Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
'Fire up the Quattro! Shut it, you slaaaaag!, Oi oi, apples and pears, my old man’s a dustman, and so forth!' Alright, I never watched Ashes to Ashes, but that first ubiquitous phrase is as much a part of the TV-inspired everyday lexicon as 'D’oh!', 'Here's one I made earlier' and 'We were on a break'. You almost feel sorry for the owners of ur-Quattros, as they must hear the bloody thing every day of their lives.
Almost, yes, but not quite. Because the pay-off for having gawping bystanders relentlessly firing TV catchphrases at you is that, er, you get to own a Quattro. And having recently driven this timeworn but feisty red example, I can confirm that this must be a Very Good Thing.
The model was a revelation when it appeared at Geneva in 1980. How could it not be? It took the generally agricultural process of sending drive to all four wheels and repackaged it as a means to go faster. The face of rallying would never be the same again, Audi’s racy Quattros decimating all comers and forcing every rival into an adapt-or-die position. And for those people who used the road-going variants as daily drivers? Oh, they were heroes…
In a modern context, of course, it’s not all that astonishing. We’re spoilt today – every new hot hatch boasts the sort of performance figures that would have been supercar territory back in 1980; brakes are infinitely better, suspension system far more advanced – the game has moved on. So today, the Quattro feels quick-ish rather than actually fast, and the brakes are a bit wishy-washy.
But this really isn’t the point. You see, the thing about the Quattro is that… it’s a Quattro. It’s an icon, a legend, those eighties-fade rings on the doors speaking volumes about none-too-subtle sporting intent. This is a car that Audi sold to the public with switchable diffs and a boost gauge, and a 2.1-litre 20v 5-pot offering 200bhp – a demonstration of trust in the man on the street that he could handle what their rally department had been cooking up. And for those lucky punters, the reward came in the form of a chassis so good, so poised, that it offers up oodles and oodles of unrelenting grip, sublime body control with surprisingly little roll, and the sort of dependable agility that few cars can match even now.
This example may have over 170,000 miles on the clock, but it still feels as tight as a drum; whereas other performance machines of the era feel flimsy and rattly today (I’m looking at you, 205 GTI), this is testament to the fastidiousness with which Audi nailed the Quattro together. It smells exactly like a 1980s car should in there, it has appropriately boisterous seat trim and headlining, the driving position is superb – it’s a great relief to find that a car that’s so revered is actually as good as everybody makes out. Sure, it could do with being more powerful (quite a lot more powerful would be nice), and it really needs better brakes. But that’s true of a lot of cars of the early 1980s. All of them, probably. But few of them work in harmony with the driver quite like this one does – it encourages and complements your inputs, urges you to push harder; it’s never scary, it just feels right. Even when you realise that you’re going 20 or 30mph faster than you thought you were. Even when, as happened to me, you find the bright sunshine suddenly being switched off and replaced with a momentary torrential blizzard. ‘Hey, it’s a rally car, it’ll cope,’ you think. And it does, tremendously.
The one feature that really entertains, however, is the turbo. And not just for the fact that it delivers its thrills in a thoroughly old-school way, building the tension through treacly lag before spiking on boost and thumping you in the back. No, it’s the fact that it sounds exactly like an approaching police siren. The first time you properly boot the throttle, you immediately back off assuming that you’re about to be tugged by the fuzz. There are no blue lights in your mirrors, so you press on – and it happens again. Then you realise, and it becomes a game – suddenly, you’re not the mouse but the cat; you are DCI Gene Hunt, firing up the Quattro. And if I’d ever watched the show, I’d know exactly what that meant.
Fancy having a go yourself? This one belongs to Great Escape Cars, drop 'em a line…