Watch Audi's First Double-Clutch Transmission Debut Over 30 Years Ago

Ever since the Audi TT got a dual-clutch transmission back in 2003, these are-they-manuals-or-nah gearboxes have become the hot new thing in the high-performance car world. But Audi first tried out a double-clutch more than 30 years ago, in the fearsome Sport Quattro S1 rally car.

It was at this, the Semperit Rally in Austria, November 1985. It was a non-championship event that Audi used as a sort of test run before the UK’s championship rally two weeks later.


What’s interesting is this was not an early iteration of Audi’s later DSG-branded transmission. This was a genuine Porsche PDK. As an old issue of Audi File magazine noted, at that time Audi and Porsche’s motorsports programs answered to the same man, Ferdinand Piëch. Porsche had been working on a double-clutch transmission for their 956/962 Le Mans sports prototype racers, and Piëch had them work together with Audi to get the transmission to work in their virtually unregulated Group B “Evolution 2" rally car.

PDK got the car do sprint from zero to 60 in a claimed 2.6 seconds, and the transmission would allow full-throttle shifts without losing power or boost. The driver could shift up or down it wouldn’t over-rev the engine, or (I believe) the transmission’s programming could allow it to shift on its own up at 8,600 rpm or down at 5,000 rpm.

The transmission was almost too good. Driver Walter Röhrl won the Semperit Rally with PDK by 19 minutes, but crashed out of the following British Lombard RAC rally. Röhrl wrote in his biography that PDK was quite possibly to blame, as Audi File explained.

What caused the ‘off’ depends on to whom you speak, but Röhrl has it that Short, who knew the section, momentarily lost the power of speech because of the E2's incredible pace that night. For sure, the PDK equipped Audi’s ‘hot’ seat could be a terrifying place to be. Röhrl relates how legendary Audi Sport engineer Dieter Basche, who’d sat calmly beside him through hundreds of miles of Quattro testing, climbed out of the PDK E2 after a fearsomely fast gravel test in Greece and said “no more”. Geistdorfer complained of a different problem: the PDK’s seamless gear changes lost him the rhythm of his pace notes.

Audi’s development of the PDK stopped when Group B got banned, and stayed dormant until Volkswagen group revived it for the Volkswagen Golf R32, the Audi TT, and then the all-conquering Bugatti Veyron. The man behind those developments? None other than the very same Ferdinand Piëch.


Via Rallye-Magazin

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I had the chance to see it in the flesh during the launch of the PDK-equipped 911 back in 2008. This unit was sitting in a corner, and at some point I had the chance to speak with an engineer who developed it back in the day. His name was in an old notebook of mine and I can’t recall it at this time. Though, I clearly remember his words: “it was an inmense technical challenge, very complicated engineering, but the goal was achieved in the end: more speed, seconds gained”, then made a pause as I was staring at the oil radiator and imagining the magnesium and alluminium molding conceived for this. He smiled and said “If you think it all looks very complicated, believe me, we simplified as much as technology allowed us back then. The outside ss nothing compared to the inside” and then he jiggled.