occurred during the rally that the future of Group B cars came under scrutiny. The final blow came at the Tour de Corse later that year with the death of Henri Toivonen.
In the first section of the rally (Sintra), in the "Lagoa Azul" stage, Portuguese works Ford rally driver Joaquim Santos came over a crest in his RS200 getting too loose through the corner.[2] Santos managed to avoid the crowd on the outside of the corner, but he was not able to avoid the crowd on the inside of the corner. The inevitable happened; the car left the road, plunging right into the crowd, killing three and injuring dozens more. After this accident all works teams withdrew from the rally.
Although it was tragic, it was also a logical result for the irresponsible behaviour of the Portuguese crowd throughout years. Additionally the speed of the Group B cars was a contributing factor.[2] It was not only dangerous for the crowd, but also for the drivers themselves. Former world champion Timo Salonen admitted at the '86 edition that he was scared to run first on the road. Walter Röhrl had his own theory on the crowd situation: "You just have to see the crowd as a wall and not as spectators."
It did not necessarily go any better in following years. At the 1987 edition a privately entered car plunged into the crowd. Luckily enough this only led to minor injuries, but the crowd control was not much improved. It was not until the early 1990s that the Portuguese rally became an example for better crowd control and for being a great rally itself. Crowds were no smaller, but were better-behaved and more aware of the risks involved in spectating."

Bobby Unser wins Pike's Peak in an Audi Sport quattro S1.


Audi returns to the World Rally Championship following the ban of Group B cars, and Mikkola wins the testing Safari Rally in Kenya with an Audi 200 quattro saloon.

Walter Rohl wins Pike's Peak in a record time in an Audi Sport quattro S1.