The legendary quattro celebrates its 40th anniversary

Four rings, forty years, one quattro − in summary: a success story from Ingolstadt. The Audi quattro celebrates its anniversary in 2020. Read how the first Audi with all-wheel drive revolutionized the automotive industry.

11/02/2020 Reading Time: 3 min

The exterior evolution of the Audi quattro

The idea behind the quattro

Our search for the origins of the Audi quattro takes us straight back to the winter of 1976 when Audi developed the VW Iltis off-road vehicle for the German Army − with its all-wheel drive. The engineers were impressed with the outstanding performance by the VW Iltis on both snow and ice. During the test runs for new Audi prototypes, the Iltis also participated for purposes of comparison − and its performance was superior to front-wheel-drive cars. This gave rise to the idea of using this special, all-drive technology in mass-produced vehicles.

Walter Treser, then Director of Pre-Development, was fascinated by the “vision of developing a type of car that had to date not existed,” as he later commented. To do this, he needed a suitable name. The car with all-wheel drive almost became known as the Audi Carat (abbreviation for “Coupé All-Wheel-Drive Turbo”). However, there was already a perfume with the same name − this would not have gone well with the image of the car. So, Walter Treser's suggestion prevailed: “Audi quattro” − a name that would soon become famous.

The „Ur-quattro“ at the Geneva Motor Show.

The „Ur-quattro“ at the Geneva Motor Show.

In 1980, Audi presented its “Ur-quattro” (the very first quattro) at the Geneva Motor Show. The reaction exceeded all expectations: the car convinced both critics and enthusiastic drivers. For 11 whole years – until 1991 – Audi included this car as a production model in its range. After that the Ur-quattro went away, but the drive technology remained − and was developed further.

The quattro drive technology in more detail

With this technology, the drive torque is automatically evenly distributed to the four wheels. This way, the quattro drive offers the advantages of perfect road grip and a safe drive − even in adverse conditions.
Audi adapts the drive technology to the respective vehicle type. There are two variants for cars with longitudinally installed engines:

  • The tiptronic automatic transmission uses the classic quattro drive with self-locking center differential.
  • Audi with a manual gearbox or S-tronic use cutting-edge technology which engages all-wheel drive as and when required.

For models with transverse engines and the Audi R8 sports car, Audi uses its own quattro drivetrain with a hydraulic multi-plate clutch. 

The Audi quattro drivetrain for transverse engines
The Audi quattro drivetrain for transverse engines.
An all-wheel drive for more than ten million Audis
An all-wheel drive for more than ten million Audis

An all-wheel drive for more than ten million Audis

The drive technology has now been installed in around 10.5 million Audis. The reason why the quattro also became so famous is due to the reputation of the all-wheel drive in motorsports.

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Audi quattro: a motorsport legend

Let us look back to January 1981: An off-road track in remote Austria between snow and mud. Numerous cars struggle along the track, including an Audi quattro. This scene took place during the January rally in the Mühlviertel. At the end of the race the winning team was determined: Franz Wittmann senior and Kurt Nestinger in an Audi quattro.

The victory was the start of a long series of successes in motorsport. Up until 1987, the Audi quattro (also known as the Audi Sport quattro) hared over the tracks of numerous World Rally Championships and achieved many victories. At the end of the eighties, Audi then focused on touring car racing. With Hans-Joachim Stuck and Hurley Haywood in the Audi 90 quattro, Audi won the DTM (the German Touring Car Masters), world championships and the TransAm series.

The name Le Mans is also closely associated with the quattro: the all-wheel drive cars took three consecutive overall victories in the legendary 24-hour race.

Electric all-wheel drive and sports differential: the quattro legend lives on in the e-tron (S)

Audi has never rested on its laurels with the quattro. True to its motto: even a legend must continue to develop. With the electric all-wheel drive in the Audi e-tron and the Audi e-tron Sportback, we are at the cutting edge of technology. Here, the drive technology functions via electric motors on each axle.

In the Audi e-tron S and the e-tron S Sportback, Audi presents the latest version of the electric all-wheel drive. The two really dynamic electric SUVs each have three electric motors on board. Their intelligent drive control takes driving safety and, above all, driving dynamics to a new, higher level.

The Audi e-tron Sportback S line 55 quattro
The Audi e-tron Sportback S line 55 quattro on the road
Close-up of the "quattro" badge

Audi e-tron Sportback S line 55 quattro: Power consumption (combined) in kWh/100 km: 23.9–23.9CO₂ emissions (combined) in g/km: 0CO₂ emission class: A

Audi e-tron Sportback S line 55 quattro: Power consumption (combined) in kWh/100 km: 23.9–23.9CO₂ emissions (combined) in g/km: 0CO₂ emission class: A

Read more about the quattro success story!

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