Audi has been firing up the quattro birthday candles this month to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the pioneering Audi all-wheel-drive system that transferred from rally stage to road to redefine handling capabilities in passenger cars.

Since March 3rd 1980, when Dr Ferdinand Piech formally unveiled the now legendary ‘original quattro' coupé at an ice rink close to the Geneva Motor Show venue, over three million Audi models worldwide have been equipped with the renowned permanent all-wheel-drive technology.

In 2010, the significant advantages in all-weather grip, control and composure delivered by quattro are available in over 240 models across the UK Audi range, many of these featuring the latest of numerous evolutions of the system incorporating asymmetric 40%/60% front/rear torque distribution to provide rear-biased handling characteristics without the potential rear-drive pitfalls.

An ever-increasing number of Audi models, including the recently launched all-aluminium A8 luxury saloon, are also available with a new quattro sport differential, which manages the torque distributed to the rear by the centre differential more effectively by transferring it between the left and right rear wheels.

When the steering wheel is turned or the car accelerated in a corner, the sport differential redirects power in a controlled manner to the outer rear wheel, literally pushing the car through the bend. The driver benefits from reduced steering effort and a feeling of even greater adjustability and control.

The car that launched three million

The quattro models that are a feature of almost all ranges within the Audi portfolio all stem from 1980's remarkable ‘Ur' quattro. Featuring a longitudinally mounted 2.2-litre turbocharged and intercooled five-cylinder 'ten-valve' engine, it delivered up to 200PS at its maximum boost pressure of 0.85 bar, and reached its 285 Nm torque peak at 3,500 rpm. Weighing 1,290 kilograms, it could sprint from 0 to 62mph in 7.1 seconds and reach a top speed of 137mph.

Improvements were made throughout the car's 11-year lifespan, the most significant being the introduction of a Torsen centre differential, anti-lock brakes and, in 1989, a new four-valve cylinder head that brought an increase in power to 220PS and a higher top speed of 143mph. By the time production ended in 1991, 11,452 examples of this pioneer had left the production line.

This acknowledged ‘legend' also spawned an even more remarkable short-wheelbase model, the 1984 Sport quattro, featuring a newly developed four-valve turbocharged engine with an aluminium cylinder block that delivered a phenomenal 306PS. Although nominally a roadgoing car, extensive use of Kevlar and other weight-saving materials confirmed that this special model was also a serious rally contender.

224 examples were built, and enabled Audi to homologate its rally entries in Group B. At around £55,000 the purchase price, too, was high enough to ensure more than a modicum of exclusivity.

It is rare that one car can be said to have changed the face of motorsport but there can be no doubt that the Audi quattro did so. Initially it had a profound effect on the world of international rallying but also made a sizeable impact on circuit racing in America during the late 1980s. That success laid the foundations for an incredible decade in which quattro dominated on motor racing circuits throughout the world.

From stage to circuit

Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist driving Audi quattros won the 1983 and '84 World Rally Driver's titles, with Audi winning the Manufacturers' "crown" in '82 & '84. Michèle Mouton, Bobby Unser and Walter Röhrl stormed the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado in 1985-7 before Audi switched its all-wheel-drive concept to the race circuit.

Hurley Haywood won the fiercely competitive 1988 TransAm Championship with the Audi 200 quattro.

Hans-Joachim Stuck netted seven wins in the 1989 IMSA-GTO Series in an Audi 90 quattro before Audi turned to the Touring Car category in the 1990s. A multitude of race wins and championship titles followed in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, South Africa, Spain and Sweden courtesy of the Audi A4 quattro "Super Tourer".

The all-wheel-drive technology that has been instrumental in the exceptional success of these competition cars, and roadgoing stars including the acclaimed R8 mid-engined sports car and legions of much loved S and RS models, continues to go from strength to strength. A no less exciting chapter in its illustrious history began on the Audi stand in Geneva this year when a new evolution of quattro incorporating a crown gear differential made its debut in the remarkable new V8-powered, 450PS RS 5.

quattro:  Pre-production & Development - 1977-2000

* March 1977 - A four-wheel-drive Audi, the work of Walter Treser, appears for the first time. An Audi 80 is equipped as a mobile test bed with the relevant components from the combine's Iltis off-road military jeep vehicle.
* September 1979 - Hannu Mikkola test drives the latest prototype Audi quattro.
* March 1980 - Audi quattro (2.1-litre. 200bhp) introduced at Geneva Motorshow.
* Spring 1981 - LHD versions available in UK.
* December 1981 - RHD versions introduced into UK.
* Over three million quattro models produced worldwide since the first roadgoing model rolled off the line in 1980
* 242 quattro-equipped models available in the 2010 UK Audi line-up
* Latest generation system with 40/60 front-rear torque split and option of sport differential elevates quattro control to an even higher plane
* New RS 5 incorporates yet another beneficial advance with new crown gear differential

Watch a tribute to the Audi Quattro's rally career HERE

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