It might seem downright quaint today, but prior to 1980, presenting the idea of an all-wheel-drive passenger car of any sort – never mind one with sporting pretensions – would have provided you a one-way ticket to the gearhead funny farm. Granted, British independent Jensen dabbled in it by way of the FF (short for Ferguson Formula, Ferguson being a pioneer in four-wheel-drive vehicles) from 1966 through ’71, but few people paid that Italian-styled, Chrysler-powered grand tourer much mind.
However, when Audi got its hands on one when developing the original Quattro, they used lessons from it to help their new AWD coupe make a statement. However, history has shown – be it on the rally stage, road course or suburban street – that the Ur-Quattro, as the serious Audiphiles call it, wasn’t a statement; it was a pardigm shift in how performance cars are designed. That car paved the way for whips like the Subaru WRX, Porsche 911 Carrera 4, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and Nissan GT-R. Even Audi’s now-corporate cousin, Lamborghini, sends almost all of its new models out the door with power going to all four corners. The O.G. Quattro changed the performance car landscape forever, which is more than enough reason for Audi to create a modern tribute on the occasion of its 30th birthday.
Called the Audi Quattro Concept (Creativity, schmeativity…), this great white landshark is all about celebrating tradition. The powertrain consists of a longitudinally-mounted turbocharged inline-5 sending power to a proper manual transmission, which then feeds power into the latest quattro AWD system. If that sounds exactly like a description of the 2-door Quattros of old, that’s because it is. This time around, however, that straight-fünf measures 2.5L and pounds out 408hp and 354 lb.-ft of torque, and the gearbox has six cogs set aside for forward progress. That compares favorably with all but the most bat-scat short-wheelbase Sport Quattros built during rallying’s Group (Killer) B era.
Speaking of those massively-muscular truncated models, the Quattro Concept’s styling is also a clear homage to the ghosts of gravel-sprayers past. Though apparently sharing some hidden bits with the current RS5, this anniversary present boasts a lower roofline, shorter wheelbase and shorter overhangs front and rear, the places you’ll also find some decidedly more aggressive and futuristic styling. But if you look closely – particularly in the rear ¾ view around the greenhouse – the inspiration for this mean little shape comes through clearly. Did we mention Audi kept the curb weight under 3,000 lb.? Hallelujah.
That relatively modest girth doesn’t mean the interior is that of some stripped out time attack torture chamber, though. You park your keister on one of two leather-trimmed Sparco bucket seats that tip the scales at 40 lb. apiece, and there’s a special version of Audi’s Multimedia Interface (MMI) system living in the dash. Why so special? It has the ability to display rally pace notes, perfect for those days when your inner Walter Röhrl or, in the case of our female readers, Michelle Mouton demands to be uncaged.
Will something like this ever hit showroom floors? Unlikely, but then again, many doubted the Le Mans Quattro Concept would reach production back in the day, and we all know the R8 brought each of those folks a bucket of Bavaria Fried Crow. In other words, never say never when speaking of Audi.