Audi Ur-quattro 10VT

You've probably heard the word Quattro at some point over the last 20 years; if not slapped on the back of half of Audi's production run from 1980 onwards, then at least on the menu of your local pizza parlour, followed by the word "formaggio." Whether or not you've heard of "Ur-" before is something else, but as a rule of thumb it represents the sound that comes out of your throat the first time you lay your eyes on an Audi Ur-quattro. Whatever else comes out of your mouth is usually unprintable.

The Ur-quattro is the original layout of the driving system that revolutionised driving as we knew it. Prior to 1980, you had the option of a tried and tested rear-wheel-drive option to push you round corners, or rorty little hatchbacks that had their grunt up front. These two styles of power delivery required two very different driving styles, especially when it came to sports driving where power sliding and Scandinavian flicks were used to throw cars around curves at the highest of speeds.

When you do either of those, you're effectively and deliberately losing traction to make the car spin. You upset the car's grip to make the nose face in the direction you want, then floor the throttle and hope your tyres grip to tug you in the right direction. If you hadn't initiated that spin, and just tugged the steering wheel in the direction you wanted, your immense momentum would just hurtle you onward in a straight line and off a cliff; the downside of which means you don't complete the race and all your mates call you a loser. Not cool. Of course, you could have dabbed the brakes or at least eased off the power, but where's the fun in that? This is a race.

But what if ALL FOUR WHEELS were delivering power? What if every single horsepower your engine could muster could be delivered to the wheels all the time? Then you could just point and squirt, and your front wheels would tug your nose whilst the rears followed though the curve, because you've got twice as much surface to grip you to move you along. And if that curve has snow, or mud, or loose sand, and one wheel starts to slip, what if that system compensated by pushing more power to the other wheels? How cool would that be? Maximum power with maximum grip, all the time. That's where the Urq comes in.

Apart from representing the drooling sound you make when you see one of the Giugiaro-penned oblongs, the Ur- component is German for "original" or "the first." True to their nature, the Germans had realised that this car really was something dramatically new. No other series production car (except the Jensen FF which no-one had heard of) had been granted four-wheel-drive, primarily because the complexity of torque-sensing centre diffs didn't seem to add any advantage to the car's performance, instead sucking way too much power from the engine. Audi overcame that by supplanting a 5-cylinder 10V powerplant under the bonnet; a 2,144cc turbo-charged lump which, as a massive coincidence, just sneaked under the 3-litre limit for Group B rallying (once you take the turbo into account.) With 200hp under the bonnet of even the virgin street versions, it was more than competent for the average driver.

In the rallying world it went down a storm, proving that the added weight and power-loss inherent to more complicated transmissions were more than compensated by the enhanced traction needed to hurl around mountain corners and snowy slopes at ball-shrinking speeds. The car was simply phenomenal, and is still remembered as fondly among rally enthusiasts as the heroes who drove it; Stig Blomqvist, Hannu Mikola, Walter Röhrl, and the only driver whose sexiness equalled the machine, Michèle Mouton.

So it comes as a little shock when, on a surprisingly sunny lunch break, you find one of these leviathans of motoring parked up on perished tyres in a back-street Warsaw housing estate. Peering through the glass, I could make out the digital dash and the awesome pair of diff-lock switches, that give you the ability to lock up a pair of axles so that they act like a normal road car and not an off-roading monster. This is especially useful on fast straights like autobahns, where you want equal power to both sides of the car rather than having one slip all the time (such as on corners.) This allows the Urq to make the best of both worlds, Bahn-storming Monday to Friday and then hurling around Scandinavian gravel at the weekend. Also was the flat black panel of the LCD dash, a knicker-droppingly cool green display to show you just how fast you took that last corner. Ahh, you say, ticking off the items on your Beginners Guide To Amazing Cars, so this Urq was made in 1983. Well done, pat on the back.

I was on my hands and knees nosing around underneath this thing when the owner's mother came out asking what I was up to. Now normally in that situation you'd blush, stammer out an apology or try and bluff your way out of the situation in some way. But for a car like this, I asked outright if the car was for sale.

"No." The reply was simple. She wasn't being rude; there was a smile on her face, that motherly smile of tired exasperation and inward pride. She told me there's a note left on the windscreen at least once a week from people desperate to get their hands on the Urq before it's too late. "One more Polish winter outside and this car will be worthless," I tried to coax her, pleading with my eyes for her to give me the guy's number. She just rolled her own eyes back in the way little old women can sometimes. "I know that. You know that. He knows that too, but my son is an idiot" is what that eyeroll said. Still, she took my number and no-one ever called me back. I'm not really surprised.

Owning any Audi of this style makes you feel part of true motoring heritage, whether it's one of the incomprehensively awesome Sports Quattros that the Urq developed into (basically an Urq with 30cm chopped out of the middle, a steeper front windscreen and a blood-curdling 500hp under the bonnet, plus the most impressive set of spoilers ever to grace a car), or the more mundane Golf-engined Audi Coupes, which shared the same outside skin (minus the flared arches) and none of the mechanicals, meaning you can have all the cool factor with none of the running costs associated with driving a Quattro. Or at least, thats what us Coupe owners say, or said, seeing as I sold mine last week. Which means I'm in the market for another car.

Even with a flush of used notes bulging from my pocket, this Urq would be a serious money pit for any restorer. Putting aside the diabolic state of the exterior (yeah, yeah, it'll buff out) the mechanicals underneath are nigh-on unobtainable these days. With only 11,452 cars produced over 11 years, and all of them driven to their limits, the chances of finding enough spare parts to get this behemoth of Group B rallying back on the road would be a financial nightmare. But if you were to throw any amount of money at a car, it deserves to be an Urq; not simple, but simply one of the greatest advances in motoring in the last 30 years.