Almost every successful car company has a single model it can point to as its most important. For Porsche, it was undoubtedly the 911. For Mercedes-Benz the glamorous 300SL Gullwing set the company's future direction. Land Rover would still be building off-road implements if it weren't for the Range Rover. Saab had its 99 model to move it from the mainstream and away from its two-stroke roots, and Volvo had the 142 to set that boxy look we know as Volvo. BMW had the incomparable 2002, a car that made a car company. A few lucky companies get to have two icons. Volkswagen, for example, first with its Beetle and then with its Rabbit/Golf. What makes each of these landmark cars special is an elusive thing, yet each provides a fundamental statement about the people who built them. For Audi, the pivotal point and defining vehicle was the revolutionary Coupe Quattro.
An old companyAudi was founded in 1909 by August Horch, creator of the pre-war luxury cars that bore his name. The company became part of the Auto-Union group in 1932 and was nationalized in 1945. The Audi name lay dormant until 1965 when Auto-Union was sold to Volkswagen by Mercedes-Benz. The new Audis were front-wheel drive sedans that competed with Opel for the middle part of the German marketplace. They were comfortable and technically advanced, but not exactly sporting in their pretensions.
New ideasAuto-Union had been involved in motorsports before the war of course, with its fabulous Porsche-designed Grand Prix racing machines. After the war the company's Auto-Union and DKW models were well known on the rally circuits through the early 1960s. When Audi started a modest rally program with the front-wheel drive Audi 80 in 1978, nobody paid much attention. Meanwhile, Ferdinand Piech, Ferry Porsche's nephew, had moved from the head of research and development for Porsche to technical director at Audi. He brought with him an interest in four-wheel drive. His engineers began adapting the four-wheel drive system from the VW-Audi Iltis military vehicle to the Audi 80 platform. There was a center differential that split torque 50/50 to the front and rear axles and a higher center tunnel for the extra front-to-rear driveshaft. They chose the new Audi Coupe as the body for their Frankenstein creation and bulged the fenders out to accept larger 15-inch wheels and tires. The new car, called the Audi Coupe Quattro, or simply the Quattro, made its debut at the Geneva auto show in March of 1980. Production of the largely hand-built car began at Audi's Ingolstadt factory and remarkably, the first customers in Europe had their cars before the end of the year.
Motorsport machinesMeanwhile, behind the scenes, the Germans had successfully lobbied the FIA to remove their ban on four-wheel drive. The new car was accepted by the FIA for competition in January 1981 and immediately Hannu Mikkola took the Audi Quattro to victory in Sweden. The team had a few teething problems however, and it wasn't until Michele Mouton won the San Remo rally (the first ever victory in a World Rally Championship event by a woman) and Mikkola finished up the season with a win at the Lombard-RAC rally in Britain that the Quattro showed its mettle. 1982 was a banner year for Audi, with seven World Rally Championship victories. Suddenly, you had to have all-wheel drive if you wanted to build a competitive rally car for the world championship.
The U.S. market carsThe Audi Coupe Quattro arrived in America in 1982 as a 1983 model. It was a heavy car at 2,838 pounds, but its turbocharged and intercooled five-cylinder engine made 156 hp at 5500 rpm and 181 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm and could push the car from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, and to a top speed of 128 mph. Although these numbers seem modest today, they were supercar territory in the early 1980s. When driven hard, the Quattro's distinctive drumming five-cylinder exhaust note was unusual, and anyone who has ever heard a competition Audi Quattro charging through a rally stage will never forget it. But most importantly, the Audi Quattro came with an unprecedented level of cornering grip and surefootedness, thanks to its innovative all-wheel-drive system. Sixteen-spoke 15-inch Ronal alloy wheels with 205/60 VR15 tires helped too, as did anti-lock, four-wheel disc brakes. The Audi Coupe Quattro only was sold for three years in the States, with a total of 664 cars coming to this country. That's not a lot for a car that broke all the molds and sent the competition back to the drawing boards to come up with their own all-wheel drive systems.
While the Audi Coupe Quattro was fast and exotic, it was also expensive. The price in 1984 was around $35,000, which was more than the price of a new Porsche 911. But if sales of the car itself were limited, the idea caught on as Audi adapted the Quattro all-wheel drive system to nearly all of its sedans and wagons. With so many Quattro systems on so many cars, fans of the first Coupe Quattros have begun calling their cars "Ur-Quattros" (the word "ur" being frequently used in German to mean "original").
Model by model1983 model yearThe Audi Quattro came to the United States in late 1982 as a 1983 model. It had body colored 5-mph bumpers and a black rubber rear spoiler. All Quattro models that came to the U.S. had a 2,144cc, five-cylinder turbocharged and intercooled engine with a cast iron block and aluminum cylinder head. The crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons were all forged. All of the U.S. Ur-Quattros had two-valves per cylinder (the exhaust valves were sodium cooled) and a compression ratio of 7.0:1 with maximum boost of 1.9 bar. The front suspension was independent with struts and coil springs as was the rear. There were front and rear anti-roll bars and 6x15-inch Ronal alloy wheels. The front grille was vertical and there were four sealed-beam headlights. Silver Quattro stickers were placed on the side windows. U.S. cars came loaded with power steering, brakes, windows and door locks; air conditioning; electric heated mirrors; and a stainless-steel exhaust system. Options included leather upholstery, heated seats, cruise control and 7 or 8x15-inch wheels. Between 1982 and 1983 a total of 525 Audi Coupe Quattros were sold in the States.
1984 model yearThis year saw the addition of 8x15-in. Ronal alloy wheels with 215/50VR15 tires. This required a slightly wider rear valance to cover the tires. The fender edges were also rolled slightly to provide greater clearance. The dash was restyled to look more modern than the previous year. A total of 65 Coupe Quattros were sold in 1984 in the United States.
1985 model yearThe biggest change for 1985 was the substitution of a lightweight Kevlar hatch for the steel one on previous models. This was primarily to lessen the stress placed on the struts used to hold the rear hatch open. The rear spoiler was body colored, while the front grille sloped backward. The word "Quattro" was spelled out in the rear window defogger lines. A total of 73 Coupe Quattros were sold in the United States in 1985, with an additional car being sold in 1986.
The Sport QuattroThe rally success of the Ur-Quattro led the factory to build a small number (214) of very special Sport Quattros. These cars were about 9.5 inches shorter than a standard Quattro and were built with fiberglass and Kevlar composite body panels. The Sport Quattro was built between February 1984 and January 1986 and none were officially imported into the United States. The engine in these mighty-mites was a 20-valve, turbocharged and intercooled five-cylinder that made 306 bhp in street trim. The price of an Audi Sport Quattro was around $75,000.
European market carsEven though the Ur-Quattro left the U.S. market in 1985, it remained available in Europe through the end of its production in May 1991. Improvements were made along the way, including the addition of the Audi 20-valve engine and some subtle restyling. These cars are generally not seen for sale in the United States, but some gray-market cars may have slipped in over the years.
The other Coupe QuattroFor the 1990 model year, Audi introduced a normally aspirated Coupe Quattro that it sold through 1992. Although it had all-wheel drive and was a pleasant enough automobile, it was not the same as the Ur-Quattro and isn't considered as part of this buyers guide.
What to buyWith so few cars imported into the United States (664) over such a short period of time (1982-85), it comes down to beggars can't be choosers. Having said that, there always seem to be a few Audi Coupe Quattros for sale in different places. Even online auctions like eBay can be a good resource for a Quattro search. Likewise, there are several strong websites devoted to Audis and to the Ur-Quattro. Check out www.audifans.com and its classifieds for starters. Ur-Quattro aficionados do like the later cars with their upgraded dashboards and sloped grilles a bit more than the earlier cars. Truthfully, if you are in the market for one of these cars you need to look at every one that comes onto the market, and look for one in the best possible condition.
What to look forAt first glance, a Coupe Quattro would look like a reasonably affordable way to get into supercar ownership. That glance would be a bit deceiving however. Audis of this period suffer from the same maladies as most other European cars of the same era. Air conditioning, electric window switches and motors, fan motors and light switches all fail about as regularly on these cars as they do on similar Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo models.
While some Audi parts are reasonably priced, others are extremely expensive. Add to that the rarity of special Quattro parts and the high labor costs for relatively routine procedures and it's easy to see that the purchase price is just the beginning of the real cost of owning an Audi Quattro. The real key to buying a Quattro is condition. Because of their all-wheel-drive capabilities, these supercars were frequently driven all year round and may suffer from rust and corrosion more extensively than a summer car like a Porsche. Make sure you check and recheck every seam and panel for telltale signs of rust repairs. Check the car's color and interior against the paint codes stamped onto the body plate.
A good Ur-Quattro should come with a thick sheath of bills and repair history. These were not maintenance-free automobiles and there should be a nice paper trail of factory service and general upkeep. The engines are long-lived, but as they are turbocharged, may have been abused significantly in the past. Make sure all of the interior accessories like the door locks and power windows work, as fixing them can get expensive. The tappets in the engine may rattle a bit on starting, but this isn't a problem as long as the sound goes away after a few minutes. Watch out for exhaust leaks from the exhaust manifold, an expensive item to replace or repair. The power steering pumps on these older Audis are notorious for leaking and making noise. Check to see that there is enough fluid in the reservoir. Also, the rear brakes use a lever that pushes the rear pads onto the disc to actuate the handbrakes. If the rear calipers are frozen, the handbrake might not work at all. Check to see if it does. You can also feel the center of the wheels after a drive to see if the brakes are dragging and heating up the wheels.
The air conditioning is also problematic, so make sure it's working properly. Drive the car for a long enough period to make sure it isn't overheating and then look under the car for drips and leaks. You might also check the CV joint boots, a known weak point on Audis and an expensive repair if they're ripped and have allowed dirt and grunge to get at the CV joints.
Last, the receipts should show a timing belt change some time within the past 60,000 miles. If not, you better budget for one right away if you decide to buy the car.
What to payAudi Quattro Coupes were expensive cars when new. They haven't really kept their value the same way a Porsche 911 has, however. The prices are all over the board, reflecting their condition and their rarity. The average price seems to be in the $4,000 to $6,000 range for cars with more than 100,000 miles, but that have been cared for properly. Low-mileage examples of later cars can easily top $10,000, and those once-in-a-lifetime, all-original, low-mileage cars that appear once in a while can go upward from there. Still, for such a limited production, usable, high performance machine that sparked a revolution, these prices seem pretty reasonable.
SummaryMost of our buyers guides deal with cars that are fairly common and whose production numbers run into the tens of thousands. The Audi Coupe Quattro is something completely different. A major manufacturer, not at the time known for its performance cars, built it for a price higher than a Porsche 911. It led the way in the ultimate acceptance of all-wheel-drive performance cars and was the vanguard of a revolution in the world of motorsports. Audi Coupe Quattros are still available at a reasonable price. It won't be this way forever as enthusiasts begin to discover what amazing machines they were. With so few to go around, it won't be long before their prices rise and the Audi Coupe Quattro, the car that started a revolution, takes its rightful place among the truly collectable classics.
Notable: Quattros have come in a variety of guises over the years, all fantastic in their own right.