I wish I’d designed…
The world of rallying has seen far more radical technology than grand prix. This month the man in charge of Subaru’s championship-winning team recalls a star of the group B era
The car that stands out for me is the Peugeot T16. It was the first of its kind, and very well executed. It was a huge undertaking, and a big step at the time. Cars like Lancia’s 037 and Stratos had been designed to do the job with no real consideration about the road car, but the T16 still set a new standard for purpose-built rally machinery. Obviously, the way the homologation regs are formatted now it’s meant to be a derivation of a road car, but during that late 1970s/ early ’80s period, people began to do it the other way round, starting with a rally car and working back to a road cat Peugeot asked the question, “if you wanted the ultimate rally car what would it be?”
The 116 was the result It used the centre-section of the 205, with a tubular steel rear framework and the turbocharged 1775cc four-cylinder engine mounted transversely. I probably wouldn’t have gone for that layout, with the engine on one side of the centre-line and the gear box on the other. In fact I was slightly involved at the schematic stage, because I was working on the UK side of Peugeot-Talbot Sport, and we were shown several options. We didn’t pick that as our first choice, we went for a more conventional midengined in-line solution. But though it was radical, it obviously worked.
What Hiked about the car was that though it was an out-and-out rally car, almost a no-compromise design, it wasn’t overcomplicated. They kept it nice and simple — long-travel wishbones all round, no electronic torque distribution. A fairly radical piece of equipment, but not full of ludicrous technology.
I went to Juha Kanldcunen’s private collection during the Finland Rally last summer, and he has an Evolution 2. You look round that car today, 15 years on, and it’s still a very impressive piece of equipment. It hasn’t got the sophisticated electronics, so it’s not as technically advanced in that respect, but when you look at the standard of the engineering, the simplicity of the design, you can’t help but be impressed. It’s a long way ahead of its time. Compare it to the quattro, which was a triumph of development over design. It was all the wrong elements, overcome with ludicrous amounts of horsepower and complexity. When you look at the T16 it’s still simple and effective, nicely executed. They were special shells with a superficial resemblance to the 205 road car. The homologation required 200 road versions, and I would guess they were 25 per cent standard 205 and 75 per cent special fabrication. Then from that there was another step to the 20-odd Evolution cars which you would actually rally, and by the time you got to that, with its carbon-fibre body panels and so on, there was very little left of the original 205 at all.
As I said, in that era you designed the rally car and worked your way back to a road car of sorts. There was little compromise in the design to relate it to a family of road cars, whereas now we’ve moved on a long way.
A modern World Rally Car like our Subaru is a much more logical solution. It is a requirement that the rally car is based more closely on a massproduction car. Although a modem World Rally Car is a very sophisticated piece of equipment, there is a strong family resemblance, and it’s at least as good to watch, maybe better. But we’ve got used to it now.
The spectacle of GpB was the shock as much as anything. It was only in 1980 that the quattro appeared from nowhere and it took people by surprise. I remember being at Monte Carlo in January 1980 and speculating whether 4WD would work in rallying. We won the manufacturers’ championship in 1981 with the Sunbeam-Lotus, against the Escort and the Nissan 1601 — simple straightforward rear-wheel-drive 240hp cars with an engine in the front; yet by 1984, 2WD was dead. Obviously the quattro started it all, but the T16 hit the formula almost spot-on. The era only lasted two full years, but it’s hard to see that anyone could have hit on a better recipe even if it had gone on another five years. Of course the aerodynamics became more extreme and the horsepower rose to over 500bhp, but they had pretty well hit the target in what was effectively a new formula. The T16 was built by one small team, who went on to create the Paris-Dakar machines — and a lot of the same people went on to do the GpC car, indudinglean Todt
The current regs make it much less of an upfront commitment. A manufacturer with a car of vaguely the right proportions can turn it into a competitive rally car and break into the sport relatively easily, whereas in those days you had to commit to building, and completing, 200 very specialised rally cars before you could even start your first rally. Now you can adopt any suitable model. I think the balance is just about right now. Manufacturers are happy, the formula seems popular with the public, and there’s a credible connection with the road car. I think more manufacturers will follow Subaru and Mitsubishi and reverse-engineer a 4WD mad car from the rally car. Still, I think they managed to sell most of the T16s at the time — you did see them on the road occasionally. I’ve driven other GpB cars like the
Metro 6R4, but not a 116. But the drivers used to come back saying how nice it was. Ask them about a quattro or Delta S4 and you’ll hear a different story.
I was disappointed at the time that there wasn’t a more imaginative solution to replace GpB — GpS was meant to be less radical than GpB; no-one expected it to go the way it did. It was a big shock to go back from there to GpA. If I had a free hand for the T16 of the future, I wouldn’t go radical anyway. With what we’ve learned lately, I’d stick to a front-engined 4WD car like the Impreza because it works so well. There’s potential for huge gain in aerodynamics, but over a 14-round series it would diminish. A Pike’s Peak car might have a significant advantage on that hillclimb, but you couldn’t run it in Africa, Greece and Finland. It’s nice to dream of radical solutions, but for a championship, you don’t want to be extreme: you want a perfect all-rounder.
David Lapworth was talking to Gordon Cruickshank