Case not helped by building models such as the Audi 50 – a badge-engineered first-generation VW Polo…
This approach was never going to turn it into a BMW beater. And so, enter Dr Ferdinand Piech, mercurial head of all things VW nowadays, but back then in charge of Audi.
He’s an engineering nut – always has been. And he pushed through an idea… four-wheel drive for cars.
Now it makes so much sense; it could be used to improve handling, not just help big trucks go off-road, said his engineering
boffins. Problem was, making it compact enough to fit an everyday coupe. A coupe such as, ooh, the Audi Coupe. That wasn’t to stop him.
Development continued apace in the late 1970s, for the launch in 1980 of a quite extraordinary car – the Audi Quattro.
This permanent four-wheel drive system was mated to a high-performance turbocharged five-cylinder engine, which put out 200bhp. Sure, it was quick, as the Audi 80-derived Coupe was not a heavy car. But it was the sheer usability of this performance that left dealers, journalists and, subsequently, customers totally dumbstruck.
You had twice the wheels to channel power through – so two times the rubber to put it down on the road. With the added benefits of neutral, balanced handling, it meant the Quattro was a ferocious point-to-point machine. On back roads, it left even Ferraris and Porsches for dead.
This wasn’t lost on the motorsport boys. Soon, the inevitable rally car arrived – Audi exploiting a rule that supported 4WD cars. In an instant, it completely changed the rallying world, too. Escort Mk2s were wiped out. Lancia Stratos, relegated. Today’s WRC machines owe their all to this car.
Which, let’s not forget, was phenomenally successful in rallying. Stig Blomqvist, Walter Rohrl, Michele Mouton, all won rallies in it. Mouton was actually the first female to win a world rally championship.
But every one was massively significant for the UK dealer franchise – still, don’t forget, sharing space and fighting for attention with Volkswagen in British outlets.
The brand before had no identity, particularly in the UK. What the Quattro brought to the table was engineering excellence, innovative thinking, smart design – and, yes, Vorsprung Durch Technik.
Audi’s smart, savvy profile was born completely from this car. What’s more, it gave dealers the clout and impetus to make a success of their own network.
Today, that stands at 133, and will soon even include Europe’s largest car dealer! Now, nearly 30 years on, you just need to look at where Audi is today, for testimony to what a vital car it was. How significant it was for Audi dealers back in 1980s to, for the first time, fire up the Quattro…