The quattro legend was built from quite humble origins. Volkswagen, who by the mid-1970s owned Audi, was providing the West German military with a four-wheel drive 'Jeep' called the Iltis. This used an amalgam of VW Group parts including a four-cylinder engine from the Audi 80.
Audi chassis engineer Jorg Bensinger had been impressed with the handling and traction of the Iltis prototype when he saw it testing in Scandanavia and returned to Audi HQ with the idea of adapting it for road and rally use. It wouldn't be the first all-wheel drive road car -- the Jensen FF came first-but its layout was far lighter and less complicated; where the Jensen had a cumbersome central transfer case and twin propshafts, the Audi design fed power through a gearbox-integrated, cockpit-lockable centre differential. This fed 50 per cent of drive to the similarly lockable rear axle and, via a hollowed-out secondary output shaft, transmitted remaining power to the open front differential.
By early 1978 the quattro project was given full approval. Only thing was, the World Rally Championship rules in 1978 dictated that vehicles with all-wheel drive were banned from competing. There is a legend that suggests that Audi bosses went to other manufacturers to ask if they'd object to that rule being changed. Only seeing the Iltis in the VAG line-up, nobody saw any reason why it couldn't be, so the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) removed the requirement in time for the 1981 season.
Ur-quattro was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show on March 3, 1980. A distinctive two-door coupe, quattro's longitudinally-mounted, intercooled turbo five displaced 2144cc, sported a single overhead camshaft with two valves per cylinder, and produced 147kW/280Nm. It also utilised an early form of electronic engine management which gauged boost level, crank position and inlet temperature to adjust timing accordingly.
The phrase "motoring icon" is bandied about a little too loosely these days. When it comes to the Ur-quattro, however, calling it iconic may not be praise enough.