The original Audi Quattro was a revolutionary car, instantly defeating all of the establishment of the rallying world and instantly resetting everyone’s watch to all-wheel drive. At least that’s how we remember it. The reality was a little different.
The Quattro established that sending power to all four wheels was a huge advantage on loose surfaces, but when the car was competing on other kinds of stages, it was a totally different story.
This is the 1982 Manx Rally, held on the Isle of Man. It’s a tarmac rally, and one of the most challenging in the world. Parts of it are faster than almost any other rally, with speeds well over 100 miles an hour, even in these cars from the early 1980s. Other parts are punishingly bumpy, with kick jumps ready to send you off the road.
If you set up your suspension for the fast stuff, the bumps will wreck you. If you set up for the bumps, you’ll get left behind on the fast stuff. It’s a classic rally.
And the 1982 running was a perfect example of how the Quattro’s reputation stood at the time, not just how it stands in our memory thanks to a lot of Audi ad campaigns.
The big, heavy car struggled for speed on the narrow paved roads, and suffered both engine and transmission problems. This was the norm for the Quattro. It was a very advanced machine, and reliability was not its strong suit. All-wheel drive was, and made up for a lot of the car’s weaknesses, but not always.
Ultimately, the Quattro in this event, driven by the great Hannu Mikkola, retired, even after the gearbox and differential unit got swapped out mid-event.
This was also the same story even in the 1983 Manx, which I’ll bring up because a full contemporary news report is still online at Motorsport Magazine. The one Quattro in that rally also retired with similar issues, after struggling through the rally with similar handling problems as well:
The truth was that in torrential rain, the Quattro was proving a handful. A lack of pre-event testing had meant that the early stages were tackled with the rear suspension set far too hard, and although the rear uprights were changed to the softer Ulster settings (where he had won), the Swede was never really happy. He said the Quattro was virtually undriveable in the rain, an alarming tendency to leap from bank to bank not making it that much easier in the dry. Worn-out springs were thought to be the reason, but even after these were changed Blomqvist said there was still something wrong.
The car’s retirement in the ‘83 Manx was hard:
Before the Manx Rally, Blomqvist had led the championship by five points from Britain’s Russell Brookes. Blomqvist’s Quattro had won the Mintex, Welsh, Scottish and Ulster rallies. Vauxhall Chevette driver Brookes had won the Circuit of Ireland, been runner-up in Wales and third in both Scotland and Ulster. He’d also finished fourth on the Mintex, but as only the best five scores can count it was these eight points he had to drop. After his best season for some years Brookes had to win outright in the Isle of Man if he was going to be champion. The enigmatic Blomqvist simply had to finish anywhere in the top nine if he was going to win. Blomqvist’s job was much easier than Brookes.
Or so it seemed until two miles from the end of the 45th of the event’s 49 all-tarmac special stages. Entering a hairpin bend, Blomqvist’s Audi blew-up. There had been no warning, no drop in oil pressure, just a terminal death rattle as a connecting-rod punched a neat hole through the side of the block.
The Ur-Quattro was a good car, a fast car, and a big step forward technologically, but that tech covered up a lot of other issues, and even then it wasn’t a god-stroke everywhere.
All of this is to say that the Audi Quattro was revolutionary, but it wasn’t invincible.