It's good to have a goal. Just ask Dr. Ferdinand Piech, the man responsible for the marvel called the Audi quattro.
Piech came by his life's work honestly. After graduating from the Zurich Technical University with a degree in mechanical engineering, he joined a small but influential automotive company you might have heard of called Porsche, which at that time happened to be run by his uncle, Ferry Porsche. A quick learner with a knack for getting things done, Piech dove into Porsche's efforts in sports car racing and by 1968 he was technical director of the Porsche Experimental department, which is much akin to being given the keys to the candy store.
Piech's initial goal was to come up with a Porsche that could beat the Ferraris and Ford GT40s that were dominating endurance racing in those days, and soon he accomplished it with the 917 that took both the World Championship and the 24 Hours of LeMans, while at the same time putting a stranglehold on the then-thriving Can-Am series. It seemed that Piech was on top of the world until Porsche decided to change its business structure, limiting the influence of the Porsche family, and in the fallout Piech was left looking for work.
He didn't have to look too far, as it turned out. The Audi NSU branch of the Volkswagen conglomerate, which had always shared a common bond with Porsche, recruited Piech as senior manager for special projects, which essentially meant racing. Rising quickly and, some would say ruthlessly, through the Audi NSU ranks, he gained enough power to spur the development of a car for the World Rally Championship, a series that is largely unknown in the United States but a series that wielded great influence on European car buyers.
His mission in 1977 was to turn the humble (and we do mean humble) Audi 80 into a World Rally Championship winner. Since the Audi 80 of that era was about as stout as a strand of over-cooked spaghetti with the reliability of a convicted felon, it was a tall order. But with the services of chassis engineer Jorg Bensinger and drivetrain engineer Hans Nedvidek, he charged ahead based on the bright idea of using four-wheel-drive to give the racecar traction and handling advantages.
Up until that time, four-wheel-drive was viewed as strictly an off-road system. In fact, only Jensen, with its FF, had blazed a trail of road-going all-wheel-drive. The Jensen Ferguson Formula (hence "FF") was actually a very sophisticated design. It featured viscous coupling differential locks for both the center and rear differentials, a system that is still used extensively today, and the result was incredible stability. But Jensens were impossibly expensive, a roughly twice what a contemporary Jaguar E-Type cost, so it came as no surprise when Jensen FF production ceased in 1972.
Audi had its own four-wheel-drive experience with the Iltis off-road vehicle of 1976, so the technology was still au courant as Piech and crew adapted the technology to the lowly Audi 80. Not surprisingly the team borrowed components from the Audi 100/200 range, including the five-cylinder turbocharged engine and gearbox. From a purely technical standpoint, the first-generation or "ur-quattro" system wasn't as advanced as the old Jensen FF, because it used manually locked and unlocked center and rear differentials, but Audi quickly shifted to "Torsen" (for "torque sensing") center diff and read limited-slip differential.
Unveiled to the public at the 1980 Geneva Auto Show, the new Audi quattro coupe stood the collective rally world on its ear with its combination of power and uncanny roadholding. It immediately captured Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles and continued dominating over the course of the next two years. Since World Rally regulations called for a number of "production units" in order to homologate the model, some Audi quattros were purchased for street use and quickly won reputations as incredibly competent motorcars.
After three years of near-total domination in World Rally, Audi ran into difficulties in 1983 when the Lancia 037, a rear-drive vehicle, began to eat Audi's lunch in the series. Piech, of course, would have none of that, so Audi engineers returned to their drafting tables and created the quattro Sport, which could well have been the most powerful rally car in history.
Again dipping into the Audi parts bin, engineers came up with a 2133cc all-alloy, five cylinder block topped with a four-valve head. On the strength of serious boost from an out-sized turbocharger, maximum power in racing trim was said to be some 500 horsepower. Even in street trim, the engine produced somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 horsepower.
But additional power wasn't its biggest change. Instead, the Audi engineers did some serious plastic surgery, and we use that term advisedly, since the car featured Kevlar and glass-reinforced plastic body panels plus extensive use of aluminum. To cut weight and improve maneuverability the design staff sliced a huge 12.6 inches from the quattro's original wheelbase, giving the car a bit of an unsteady look because of its long front and rear overhangs. With its lightweight body and serious powerplant it could vault from zero to 60 miles per hour in an astounding four seconds and blow through the quarter mile in under 12 seconds.
The quattro Sport marked the introduction of Audi's 20-valve turbocharged engine into a road-going car. The 2133cc displacement and compression ratio of 8.0:1 don't seem to promise much, but the KKK-K27 turbocharger ran at an astounding maximum boost pressure of 17.4 pounds per square inch. Combined with Bosch LH Motronic all-electronic fuel injection and Bosch digital electronic ignition the standard "street" engine produced 306 horsepower at 6700 rpm and peak torque of 246 pound feet at 3700 rpm.
Essentially the Audi quattro Sport offered supercar performance in a package that could be mistaken at first glance for a mid-level hatchback. Sadly, a series of driver and spectators deaths served to spell the end for the wild Group B rally cars, of which the quattro sport was the prime example. Because of that and the car's stupendous price, just a few more than 200 of the 1984-6 vintage quattro Sports were ever produced and few made their way to the U.S., but the model still has a loyal worldwide following that consider it the ultimate rally car. And as to Piech, he didn't just stop at dominating World Rally; he eventually became the all-powerful head of Volkswagen Group, retiring in 2002.