It was March of 1980 when Audi launched a car that would change the automotive landscape. That was the Audi Quattro, or Ur-Quattro if you prefer that term. Without it, the sport of rallying would be totally different, and the idea of all-wheel drive in cars might not have taken off.
The Audi Quattro story started in 1977, almost entirely by accident. It started when Volkswagen was testing out a four-wheel-drive vehicle called the Iltis. Audi's chassis engineer, Jörg Bensinger noted that the vehicle had good traction in the snow. Bensinger thought it would be a good idea to put it in a passenger car so they put four-wheel-drive in an Audi 80 test mule and went with it. The project was approved by then Audi head, the late Ferdinand Piëch. The first release of the Quattro (or Ur-Quattro) used a turbocharged 2.1-liter inline-five mill making 200 PS.
Initially, there was skepticism about it. There were those who said that four-wheel drive in passenger cars would make them heavy, and the benefit would not have outweighed its complexity. It wasn't the first road car with all-wheel drive either. That honor went to the Jensen FF, but only saw limited commercial success and fueled even more skepticism.
However, it was on the rally stages of the world where Audi would prove the Quattro's worth. In its competition debut, it led the rally by minutes, leaving behind the two-wheel-drive cars that entered the race. From there, other automakers started putting the all-wheel-drive in their racers as well. Such was the impact of Audi in the sport of rallying.
Following that, just about every car manufacturer dabbled in all-wheel drive. There was suddenly an influx of all-wheel drive cars in the '80s, with German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz coming up with cars such as the 325ix and 300E 4Matic, respectively. Even Toyota got into the whole thing with their Celica All-Trac.
The Quattro ended production in 1991 but it left a lasting imprint on the motoring landscape. Because of it, we wouldn't have cars like the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and, to some extent, probably even the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R. Even the crossovers of today can tip their hat to the original Audi Quattro too, proving that you don't need a big, truck-based SUV or pick-up to have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Audi had shown the advantages of having four driven wheels in cars by the time the last Quattro had rolled off the assembly line. By that time, it had used a 2.2-liter turbo (still with five-cylinders) and pushed out 220 PS. They had proved to the world that four-wheel drive isn't just for trucks and SUVs with this box-flared coupe. To this day, Audi offers all-wheel drive in just about every car they make, from the subcompact A1, all the way to the Q8 crossover.
And all of this started when someone stuck four-wheel-drive system in a prototype in the late '70s.