A regular reflective look at significant aspects of today's motor and sporting life that are not always appreciated...

The unfortunate spate of 1986 rallying accidents seems to have sealed the fate of the most powerful and fractionally efficient rally cars the World has ever seen. Victims of their own spectacular speed, the most powerful international Group B cars are to be exiled from the close of this season. I leave comment on the rights and wrongs of FISA's action to the rallying fraternity, but I think it is likely that enthusiasts will remember the 400 to 550 horsepower breed of all-wheel-drive Group B cars with much the same awe as has been reserved for the thirties Auto Unions and Mercedes Grand Prix machines.

What happens now to all that advanced engineering? Will it sink without trace?

I believe features such as the high performance uses of four-wheel-drive, turbocharging and sophisticated differential developments will actually accelerate. The performance-minded public will receive a significant increase in the capabilities of mass production cars in the closing years of this decade, because the international authorities In Paris have decided to promote the World Championship around the comparatively large scale production category (defined later) of Group A

Indeed, you will be offered the chance to buy small hatchbacks in 1986/"early 1987" from Mazda and Lancia that have up to 165 bhp, delivered by immensely advanced 4WD systems that go tar beyond the 1980 production engineering achievement of Audi's quattro.

Items such as intercooling, electronic injection, and double overhead camshafts, with and without such recently fashionable features as cylinder head layouts with four valves per cylinder or turbocharged pressure induction will become yet another brochure sales feature. Even the aged counter-balance shaft principle has reemerged in the sporting coupes of Porsche (944/924S) and Mitsubishi's Starion 2.0 Turbo to descend to the apparently endless stream of ever-faster hatchbacks.

Travelling a little further back in time in the life of the performance piston engine, you will find a limited overboost facility reborn for sports motoring. Apart from the Porsche 944 Turbo and Saab 9000 Turbo, it is now incorporated in the turbocharged Lancia Thema 2-litre and the Delta HF 4W0. Derived from auto engine technology and delaying wastegate "pop-off" valve action, Lancia's overboost takes peak torque from an adequate 188 lb ft from 2-litres 10 210 lb ft for just 30 seconds extra pulling power.

The effect is startling in the LHD production Lancia Delta HF, which is capable of over 130 mph. Although some of the present generation front drive hatchbacks are achieving these speeds (Golf 16V. Escort RS Turbo), the added security of all-wheel-drive traction means you can use such performance a lot more effectively.

The 2000 Delta HF 4WD is part of a recently debuted LHD range of revised Delta hatchbacks. but Lancia in the UK have yet to decide whether they bring this advanced new Italian, or possibly its slightly less sophisticated 4WD cousin, the 115 bhp Prisms, into Britain.

If they do decide in favour of the sporty Della, then it will be in the £10,000 to £11,000 bracket that is also favoured for the rhd Mazda 323 4WD, a turbocharged and injected 16-valve device that will definitely be on sale in Britain later this year. It cannot be long before such competitive manufacturers provide a hand throttle with a red seal to break for extra "combat" power in the hatchback sales war!

All this mass production engineering technique will be needed as a direct result of the ASA decision to emphasise a World Championship for Group A from 1987 onward. Group A requires 5000 vehicles produced in 12 months, of allegedly saloon car dimensions the Jaguar XJ-S and BMW 635 Coupes are obvious interlopers that are already recognised and successfully raced in Group A), with bodywork that must remain unaltered from its production forrn.

As a by-product of the competitive manufacturers turning to Group A. there will also be a lot of technically interesting production racing/rallying saloons emerging in Group N. a category with the same 12 month/5000-off production minimum as A. However Group N does not permit the extensive under-body engineering of Group A.

Replacement brake, suspension, and engine components are allowed within A, so that a typical competition Rover or BMW will have up to 150 horsepower more than standard, whilst a turbo Volvo might well reach for a total 400 bhp in qualifying trim. These big racing or rallying saloons are usually restrained by big disc brakes (11 to 12 inch diameters) with 16 inch diameter wheels using competition-fabricated suspension arms, hubs and dampers/ springs.

Rally engineers and manufacturers who may have spent ten million pounds in pursuit of Group B World Championship glory are naturally not delighted by the sudden change in international rally regulations. Some feel a better bet would Sea properly engineered Group B competition car, without the turbocharger that all but ARG use, plus extensive regulation changes to reduce the tire risk from bodywork materials or petrol tank position.

It is unlikely that we will find out who is right. for FISA have announced that the 1987 move to a Group A world Championship will go ahead However, we can be sure of one basic engineering principle that will be maintained, regardless of the competition grouping advocated: the engineers will be unable to agree on the best 4WD system,

Whether we discuss all-wheel-drive for road Or rally use, the divergence of systems must be a puzzle to some of the racing/sports car fraternity, those brought up on mid-engine location with rear drive as "the norm" since Cooper Car Co's 1959/60 World Championship seasons.

In the "Formula 1" world of World Championship rallying — and therefore in the road car cousins that must be manufactured before participating in rallying's premier league — there is no template for transmission and power unit layout to copy for certain success.

Audi started the performance 4WD ball rolling again nearly 20 years after the last Jensen FF of the original 318 had been built (December 1971 says my Graham Robson crib). The quattro had three differentials for distribution of front to rear power with the civilisation of a central unit on the road car. No centre differential was fitted on the factory quattros for World Championship use, until their appearance in August last year in association with experimental work on both Ferguson Viscous Coupling and Torsen Gleason (USA) limited slip units, transmission work that the Ingolstadters had been privately pursuing for some years and which is likely to result in alternative differentials from Torsen Gleason in future quattros.

By the end of 1985 Audi had sold 8735 of the original 200 bhp turbo coupe, but it was not the sale of a small number of exclusive cars that mattered to a 400,000 plus production outfit like the Audi arm of Volkswagenwerke AG. Even the sale of more than 26,500 80 quattro saloons and the availability of quattro all-wheel-drive derivatives throughout the Audi model range pales against the instant marque distinction Audi achieved by use of their unique gearbox hollow shaft 4WD.

Yet Audi have still to persuade their rivals, or even VW, that their version of 4WD cannot be bettered, for VW use a simple Ferguson Viscous Coupling in their two-differential Golf Syncro, which will be coming to England in 90 horsepower carburettor form, later this year.

VW have yet to confirm that they will hitch their unique system to the 139 bhp GTI unit of 16 valves, but they have said there is no mechanical reason why this apparently attractive performance option should not be offered. The company has always been interested in Group A World Championship success, so surely this is yet another example in which the customer will be offered an extra helping of performance technology?

The most produced power train layout today is that of the transverse front engine, but it has its limitations for easy 4W0 (Audi's inline front drive engineering needed no extra set of gears to divert outward bound power flow, of course). I hope to explore the varied 4W0 solutions to this and other engine/transmission units established, or entering production. next month. — J.W.