How the mighty have fallen. In 25 years, most expensive cars depreciate, but few cars as significant as the original Audi Coupe Quattro (Ur-Quattro from the German for "original") have so utterly disappeared both in value and visibility from the marketplace.
Although Audi was not the first to offer an all-wheel-drive sport coupe-Jensen briefly offered the FF in the late '60s and early '70s-Audi brought the concept to the mainstream with the Quattro. They promoted it by dominating the world rally scene and successfully integrated all-wheel-drive into their main product line.
Lamborghini Countaches and Ferrari 308s may have dominated the dorm room posters of the early 1980s, but if you spent any of your formative years either following big-time rallying or living in places like Boulder or Aspen, Colorado, the Coupe Quattro was the car you wanted.
As SCM's Thor Thorson noted in his July 2002 profile of the Audi Quattro Coupe, "At the 1980 Algarve rally in Portugal, Audi served notice when a Quattro was used as a course car (first car through, to clear the roads). Had it been a competitor, it would have won by 30 minutes."
While based on the underrated Audi 4000-derived Coupe, the relationship was like that of an E30 BMW M3 to a garden-variety 318i. Like the original M3, the Quattro pumped up the aggression level to the point of needing anger management therapy-the big fender blisters and Auto Union ring side decals signaled that Audi was back on the enthusiast map in a way not seen since the 1930s.
Boost gauge one of the few clues
The car's aggressive good looks didn't translate to the inside, which looked almost identical to a 4000 sedan, with plastic no better or no worse than the standards of the day. Most U.S. cars came with leather seating with funky diagonal pleating. The boost gauge and the differential control knob in the center console were the only giveaways to the special nature of the car.
One bonus is the acceptable rear seating the Quattro inherited from the ordinary coupe. U.S. cars unfortunately missed the good-looking, non-sealed-beam (i.e. effective) headlights of the Euro cars, making do with four square sealed-beam units. Most Quattro geeks have remedied this by retrofitting the Euro lights and adding a set of round driving lights.
By today's standards, the 2.1-liter KKK turbocharged inline 5-cylinder was neither particularly smooth nor powerful, putting out just 172 hp in U.S. trim. But it was good enough to push the Coupe Quattro from idle to 60 in a little over seven seconds-not much slower than a Ferrari 308 GTB of the day. And unlike a Ferrari, you didn't have to put the car away at the first sign of bad weather. In fact, "bad weather" was really "good weather" for the Quattro.
The Coupe Quattro was poised enough on dry roads, but lock the center differential with the knob on the console (complete with a lighted drivetrain diagram) and the car became nearly invincible. In the hands of drivers like Blomqvist, Mikkola, Hertz, and Mouton, the CQ was a weapon of mass destruction, from Pikes Peak to Monte Carlo, winning the manufacturers title for Audi in 1982 and '84.
Today's Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo owe their existence to the Ur-Quattro, which proved that a lightweight all-wheel-drive system and a compact high performance car were a match made in heaven.
Doesn't seem exotic today
Although considered relatively exotic when new because of its drivetrain, there is very little to the Quattro that seems exotic today. Like most early turbos, post-shutoff heat spikes could cause oil to coke, which ruined turbo bearings and impellers. New or rebuilt KKK turbos are shockingly expensive. Using modern synthetic oils and allowing a cool-down period of several minutes after a hard drive is advisable. Blown head gaskets are also a family flaw in Audi inline 5-cylinder engines. Expect the usual electrical issues and also brake booster problems.
Quattro coupes are only average rusters, but since fun in the snow was the raison d'etré for the Quattro, it's probably best to avoid Salt Belt cars. In addition to European headlights and a honking set of Hella or Cibié spotlights, most Quattro owners have made the wise decision to replace the stock wheels. For whatever reason, Audi chose to deliver the Quattro with the same skinny, finned "turbine" wheels that came standard on the 5000 of the day. They look lost in the big blistered fenders of the Quattro. A set of period Ronals, Gottis, or BBS wheels can be found on most surviving examples.
A few Quattros modified by ABT are still running around. ABT is to Audi what Alpina is to BMW. Turbo and exhaust mods gave these cars the jump of the European cars. If you find one still on the road after all this time, that answers any longevity questions.
Lousy cars change hands for $6,000
As far as future collectibility goes, the short-wheelbase, high-horsepower, unobtainium-in-the-U.S. "Sport Quattro" will always steal the limelight from its older brother. However, don't count out the Ur-Quattro. Although they rarely appear at land auctions, there have been a few recent eBay sales of good cars at close to the $20,000 level. I have a feeling the lousy ones change hands publicly for $6,000-$7,000, but the really good ones trade among those in the know for a lot more.
Cars like the original E30 M3 already have an intense following. Maybe the Gen-X WRXers will want to examine their cars' ancestor in much the same way the Boxster has caused the once-overlooked 914 to be re-examined by collectors.