Nowadays every press release we receive insists that the firm concerned wants to be ‘disruptive’. It’s the standard cliché for every slightly different idea being promoted. Audi, though, genuinely merited the description when it launched the Quattro onto the world rally scene. With one machine it bulldozed the sport into four-wheel drive, mad turbo boost, double-clutch sequential gearboxes and a series of ever-more lurid homologation specials which finally killed the Group B era. Rallies would never be the same afterwards, and today 4WD is just another box to tick on your options list.
Since its introduction in 1980 Jeremy Walton has been fascinated by the cars and their technology (he describes himself as a Quattro zealot) and as a road tester, car book author and racer himself is well placed to relay both the competition story and the engineering that made it possible. For many years he provided Motor Sport’s road tests, too, appropriate as the book naturally covers the road-going versions of Audi’s groundbreaker. Its main thrust, though, is competition, whether on dusty forest tracks, the smooth Tarmac of American IMSA, or the mad uphill frenzy of Pikes Peak. From unpromising bones, with an engine hanging out in front like the head of a club, Audi’s brawny brainchild proved staggeringly adaptable.
Analysing the origins of this left-field idea Walton credits Ferdinand Piëch for green-lighting it, but gives all the engineers their moment – a handful of people we’ve never heard of but who saw the potential when a VW Iltis – an unsophisticated lightweight ‘jeep’ – proved quicker than 2WD rivals over muddy going. Hannu Mikkola was impressed enough by their 4WD 80 mule clambering a soggy slope to sign up for the ’81 season, having never even seen the rally car. It’s one of the many quotes Walton has gathered in a range of interviews over the years, which add insider detail – for example, that a senior manager said of the required homologation run, “Who can sell even 400 such cars?”