The Beauty Of All-Wheel Drive - The Audi Ur-Quattro
It wasn’t the first car to market as a full-time all-wheel drive, but the Audi Ur-Quattro remains special in the hearts of European car fans across the world.
Yes, we can all agree that the 1980 AMC Eagle was the first car in the US to bring all-wheel drive (AWD) to the market. In the States, the only way to get AWD was by buying a larger pickup truck that came with selectable 4WD. Once the Eagle, well, landed, it would be three years before we gained another. We think it was worth the wait as you’ll see when you look closely at Damon Schell’s 1983 Audi Quattro B2.
If you talk to hardcore Audi fans, this is the Ur-Quattro with “Ur” translated from German to mean “original.” Damon purchased this B2 in 2010, and his love of it came from growing up around an almost identical Quattro in Colorado. Damon explained, "ever since the first time I rode in that Quattro as a kid, I always wanted one.” A car like this is obviously tough to find today, but he simply explains that he was at the right place at the right time.
“This car was extremely well cared for by the previous three owners,” said Damon, “The last one upgraded a few parts to the Euro-spec parts, which sets it apart from most US-spec Ur-Quattro that do still exist and run.” This car still wears its original Mars Red, LA3A paint code if you’re curious.
Even the taillights and rear hatch panel that says “coupe” under the plate blank are still original.
“Only a few things have needed maintenance or parts sourcing,” said Damon, “but in general the car was a time capsule as it was so well preserved, maintained and cared. It has been a car that has not needed much more than oil, tires, and plugs to maintain.” Unfortunately, many of the Quattros we got here in the US were used as rally or track cars. Says Damon, “It has been very fortunate as so many are in horrible shape after being abused for decades and used for what they were originally intended for.”
Of course, it was that use as a race car that attracted many of us to it. It’s also of the typical 1980s European boxy design, but it was still uniquely Audi in its profiles and a low coefficient of drag. The idea of a high-performance, AWD car was still a unique idea but Audi’s chassis engineer, Jorg Bensinger, drew inspiration from the Volkswagen Iltis, a military vehicle that was absolutely unstoppable in extreme conditions such as the snowy German winters. The one thing that set the Iltis apart was its AWD system.
The Ur-Quattro was built as a part of the Type 85 family of vehicles, same chassis the Audi 80 was built on, and debuted in late 1980. You can see that Audi 80’s influence in the side profile. However, to set it apart beyond being a two-door version, a designer at Audi at the time by the name of Martin Smith sculpted the iconic flares that help identify this as the Quattro. You’re certainly not going to mistake this for being a similar car as the 80.
There are many differences between the US and European versions of the Quattro. Suffice to say, European cars got a lot of the cool parts, and our cars lacked many of the improvements to the interior. It’s a shame as there were changes done in the 1983 model year Quattro that were not shipped over to the US. We also were stuck with a four-spoke steering wheel, but this Quattro features a three-spoke version you typically saw on European models. There are also other small European parts installed on this car, but otherwise, it's as close to factory original as you’ll get without a full restoration.
European versions of the Quattro came with an LCD dashboard. The first units were vacuum fluorescent displays that were later replaced by LCD and both of those versions were green in color. That color then changed to orange in 1983. However, most of the US cars used an analog dashboard. Yes, those are the original 65,531-miles and all the driving this car has seen in 36 years and three owners.
No, there isn’t a loud or banging radio to replace the original. This Quattro still uses the same auto-reverse tape deck it came with in 1983.
We like to think of diff-locks as a truck thing, but Audi included a way for the driver to lock either the rear differential or center differential. This was done by this pull knob with small lights, not LEDs, to indicate which was locked at the time. The rear diff lock would make both wheels spin at the same time while the center differential lock forced power to all four wheels equally. Otherwise, all three differentials are open. For European models, the ABS was disabled. In the US, the ABS wasn’t. Why? Well, we didn’t get ABS.
What we did get were the leather interior and sunroof. Apparently, Audi in Germany was feeling generous with us on that one. However, again, it’s amazing to think that Damon’s car is 36 years old with the way his interior looks.
It’s also amazing to think that none of the three owners have really used those back seats. It’s not as cramped as most two-doors, but getting back there does require some slightly flexible joints to get over the front seats.
There are only two major changes away from the original car that you can see. One of those are these Ronal 16-spoke wheels in 15x8. However, these are European Ur-Quattro specification wheels and even feature the “Quattro” logo engraved in them. It’s a period-correct modification that doesn’t take away from the looks or performance of the car. However, modern rubber is nicer than rotted away 1980s rubber, so Damon’s tire of choice is are the Yokohama S-Drive tires in 205/55/R15 all around.
The other visible changes are the headlights and added Hella auxiliary lights. The headlights are European versions imported and installed by the previous owners before Damon along with the Hella lights. Though, not factory, it's hard not to imagine a Quattro without a rally-inspired light setup.
You can also just see the intercooler under the corner of the bumper there. It’s kind of an Audi/VW thing to do: install a small intercooler in the right-hand corner of the bumper. It does fine for factory and even mild performance, but push the turbo beyond its factory limit or drive hard for very long and this small intercooler becomes heat-soaked quickly. Even to this day, it’s something the German mark does and doesn’t appear to want to change when it comes to their gasoline-turbo cars unless chassis design forces them to move it somewhere else. Even then, they’d rather split it in two and use each corner of the bumper rather than use a single front mount version and allow far more air in and far more metal to spread the heat over.
Another Audi staple is one of design requirements, at least when it came to AWD. The engine sits far in front of the front axle. At the time, we didn’t have many of the complicated drivetrain technologies that made a front, independent axle easy to place on a longitudinal engined car. AMC did it on the Eagle by making it more like a truck with a traditional transmission and a transfer case attached to its output shaft. For Audi, it was a transaxle with an additional output shaft coming from the pinion shaft. It was also something VW was very familiar with thanks to building vehicles like the Beetle and the Bus.
It was the strongest, most compact, and most reliable way to build a front, independent axle like the Quattro required. Every Audi and Quattro system has been an evolution of this design and why Audi engines have always been located so far ahead of the front axle centerline. That evolution not only improved strength and features but slowly moved the front wheels closer to the center of the engine. It’s also why you see the radiator all the way to the left of the engine instead of straight in front like you traditionally see it.
The engine we received in the US was the 2.1-liter WX. While the rotating assembly and a few other parts were similar to the European WX, ours had lower turbo boost pressure, a weaker camshaft specification, and stricter emissions controls with a catalytic converter and an early version of an oxygen sensor. Even though there was some computer control, you’ll notice this weird, metallic squid with tentacles crawling over the engine.
This is the fuel distributor of the Bosch LH-Jetronic system and essentially works like a diesel fuel injector. High-pressure fuel is sent to the distributor, the amount of fuel sent to each line is determined by the airflow meter – which is under the grey elephant’s foot you see to the right of it in this picture – the distributor’s control pressure, and the oxygen sensor. The only change done to the engine is a period-correct Ned Ritchey – of Intended Acceleration fame – camshaft.
No, not even the exhaust has been changed, but the Audi Quattro already has a very unique song with its turbocharged, five-cylinder engine.
So, other than the love affair of the Quattro? “It came to me in what I believe to be the perfect period correct form and is to me timeless and inspiring for what it represents,” said Damon, “If I had found a car needing work or restoration I may be more inclined to tune it for horsepower, suspension, race appointments and track rubber but the story and path of this car is part of its charm.”
“I feel I am its current caretaker, allowing it to bring me joy by driving it as long as I own it,” Damon acknowledged, “this will allow other Quattro fans the joy of seeing it regularly which is rare, especially in a hot, beach environment.”
Initially, he purchased this Audi Quattro for his own enjoyment but continued, “I drove it often to the original Cars and Coffee Irvine, but now even though I bought it for my own enjoyment, I enjoy sharing it with others who have never seen or never experienced a Quattro,” Damon explained, “but have those memories from their childhood like I do. It has lore that is bigger than my ownership and I am amazed at how many people share their stories or thank me for sharing her. She is much more recognized, appreciated and remarked upon than I ever imagined.”
It’s very rare to get a chance to see cars like this Audi Ur-Quattro in real life, let alone one that the owner is willing to drive frequently. It is a car with low numbers from not only production but also in survival as many were raced, crashed, or scrapped.
Experiencing Damon's beautiful 1983 Audi Quattro allowed us to take our own trip down memory lane and share the history of the Quattro itself along with the excitement that Damon felt when he first rode in the car as a child.
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you enjoyed this Audi Quattro, you can find additional Audi-related content at audi.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one, here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Written By: Antonio Alvendia
FCP Euro's Feature Editor Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, 90s hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to several racetracks and automotive museums in Europe. He is currently devising a plan to return to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and drive the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS