In this latest video from Carfection, we get a history lesson on one of the greatest rally cars ever made and possibly the greatest Audi ever made — the Audi Quattro. It’s the car that started it all for Audi. Before the Quattro, Audi was the plucky “other” German brand that people bought when they couldn’t afford Mercedes or BMW. After the Quattro, Audi became a legitimate performance and motorsport contender, proving that it deserved to sit at the big-kid’s table.
It all started with what was essentially a military vehicle built by DKW, badged an Auto Union car. It had full-time permanent all-wheel drive, but no center differential. Still, it worked well for the German military in the 1950’s. Later on, the German military decided it wanted something new from the Volkswagen Group, who eventually went on to built the VW Iltis. The Iltis had the same sort of permanent four-wheel drive setup and worked well for the German military up until the ’80s. However, when an Audi engineer drove the Iltis on icy roads during winter testing in Finland, he realized that he was far faster the Audi 200 prototypes because his Iltis could put power down better.
So he took that philosophy back to Audi an they converted an Audi 80 GTE to have four-wheel drive, similar to the Iltis. However, it also lacked a center differential. So Audi developed a center-locking differential and a hollow driveshaft, allowing the rear differential to be driven by the hollow driveshaft and the front-differential to be driven by a solid driveshaft inside the hollow one, both from the center torsen (torque-sensing) differential. That way, the car could vary the engine speed between the two axles, completely mechanically. This allowed from incredible traction even in extremely low-traction environments.
This system was dubbed “Quattro” and the rest is history. In March, 1980, the first Audi Quattro was born. Audi then went rally racing and simply dominated. But we can’t tell the story nearly as well as the Audi historian in this video from Carfection.