Italian Alps

Integrale’s Rival 1981 Audi UR Quattro

Every once in a while, a car comes along in the racing world that is so revolutionary it forces every other team to reevaluate what they are doing entirely. One of the most notable examples of this was with Audi and its Quattro system. Audi had been experimenting with all-wheel drive sedans in secret since the mid-1970s, and when the rules changed to allow four-wheel drive for the 1980 rally season, Audi was ahead of the curve. 

The four wheel traction was relegated to trucks and military vehicles as it was considered too heavy and unwieldy but thanks to considerable development by Ingolstadt, many of the common drivability issues in town were gone, and what was left was a car that made drivers exceptionally confident in nearly any weather conditions. 

Although the car initially had some teething issues, it was positively unbeatable when working properly- especially on a loose surface. By the time the 1982 season came about, other teams realized that all-wheel drive would be the only way forward. 

The 1983 championship, when the legendary Lancia 037 Group.B dominated the season, with Walter Röhrl at the wheel, was the last with a winning two wheel drive car. In 1984 also Lancia introduced the “Integrale” system on its Delta S4 and all manufacturers were now competing in the Rally Championship with four wheel drive cars. 

The homologation car of the Audi was the “Ur Quattro” Coupe on which the race car was based, immediately identifiable over its front-wheel drive Coupe GT brother thanks to its stunning box flared fenders and subtle rear wing.

Powering the Quattro is a 2.1 liter inline-5, with the addition of a turbocharger and intercooler for a power bump. This means 197 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque from just 3,500 rpm and a 0-100 km/h sprint of just 7.1 seconds. With a top speed of over 220 km/h, the Quattro was in a similar league to the contemporary 911 SC, but that performance was achieved very differently. Power was sent through a 5-speed manual gearbox to a full-time 4-wheel drive system- with switchable differential locks both front and rear.

Sitting in front of the driver is a 4-spoke steering wheel with “Turbo” emblazoned in the center, and sitting behind it, a gauge cluster with the all-important turbo boost gauge sitting right in the middle. 

We were expecting a much better sound from the 5 cylinder but it’s also true that this specific car is completely stock. The turbo lag it’s there in abundance, floor the throttle and… wait for it…wait more… wait… and finally the turbo kicks in and the Quattro shoots for the horizon at decent speed. The steering wheel is surprisingly communicative, while the manual shift is less than precise and the brakes take a bit of getting used to.

The most natural and correct comparison for the Ur-Quattro would be with the Lancia 037 Stradale, its homologation rival at the time. However, it’s probably more appropriate to compare it with the Lancia Delta HF Awd, the first of the many versions of the multi-winning Lancia. While the Ur-Quattro exudes an evocative 80s look,  we can’t deny that we have found it a bit disappointing to drive. With a few modifications, it could definitely completely transform, fully expressing its potential.

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