Homologation Icons: Audi Sport Quattro

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The first Audi to feature the brand's famous all-wheel-drive system.

The Audi Sport Quattro was that seemingly normal German car with the Italian name that forever changed the face of rally racing. It was the first car to use Audi's then-new all-wheel-drive system, one which was so good that it would be found on nearly every Audi built since, and bearing the name of this first car to have it. It was the first car to have both all-wheel-drive and turbocharging, and it gave Audi their first taste of motorsport success since they were Auto Union.

This fed the maniacal sense of purpose which they have now turned towards endurance racing. The story of the Sport Quattro, and indeed of the more mundane Quattro as well, is closely related to WRC rule changes in the early Eighties. The original Quattro road car was basically a performance-oriented and all-wheel-drive version of the Audi Coupe, essentially a two-door Audi 80. The Quattro was initially conceived as a way to demonstrate how much more important traction is than power for going fast on dirt or snow. A recent rule changes allowed for all-wheel-drive, and Audi jumped on it in a way that no other manufacturer did.

The Quattro competed in Group 5 as well as Group 4, starting in 1980, its first year of production. Homologation wasn't an issue, since the car was a regular Audi model, although race versions were more powerful. The Quattro used a turbocharged five-cylinder engine which displaced 2.1-liters. This would grow to 2.2-liter later, and some other changes would also be introduced. In road-going form, this engine would make 190 horsepower and 210lb-ft of torque. It could hit 62mph in 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 137mph. These are decent numbers today, but they were phenomenal for a car in this price range thirty-two years ago.

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Racing versions used essentially the same body as the road car, but the boost was cranked up so that the engine produced 300hp. The Quattro was successful in rally racing from the start, but in 1982, a major rule change caused a change of strategy at Audi. Formerly, WRC had a Group 4 for production touring cars, this required 1000 copies of a car to be produced in order for it to be allowed to compete. Group 5 was for prototype cars, or experimental versions of existing models. These two would be folded into Group B, a class which placed very few restrictions on performance and required that only 200 copies of a car be built for homologation.

This both gave manufacturers license to build hugely powerful cars, but it also made doing so more practical, since the cost of homologation was so drastically reduced. Audi continued to use the Quattro for the first couple years of Group B, although horsepower was upped to 350hp. Then, in 1984, Audi brought out the Sport Quattro. The shape of the car was only slightly changed, incorporating the steeper windshield rake of the 80, but the body was now built of carbon-kevlar. The engine was made very slightly smaller, in order to meet the Group B under 3.0-liter rules for turbocharged engines, but power was bumped up to 444 horsepower.

Updated versions over the next few years would push the output up to the final version's 591hp. The Sport Quattro was so successful in Group B rallying that basically made any car which didn't have all-wheel-drive obsolete in top-tier rallying. The car was insanely fast, and though none of the Group B cars were slow, it is the Sport Quattro that is most famous, and the most iconic of this short-lived golden era in rallying. Group B was ended in 1986, after it was decided that it had become too fast, and as a result, too dangerous. This effectively ended the Sport Quattro's foray into motorsports.

However, as is the case with many of the titans of homologation, it didn't take long to become a legend. As per Group B homologation requirements, 224 of these beasts were produced. These were never cheap, going new for 203,850 Marks (about $173,000 today), and they have only become more valuable. Even the original street version of the Quattro has become something of a collector's item. Although, since more than 11,000 of these were built, they're nowhere near as valuable as the Sport Quattro. For the 2010 Paris Motor Show, Audi brought a concept version of a new Quattro to commemorate the original car's 30th anniversary.

This was essentially an RS5 with a new lightweight carbon fiber body styled to look like the Quattro, and this is in no way a bad thing. Audi says that the car might get a limited production run, and this seems like a very real possibility. The downside is that the 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine isn't as powerful as even the first Sport Quattro, of course, a production version could have the power bumped up from the 402hp of the concept. Even more important though, it will be cheaper and easier to acquire than an original Sport Quattro.

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