The inside line on five key cars from rallying’s most revered chapter
by Richard Heseltine
If Can-Am was the original ‘knife-fight rules’ circuit category, Group B was rallying’s closest equivalent. It wasn’t quite ‘anything goes’, but close enough to fire the imagination of a generation of fans. True, the narrative that made it great continues to be clouded in myth, rumour and counter-rumour, and that is perhaps part of the appeal. For a few glorious seasons back in the 1980s, rallying was anything but dull and formulaic – and much of that was down to the cars.
The passing of 30 years hasn’t lessened Group B’s allure, either. If anything, its appeal has been amplified. Surviving cars tend to be highly prized, with values creeping into eye-watering territory. As such, it’s almost unheard of to find what amounts to a ‘full set’ in one place, but Motor Sport uncovered just such a cache in Spain.
Gathered here – in a spotless workshop – are a selection of the best-known cars ever to light up a special stage during the Group B era. What’s more, they belong to a man who campaigned such cars in period. Back in the 1980s Madrid native Teo Martín was a Spanish hillclimb champion aboard a Lancia 037. Today his remarkable 80-strong collection includes of circuit and touring cars – but pride of place goes to his select band of Group B monsters.
Thanks to: Teo Martín, Nuno Gama Rocha and Paul Baker
Peugeot 205 T16
At the dawn of the 1980s Peugeot wanted to shed its dependable but dull reputation and stake a claim for affordable and sporty. So in an effort to promote the forthcoming 205 hatchback, the company embarked on one of the boldest rally projects of all: the mighty Turbo 16.
In order to develop it, Peugeot initially turned to recently acquired Talbot. Operating out of a base in Coventry, the works squad had enjoyed great success with the Sunbeam prior to the birth of Group B. Nevertheless, this was a French brand and French honour was at stake so control passed to Peugeot Talbot Sport (PTS) in Paris, run under the aegis of Jean Todt.
Peugeot’s budget was of the eye-watering variety. Seeking a four-wheel-drive supercar to represent the production 205, a turbocharged 1775cc four-cylinder engine was created out of an XU diesel, but with a 16-valve DOHC head to run on petrol. Under the FIA’s equivalency regulations whereby displacement was multiplied by a factor of 1.4 for forced induction, the end capacity was 2485cc. This meant the T16 would slot into the 2000-2500cc category. There were one or two packaging problems, however. Plans initially called for the engine to be mounted longitudinally, but this meant vital elements would be inaccessible for rapid servicing. Instead, PTS engineers opted for a transverse set-up, although, unusually for a transverse installation, the engine and five-speed gearbox (a highly-modified Citroën SM unit) sat on opposite sides of the central driveshaft.
Distinct from some of its rivals, Peugeot homologated the 205 T16 without resorting to smoke and mirrors. Sub-contractor Heuliez made 200 road cars that in turn enabled the manufacture of 20 evolutionary competition variants. The T16 was thus rubber-stamped in March 1984 and went on to dominate the second half of that year’s World Rally Championship. It continued to be developed, a six-speed ’box and a full-spaceframe rear end being added along the way, and became the most successful car of the Group B era with two WRC titles and 16 wins.
By definition, Group B cars were built on the principle of purpose first, looks second. The Ford RS200 was the exception to the rule in that a degree of artistry was involved in its creation. Here was a bespoke machine rather than a cartoonish mash-up with token aesthetic nods to a production model, even if the use of cut-down Sierra doors (and tail-lights for that matter) lent it a slight air of ‘parts bin special’.
The thing is, this Group B pin-up was nothing of the sort, although the Blue Oval’s attempt at building a WRC winner for the 1980s could have been very different had legendary team principal Stuart Turner not had his way. Ford sank two years of development into the Escort RS1700T under former incumbent Karl Ludvigsen, but Turner opined that rear-wheel drive would render it uncompetitive. Four-wheel drive clearly represented the future so he was tasked with creating a prototype from scratch.
Tony Southgate, a man whose gilded resumé includes Indy 500 and Le Mans winners, landed the gig in early 1983 to design this brave new world. A 1.8-litre Cosworth turbo BDT ‘four’ was mounted amidships in a purpose-built platform, with double wishbone suspension all-round and twin dampers per wheel. Ford’s Ghia styling studio was then tasked with creating a new outline. A drivable test mule was presented to the suits in March 1984 and a production run was approved soon afterwards.
The RS200 never really got into its stride. What’s more, it played its part in GpB’s downfall when during the 1986 Portuguese Rally, local star Joaquim Santos lost control of his Team Diabolique Ford and plunged into the crowd. Group B was doomed thereafter, as was the RS200.
With the axing of Group B at the end of the year, plans to introduce a larger-displacement RS200 died with it. There was also the small matter of selling the road-going versions. A factory fire almost claimed a significant chunk of them and when Turner was woken from his slumber to be told that they had been rescued, his response was that it might be better for all if they were pushed back into the inferno.
Audi Quattro S1 E2
The Audi quattro S1 may have been visually similar to the company’s previous and devastating all-wheel-drive rally car, but the Group B car was significantly different in just about every area. Bodywork comprised composite panels, with much wider wheel arches, and front bodywork robbed in part from the 80. Power came from an all-alloy 2133c 20-valve dohc five-cylinder unit that was good for up to 440bhp. Nevertheless, the 1985 season produced only one WRC win for Audi Sport, German legend Walter Röhrl claiming honours in Sanremo.
What’s more, it was with an evolutionary model; one that in many ways came to define the craziness of the Group B era more than any other car. With its papercut-sharp bodywork add-ons, the thuggish S1 E2 looked every inch the iron fist inside an iron glove, and with good reason. Now equipped with a 2110cc five-cylinder unit, the big news was a KKK turbocharger that featured a recirculating air system. This kept the impeller blades spinning at a high rpm with a corresponding decrease in throttle lag. This steroidal monster produced up to 590bhp depending on boost, Audi also experimenting with ‘PDK’ transmissions, fore-runners to modern-day dual-clutch arrangements.
If anything, this variation on the theme is more widely associated with Audi’s Pikes Peak assaults, Michèle Mouton storming to victory in ’85 (having won the previous year’s event in an S1). Indeed, the S1 E2 competed in only six WRC events, the German marque withdrawing from rallying following the tragic Portuguese round in March 1986.
Lancia Delta S4
Lancia and rallying were once inextricably linked, and never more so than during the Group B era. The glorious 037 was the first car built explicitly to class regulations rather than adapted to fit, the Italian marque claiming the 1983 manufacturers’ title among other gongs, but the arrival of the four-wheel-drive Peugeot 205 T16 blunted its challenge. Lancia already had a new weapon in development, though. What’s more, the Delta S4 – or S4 Corse – was perhaps the most radical vehicle ever to compete during a period not exactly lacking for outré machinery.
Work began on the car in January 1983. While notionally related to the production Delta hatchback, beneath the Frankensteinian outline it was a different beast entirely thanks to a mid-mounted DOHC 1759cc four-cylinder engine that boasted a turbocharger and a supercharger – or ‘volumetric compressor’ in Lancia speak. The S4 was reputedly the first car ever to feature this patented ‘twin-charging’ arrangement whereby a bypass valve opened to allow the turbo to operate once it had ‘spooled up’ and the blower had provided charge at low rpm. Lancia initially claimed a power output of up to 480bhp, but 620bhp was available for the ’86 Swedish Rally.
Performance-wise, the four-wheel-drive Delta S4 in full-house works spec could sprint from 0-60mph in less than 2.5sec – on gravel. As for homologating the model for production, Lancia engaged in a certain amount of chicanery. As few as 65 Stradales were made, which was someway short of the requisite 200.
But the S4 was an instant winner at the end of 1985 and claimed three WRC wins into the following year. Sadly, the model is perhaps mostly remembered the Tour de Corse accident that claimed the lives of Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto. The passing of Group B at the end of the year also nixed the S4’s successor, the Group S ECV1 – a machine weighing only 800kg and producing as much as 1200bhp when running on Avgas.
MG Metro 6R4
Childhood nostalgia isn’t the best lens through which to view anything, but to a legion of British rally fans of a certain age the 6R4 continues to hold a magnetic pull. It conjures images of moustachioed works ace Tony Pond flying the friendly skies in the Kielder Forest on the Lombard RAC Rally. So if your formative years were the ’80s, this most characterful of rally weapons continues to be held in great affection.
Sadly, it never quite lived up to the billing, but it had its moments. Popular wisdom has it that the 6R4 wasn’t a winner; that unreliability hobbled its chances. This isn’t strictly true as this British challenger did win rallies – championships even, just not in the WRC. What tends to be forgotten is that it had a long gestation period, the project stretching as far back as 1980. The Triumph TR7 V8 was coming to the end of its life as a works entry at international level so a new car was needed. British Leyland Motorsport (later Austin-Rover Motorsport) turned to Williams Grand Prix Engineering to create such a beast. Initial plans to create a V8 Metro with the engine in the front were soon rejected, though, the end result being a hatchback with a V6 where the rear seat and shopping would normally sit. That, plus four-wheel drive.
The 6R4 made its debut on the 1984 York National Rally, Pond claiming eight fastest stage times and a lead of almost three minutes, only to be forced out by an alternator fire. The car was successfully homologated on November 1 of the following year, just in time for the Lombard RAC Rally which rounded out the ’85 WRC. Pond claimed a magnificent third overall behind two factory Lancias (the Delta S4 also making its top-flight debut on the season finale), and great things were expected for the following year.
Unfortunately, the British challenger had a terrible finishing record in 1986. It wasn’t until September’s 1000 Lakes Rally that a works car made it to the finish, by which time Group B was heading for the embalming table. Nevertheless, the model triumphed at national level, with Didier Auriol claiming that year’s French title.