1980-1991 Audi Quattro Buying Guide

There aren’t many cars that can justifiably claim to be a game changer, but the Quattro was exactly that. Here's what to look for

1980-1991 Audi Quattro Buying Guide

How much to pay

• Project £2000-10,000 • Good £9000 - 28,000• Concours £30,000+ •

Overview

Practicality ★★★★★
Running costs ★★★
Spares ★★
DIY Friendly ★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★★

In a world awash with high-performance cars equipped with four-wheel drive, the Audi Quattro doesn’t seem all that revolutionary. Yet, when this high-performance coupé from Ingolstatdt burst onto the scene in 1980, things would never be the same again. The Audi Quattro changed the game so drastically it took rival manufacturers several decades to catch up.

Here was a car that had power and performance courtesy of a turbocharged five-cylinder engine, and when the going got tricky the Quattro just dug its heels in and got on with it. Whether it was on the rally stage or a deserted twisty road, the Quattro could provide thrills like nothing else.

Practical, usable, beautifully built and reliable too, the Quattro was the high-performance car that had it all. Now that it’s a bona fide classic, the Quattro is as desirable and as usable as ever, but poor parts supply is becoming an issue and rough cars are more common than you might think. You’ll never look back if you can find a good one – but that can be a lot harder than it sounds.

Your AutoClassics Audi Quattro inspection checklist

Engine

There were three different variations of the same in-line five-cylinder engine. First came the WR (2144cc, 10 valves), followed by the MB in 1987 (2226cc, 10 valves), with the RR (2226cc, 20 valves) taking over in 1989. Least reliable is the WR, while the RR is by far the most dependable, but parts for this version are also the most costly.

Any engine rebuild is expensive, but if looked after a WR unit will give at least 150,000 miles; the MB and RR powerplants will surpass 200,000 miles without protest. The key is to change the oil every 5000 miles and to use Audi oil filters (the WR has two), as these have the necessary non-return valve.

The cylinder bores eventually wear oval because the engine is canted over. As engine parts are generally scarce or extinct, sourcing a decent used engine is often the only solution – and these are also hard to find.

Poor performance and blue exhaust smoke suggests turbocharger failure on the WR engine; later Quattros got a water-cooled turbo whereas the earlier item is prone to bearing failure and failed seals. Letting the engine idle for a couple of minutes before switching off helps to extend the turbo’s life – watch to see if the owner does this.

Cracked manifolds are common, so listen for ticking as the engine warms up. Replacing a manifold is very costly as it takes three days to do the work, and the parts are expensive too.

Split intercooler hoses lead to the 10-valve engine running poorly, while any Quattro can suffer from worn valve guides or hardened valve seals, so watch for blue exhaust smoke on the over-run.

Other potential problems include corroded oil cooler joints, a failed inlet manifold pressure sensor (the engine runs poorly) or a failed fuel pump, in which case the engine won’t start. The engine should also have had a new cambelt within the last five years.

Gearbox

The transmission is complex but reliable. Tired synchromesh is the most likely issue but most owners simply live with it, due to the cost of repair. A clutch can easily last 150,000 miles if not abused; at replacement time a genuine Sachs item should be fitted as nothing else seems to last as long.

All Quattros have pneumatically operated differential locks, which can seize up. Press the button on the centre console and if the light on the dash doesn’t illuminate some TLC is needed. It’s easy to free everything off and lubricate it though.

Suspension and brakes

Most Quattros are now driven fairly gently, but any car might still need fresh suspension bushes because of ageing. Most likely to need attention are the bushes in the wishbones along with the front and rear subframes. Hard-driven 20-valve cars can suffer from cracks in the rear subframe, with replacements very expensive.

Uneven tyre wear and vague steering are probably down to the wheels being out of alignment; an annual check for camber and to in/toe out is essential on any Quattro driven regularly.

The alloy wheels get damaged and buckled because of their width; check the inside rims as these are the most vulnerable areas.

The all-disc braking system of any Quattro is strong and reliable; twin-pot calipers were fitted up front from 1987. The handbrake’s self-adjuster rod can seize up and rebuilt calipers are the only long-term solution, although this isn’t especially expensive.

The MB and RR feature a hydraulic accumulator which can fail, so remove the connectors from the servo’s low pressure warning switch. With the engine switched off attach a continuity tester and press the brake pedal hard, over and over. If the switch closes in less than six depressions the accumulator needs to be renewed.

Bodywork

Quattros were largely hand-made with plenty of galvanised panels from 1985 (but none before this); rust should be absent from the later cars but earlier ones may have some corrosion. From 1987 the boot lid was made of plastic. Before this it was crafted from steel.

Plenty of Quattros have been crashed, so check panel gaps and look for corrosion. Original build stickers on the underside of the bonnet is a good sign as these have been unavailable for a long time. Crash damage will be given away by ripples in the boot floor, rust in the seams beneath the rear light clusters and in the joint between the tail panel and boot floor. On post-1988 cars also look at the panel onto which the boot hinges are attached.

If there is any corrosion, on earlier cars it will most likely be in the sills, door bottoms and the wheelarches. Post-1988 examples are most likely to rust in the front wing seams – but only if they've been in a shunt.

Interior

Some Quattros have leather trim but most have cloth; part-leather was standard from 1989. Some used parts are available but retrims can be costly, which is why some cars have Coupé seats fitted instead; they go straight in.

Make sure the instruments work; a digital layout was fitted from 1983. Switch the ignition on to see if all the warning lights illuminate, then go off once the engine is running.

Pre-1983 cars have a relatively simple loom but it’s more complex and made to a higher standard on later cars. Corroded connections are likely on early cars and pinpointing problems is time consuming; start by looking for a cracked board in the fusebox.

The WR has a synthesised voice which should sound when the 'Check' button is pressed as the ignition is turned on. The chances are that the heated seats and air-con won’t work (if fitted) as the parts are unavailable; the same goes for the electric aerial in the wing.

History

  • 1980: The Quattro is introduced with LHD only. It’s one of the first cars with an ECU. Later in the year, UK Quattro deliveries start, with LHD only.
  • 1982: Factory-built RHD cars are available and single-piece Cibié headlights are now fitted after 17 RHD quad-headlamp examples have been made.
  • 1983: Digital instrumentation is now fitted, Bosch ABS is now standard and there are revised third and fourth gear ratios.
  • 1984: The suspension is uprated and lowered by 20mm and Ronal 8J wheels are now fitted. The Sport Quattro Group B homologation special arrives. The front end of the standard Quattro is restyled with sloped headlamps and grille. The rear end gets a colour-coded spoiler and smoked tail lamp lenses.
  • 1987: The engine is enlarged to 2226cc, the compression ratio increases from 7.0:1 to 8.6:1 and a smaller water-cooled tubo is now fitted; power is unchanged. A Torsen centre differential is introduced and a sunroof is now standard
  • 1989: The engine is now a DOHC 20-valve unit with twin three-way catalytic converters. The interior trim is upgraded and the Quattro tail badge is deleted.
  • 1991: The last Quattro is built.

AutoClassics says…

If you have the opportunity to buy a good Quattro there’s no good reason to pass up the opportunity. This is a car that will recalibrate what the term ‘supercar’ means to you. Despite the Quattro’s supernatural abilities, there are plenty of examples that have been crashed then poorly repaired, so you really must buy with extreme care.

Even a Quattro that’s never been crashed can be a liability if it’s been neglected, as there are all sorts of parts that are now very hard to find, so don’t just assume that everything is available off the shelf. Some parts aren’t available at any price.

The most sought after edition is the 20-valve and it’s true that this is the pick of the bunch. But if you can find a superb example of an earlier model just snap it up, especially if you’re buying only for occasional use. The earlier cars are the hardest to find and in time these might end being the most collectible, but ultimately any really good Quattro will be desirable. Buy one now, as prices won't remain at this level for much longer.

Specifications

Quattro WR, 1980-1987
  Power 200bhp
  Top speed 137mph
  0-60mph 7.1sec
  Economy 27mpg

Quattro MB, 1987-1989
  Power 200bhp
  Top speed 137mph
  0-60mph 6.5sec
  Economy 27mpg

Quattro RR (20v), 1989-1991
  Power 220bhp
  Top speed 142mph
  0-60mph 6.3sec
  Economy 24mpg

Sport quattro, 1984
  Power 306bhp
  Top speed 155mph
  0-60mph 4.8sec
  Economy 17mpg

Audi Quattro cars for sale here.