It is known as the Ur-Quattro and the street Quattro, or sometimes just the Ur-Q, in an effort by its legions of fanatical admirers to inform the public that this is not the same Quattro they think they know. They are tired of being asked, "Which one?" when they say they have a Quattro, for in their minds, there is only one, the one that started it all.

As is true of many great cars, the Quattro is in large part the result of one man's vision and drive. In this case, it is not some little-remembered engineer or manager, but of Ferdinand Piëch, the man who went on to run the entire Volkswagen Group, Audi's parent company.

If you're going to be involved in the German car industry, it doesn't hurt to be named after your grandfather, Ferdinand Porsche, or to have a job at his company. Piëch started work at Porsche in 1963, and by 1968 was working as technical director of the Experimental Department, also known as the racing division. His tenure there was short--by 1971 the company was phasing out direct family involvement in management--but marked by the sort of manic drive and success that characterized his entire career. Perhaps his most lasting accomplishment was the development of the incredible 1970 Le Mans-winning 5-liter, horizontal 12-cylinder 1,100-horsepower Porsche 917, a car that was built from scratch in about eight months, including a complete homologation production run of 25 cars. In their instantly recognizable blue and orange Gulf livery, they succeeded the Ford GT40s and are among the most famous race cars on the planet, not the least because of a starring role as Steve McQueen's ride in the movie Le Mans.

Victorious over massive factory efforts including Ferrari and Ford, it was a demonstration of Piëch's intense willpower and commitment to victory at all costs that emerged again later at Audi. After dalliances with BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Piëch went to work for Audi in 1972, and was named head of research and development in 1975.

Jörg Bessinger, head of Audi's road-test department, related to Piëch his experiences driving a four-wheel-drive military VW/Audi Type 183 Iltis north of the Arctic Circle in Finland, and wondered if the technology could be adapted to a sports car, with rally competition in mind. Piëch was eventually convinced, and several prototypes were developed in secret.

The Quattro was derived from several sources: The layout of a longitudinal engine, front-wheel-drive-based four-wheel-drive car came from the Iltis; the drivetrain from the Audi 100; the basic platform from the Audi 80 sedan; and the body from the Audi (80) Coupe.

Piëch arranged a number of impressive demonstrations for VW and Audi directors, usually involving a comparison between a Quattro prototype and a stock front-wheel-drive Audi on a slippery surface, including grass and snow. Piëch was himself also known to take an unsuspecting senior manager for a high-speed drive in rain or snow, selling the project to the terrified executive at high speed. A rally program based on the Quattro was approved, and the Quattro appeared on the Audi stand at the 1979 Frankfurt auto show.

Competition victories came right from the beginning. A preview of what was to come happened at the debut of the rally car at the 1980 Algarve rally in Portugal, when the Quattro used as a course car to clear the roads finished with a time far better than that any of the actual competitors would record. An attempt at Monte Carlo in 1981 was cut short when driver Hannu Mikkola shunted his car into a bridge abutment from the lead, but the team won several championship events that year, including the San Remo rally, where Audi works team driver Michèle Mouton became the first woman ever to win a World Rally Championship event. In 1982, Audi won the WRC outright. A series of updates to the car, including the wickedly powerful 306hp, short-wheelbase Quattro Sport homologation lightweight in 1984, kept them competitive through the end of the 1980s. They also launched a series of Pikes Peak hillclimb efforts in the Quattro, with victories there by Mouton in 1985 and Bobby Unser in 1986, followed by a sub-11-minute world record with Walter Röhrl at the helm of the Quattro S1 in 1987. Racing success with later iterations of the Quattro has continued to this day in the TransAm Championship, IMSA-GTO, the German, French, British, Central European, Australian, Finnish, Swedish and Italian Touring Car Championships, and lately the Speed GT World Challenge, where the awesome RS6 currently holds back-to-back titles.

Piëch retired from VW Group in 2002, but continued to be an ardent proponent of Audi's racing efforts, helping to follow up the success of the Quattro with the multiple Le Mans-winning R8.

The Ur-Quattro (Ur being used to mean original, or perhaps primal) was released to the U.S. general public in 1982 as a 1983 model, a year after the car's European debut. It had been intended originally only as a rally homologation with a run of 400 cars, but immense public attention resulted not only in an extended production life span, but the eventual spread of Quattro thorough the entire Audi line.

The U.S.-spec production Quattro debuted with a 2.1-liter turbocharged inline-five good for 160hp at 3,000 rpm; European models were available with closer to 200hp. There were 4,201 front-wheel-drive Coupe GTs sold that year, but only 285 Quattro-equipped models. At a base price of $35,000, sales fell after that, to 240 for actual 1983 models, down to 65 in 1984, 73 in 1985 and a single leftover in 1986. European production, with a 20-valve engine making 220hp appearing in 1989, continued through early 1991.

The 1985 model was the recipient of an updated dash and interior, but otherwise the car underwent very few changes during its brief life span. Nevertheless, Quattro aficionados point to this slight change as making the final year the most desirable of all.

Mark Komanecky acquired his 1985 Quattro almost by accident. While he had been a longtime Audi owner (including a V-6 S4 Avant), it wasn't until a neighbor next door to his vacation home in Vermont decided to part with his all-original 40,000-mile example that he became a convert to the wellspring.

Mark's Quattro had passed through the previous 20 years in truly remarkable shape, but did require some maintenance. Amazingly, the ungalvanized sheetmetal is almost perfect, showing only very slight evidence of repair in a right-side quarter-panel. As is common, the factory stainless exhaust had failed, and Mark had a custom stainless exhaust with large dual tips fabricated.

We let Mark warm up the car for us, although we would have been happy listening to the smooth five all day long. It sounds like pure speed, ripping gently when accelerating and emitting an intoxicating snapping burble through the large twin tips when letting off the throttle. This is not a car that wants to coast along or idle (although it does that without complaint), but to be unleashed on a series of mountain passes, the turbo making the most of high Alpine air.

We couldn't take the car to Grand-St.-Bernard in Switzerland, but the rain-slick roads outside of Boston provided all the thrills we could have asked for. We were quickly reminded that in normal driving circumstances, this is a four-wheel-drive automobile, unlike the turbo all-wheel-drive inheritors of the Quattro legacy (i.e., Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evolution). The manually locking electro-pneumatic center and differentials are designed to be used only in low-speed situations for extra traction, just as Piëch demonstrated on grass and snow in 1979. In this way, the car should be considered four-wheel drive, rather than all-wheel drive.

With this in mind, it behaves much as any good front driver does. With sensibilities recalibrated by several years of modern 200hp-plus cars, it's nice to drive something where the front wheels aren't being asked to transmit more power than they can handle. And at low revs, they really aren't being asked to handle much. We don't have a power curve for the car, but we'd guess that something not much over 125hp is being delivered while cruising at 2,000 rpm.

Things start to change as the tach swings around and the boost gauge starts to rise. The turbo begins to make serious torque at 3,000 rpm, and then there's a breathless moment of hesitation as you squeeze the pedal down. It's akin to sitting in a roller coaster as it crests the top of the hill. You hold on tight, then...whoosh, and the ride begins.

The meaty Z-rated Dunlops dig in hard through the corners as we blip the throttle to attempt a downshift, but the notoriously notchy shifter balks at our first couple of attempts to keep the engine high up in the power band. After a little practice, the perfectly placed pedals help make it possible to keep the small five alive, and we learn to think a moment or two ahead, downshifting on the way into the corner, letting the wheels scrabble for grip and peaking as we exit. There's time for a quick trip into fourth gear before it's time to drop down a gear or two in preparation for the next set of esses.

A truck full of apples from a nearby orchard pulls out in front of us, and Mark's knuckles go a little white as he mentions that this is before anti-lock brakes. There is no drama, however, as the vented front and solid rear discs bite cleanly and solidly, the car staying flat and stable through the stop. Contemporary accounts give the car an exemplary 185-foot stop from 70 mph.

We head out on the highway, and have an interesting moment as we pass over a sharp drop in the pavement. Five inches of clearance may seem ample, but the stock Boge gas dampers are not interested in floating around over the road. The car drops sharply, then gets squirrelly, bouncing and twitching sideways. It quickly comes back into line, but it's not a moment we'd care to repeat on a high-speed curve. There is a history of exciting moments such as this. Mark Hughes wrote in Classic & Sports Car: "Everything can unravel very quickly...The borders of handling are quite precise when the limit approaches. Hold on to the power too long and you'll go off the road nose-first. Back off for too long and you'll exit tail-first." This was historically the fate of more than a few Quattros, which ended up with any number of smashed-in corners.

We avoid this ignominious fate, but it's a reminder that this was a car playing in the supercar leagues. The ultra-limited U.S. production, the stratospheric pricetag, the exotic drivetrain, even the then-unheard-of 50-series tires put the Quattro into a realm where Porsches came out to play. The rest of our time in the wonderful, all-business cabin is more sedate, but we are always aware that a genie that might or might not choose to grant your wish can be uncorked with a thought.

As we put the Quattro away for the night, the electric fan kicked on to dissipate some of the intense heat from our repeated runs up the tach. It doesn't hum or whir as a fan should, but emits a seductive hiss. The Ingolstadt serpent is calling you to go out and find one more curve, one more rain-slick stretch of road where the Ur-Quat can once more come truly alive.

Owner's Story
"This is my first experience with something more than five or six years old. I've owned six Audis in my lifetime, and this has been the most special, unique and satisfying. I've owned cars that have more performance and luxury, but this has been the most satisfying of all. The adoption of the technology by other manufacturers was all driven by this car, and it's exciting to own a piece of Quattro history.

"The driving experience does take me back in time to a generation of vehicles which no longer exists, a vehicle that doesn't have the same level of electronic equipment or complex interior controls; relatively speaking, it is a simple car.

"Despite the relative lack of horsepower compared to today's sporty vehicles, it is still fun to drive, and the car is able to be driven with some gusto. I don't have to be afraid to drive it...aside from the fear of damaging the car. I don't ever plan to track the car, in part because it is so historically significant, and I want to take care of it and not subject it to the stresses of being raced.

"When I purchased it, my vision was that I would work to restore what little needed to be worked on to bring it to the point that it would be an excellent car, then enjoy it on weekends and take it to special events. But I knew it was a car that was special, and I wanted to be able to enjoy it and, at the same time, take care of it and preserve it as long as possible."

-Mark Komanecky

What to Pay

1985 Audi Quattro
Low: $6,000
Average: $8,500
High: $10,000

Club Scene

Audi Club North America
111 North Main Street
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066
Dues: $44/year; Membership: 10,000

Pros & Cons

Put that poster from your high-school locker in your garage
Feel the love from the Audi fans

You have 73 from which to choose, and this is the best one
Underpowered by today's standards
Having to say "just Quattro" every time you go out


Type: Inline five-cylinder, 10 overhead valves, cast-iron block, aluminum cylinder head, forged-steel crankshaft, solid tappets
Displacement: 2,144cc
Bore X Stroke: 79.5mm X 86.4mm
Compression ratio: 7.0:1
Horsepower @ rpm: 160 @ 5,500
Torque @ rpm: 170-lbs.ft. @ 3,000
Valvetrain: Belt-driven single overhead camshaft
Main bearings: Six
Fuel system: Bosch K-Jetronic with Lambda hydromechanical CIS port fuel injection, KKK-K26 oil-cooled turbocharger with max. 1.9 bar pressure, air-to-air intercooler
Ignition system: Hitachi electronic with integral manifold pressure sensor
Lubrication system: Full-pressure
Electrical system: 12-volt
Exhaust system: Single, cast-iron manifold, stainless-steel exhaust

Type: Five-speed manual transaxle, aluminum housing
Ratios 1st: 3.60:1
2nd: 2.13:1
3rd: 1.36:1
4th: 0.97:1
5th: 0.78:1
Reverse: 3.17:1

Type: Manual locking center and rear
Ratio: 3.89:1

Type: Hydraulic, power assisted
Front: 11.02-inch ventilated disc
Rear: 9.45-inch solid disc

Construction: Unitized all-steel
Body style: Two-door, four-passenger coupe
Layout: Front engine, four-wheel-drive

Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Ratio: 22.4:1
Turns, lock-to-lock: 3.4
Turning circle: 34.0 feet

Front: Independent, MacPherson struts, control arm, coil springs, telescopic hydraulic shocks, 23.7mm anti-roll bar
Rear: Independent, coil-over struts, hydraulic shocks, 19mm anti-roll bar
Wheels: Multi-spoke Ronal painted cast-aluminum
Front/rear: 15 X 8-inches
Tires: Dunlop SP Sport 5000
Front/rear: P215/50ZR15

Wheelbase: 99.4 inches
Overall length: 178.2 inches
Overall width: 67.9 inches
Overall height: 52.0 inches
Front track: 56.0 inches
Rear track: 57.4 inches
Shipping weight: 3,100 pounds

Crankcase: 4.5 quarts
Cooling system: 9.8 quarts
Fuel tank: 23.8 gallons

Bhp per liter: 72.63
Weight per bhp: 19.38 pounds
Weight per cc: 1.32 pounds

0-60: 7.2 seconds
1/4-mile ET: 15.5 seconds @ 88 mph
Top speed: 124 mph
Fuel Mileage: 25 mpg

This article originally appeared in the NOVEMBER 1, 2005 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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