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quattro history (longish)

'tis that time of year again, the Audi quattro Winter Driving School is
getting down to action here in Finland.  We spent the last two days in
Tahkovuori, a ski resort in central/eastern Finland, with Audi Finland's
trainers, dealers/sales managers and a few hired special stage specialists,
learning the ins and outs of this years upcoming customer classes starting
up in two weeks.  Just as last year, after a day of ice track driving with
new quattros, 360's at 100+ km/h, and innumerable spins/wipe-outs, the day
ended with Hannu Mikkola giving us a good look into the quattro and its days
from the late seventies to today.

He dwelved into the history books by recalling the early days of quattro
development, even before he was hired by Audi as their firs world-class
driver.  The Audi engineers were in Finland in the winter of 1978, testing
prototypes of the Audi 200, and another group of Audi engineers were testing
the new VW Iltis military vehicle, the development of which had been farmed
out to Audi by Volkswagen.  Apparently the sight of a military vehicle
overtaking the 200 on the icy track on numerous occasions got the engineers
thinking.  An engineer (whose name I cannot recall now) presented the idea
to tech.director F.Piech, who as we all know, loves a tecnical challenge
others would deem impossible.  Piech and crew worked secretly to develop
their first mule based on the Iltis drivetrain, and then presented it to
Audi and Volkswagen directors.  Now all that was needed was a production car
and a way to bring the idea's brilliance to the public eye.  What better way
to separate the quattro from traditional 4x4's than motorsport...

Walter Treser was put in charge of the development of the Urquattro and
Hannu was contacted in 1979 to come and listen/try the ideas that Audi had.
Skepctically, Hannu went ahead, as he felt that however ludicrous the whole
idea seemed to him and the rest of the rallying world, he may one day regret
letting the opportunity pass.  He convinced Audi to enter for the 1981
championship, even though Audi wanted to enter in 1980 midway through the
season.  The development would take time, and he new that probably better
than the Audis staff at the time.  Audi worked with concepts new to
rallying, four-wheel drive and turbocharging, and to top it off, teamed up
with suppliers new to rallying, such as Boge (shocks), Kleber (tires) in
critical areas of development and outright performance.  Hannu drove the
occasional rally in 1980 with Ford (still under contract) and where Ford did
not enter he occasionally drove something else, for example a 911.

The Urquattro was given its christening by Hannu as a zero-car at a rally in
France near the end of the 1980 season.  His suspicions were confirmed at
the end of the first stage, where he finished in similar conditions to 1979,
when he had the fastest time on the stage with his Ford, but now 40 seconds
faster.  It apparently took some convincing by Audi to allow four wheel
drive on the rally circuit, but FISA/FIA apparently thought that Audi was
building a safari special, where four wheel drive, as they saw it, might
have given one a slight advantage.  :^)

The first cars had 280 horsepower and the development finally culminated in
the 570hp S1.  On the Sport quattro, Hannu felt that the road car was an
outstanding performer and fun to drive, but the rally cars'  squat/dive
characteristics made it difficult to drive, adding to the instability
inherent in the whole swb design.  He felt the wheelbase being 5 cm longer
would have calmed the car down, yet given them a size of car they could
handle on the stages.

Hannu did not drive the much talked about mid-engined quattro, but was
involved in its development.  He speculated on the car making an appearance
at the Audi museum that will open in Ingolstadt in 1999.

He also talked about the S1, and the challenges 570hp in 1200kg on gravel
presented.  He mentioned experiencing, with others, what is known as
break-off phenomenon, apparently something jet pilots sometimes experience,
where at extremely high speeds and narrow fields of vision one has an
out-of-body experience of sorts.  He said that at high speeds it almost felt
like he was all of a sudden outside the car watching it rocket down the
stage.  News to me...

He talked about the end of group B rallying, Henri Toivonen's death and the
ever-growing risks to drivers and spectators.  He recalled running the huge
200 q the following year in group A guise, performing surprisingly well at
times, winning the Safari rally and placing it second in Acropolis.

As always, Hannu was a calm, relaxed gentleman, answering all of our
questions whether about the development and the dynamics of quattros, or the
world of rallying.  He also talked extensively of the worked he did with
Audi at dealer/press meetings in North America and Europe.  He has not
watched 60 minutes after the UA fiasco, as he remembers being in the midst
of the whole mess, being a PR spokesman as well as a development/test driver
and rally driver.  He has spent much of his time after the end of his active
career living in Florida, and knows the US market and Audi's past/present
situation there.

Two weeks from today, I will get to do this all over again, this time with a
group of ten customers.

Jouko Haapanen
Pori, Finland