Toyota Celica GT4

In an era of fast-changing regulations, Toyota overcame a catalogue of headaches with a complex machine to produce this, the car with which Carlos Sainz won the 1990 WRC

The four-wheel-drive rally car was a lusty infant from the moment it emerged, in the shape of the Audi Quattro, on the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally and promptly led for the first 10 stages. Its teenage years were turbulent as the sport’s Group B era spawned a succession of powerful but wilful youngsters. When Group A was ushered in as the respectable face of four-wheel-drive rallying, few of the early cars that had been rushed into production to take advantage of the new rules were technically innovative. The first truly ambitious car in this category was the Toyota Celica Turbo GT4 that made its debut on the Tour of Corsica in May 1988. Carlos Sainz used the car depicted here en route to winning the 1990 world championship.

Surprisingly, that 1988 Corsican event was not won by Lancia with its successful but relatively simple Delta Integrale — already on its way to securing a second double world championship. But then Toyota didn’t win, either. This was no dream debut. Kenneth Eriksson finished sixth while Juha Kankkunen retired with engine failure. Indeed, retirement was to be the pattern for the rest of the season. Kankkunen often led only to retire and the best result was Bjorn Waldegard’s cautious third place on the RAC Rally.

So what was wrong? There was one major problem that sprang out of a misunderstanding between Toyota Team Europe in Cologne and the Toyota factory in Japan, and it led to long-term engine cooling problems.

Under the direction of Ove Andersson, the Celica GT4 was created by TTE engineers working in close harmony with Mike Endean at transmission specialist Xtrac. Endean had acquired considerable 4WD experience with rallycross cars and the stillborn Opel Kadett 4WD project. Between them, they had come up with a way of combining a complex four-wheel-drive system and a transverse four-cylinder, turbocharged engine. This made it much easier for the manufacturing department in Japan to build the requisite 5000 road cars needed for homologation. Quite a lot of this work — both design and actual prototype construction — had been done by TTE and Xtrac during 1985 and early 1986 in the development of a Group S car based on the Toyota MR2, in the anticipation that this new formula would replace Group B. That project hit the stops when FISA, the sport’s governing body, banned Group B and simultaneously tossed Group S into the dustbin after Henri Toivonen’s fatal accident in Corsica in 1986. Their decision was to replace all these exotic cars with Group A, for which large production numbers were required. FISA assumed this would prevent manufacturers from creating innovative 4WD machines.

Much of the stillborn Toyota Group S design was carried over into the Group A car. The only major problem was that, with a transverse engine attached to a six-speed gearbox and hung between the front wheels, it was hard to get sufficient cooling air to the radiator and intercooler, not to mention getting rid of it once it was hot. TTE’s solution was to incorporate the front indicator into the side-lamp assembly and use the space freed in the bumper to channel cooling air under the bonnet. Sadly this cunning plan was not fully appreciated in Toyota City and the cars manufactured to gain homologation had their holes filled in. The result was that the rally cars, forced to use the standard bodywork as it appeared on the FIA homologation form, immediately ran into cooling problems.

In 1989, a partial solution was found by replacing the pop-up headlamps with smaller fixed ones and channelling air through the space created alongside, but FISA ruled this out for 1990. The GT4s were forced to run with the normal headlamps in the ‘up’ position. This rather spoiled the aerodynamics for daytime stages but somehow TTE managed to get air channelled around them and towards the engine compartment. The ST 165 never really got rid of these thermodynamic problems and, even in 1991, TTE was trying everything it could to keep things cooler under the bonnet so the full potential of the 3S-GTE engine could be realised. On the Safari the spotlamp pod sprouted a peak like a pontoon dealer’s eyeshade to guide air to the grille behind, while in Argentina the front of the factory Celicas’ bonnets seemed to rise by a few centimetres. Neither ploy was tolerated for very long by scrutineers. Other refinements, such as improvements to the intercooler and ignition timing, eventually improved reliability and enabled the Celicas to run at full power, although TTE did not really feel safe until the arrival in 1992 of the ST 185, with its openings in the front bumper and large bonnet air duct.

The most revolutionary aspect of the GT4 was its transmission. It is hard to contemplate now, in this era of active differentials, paddle gearchanges and launch systems, but the early 4WD cars were extremely basic. The first Audi Quattros did not even have a centre differential. And even those at top of the Group B class, such as the Peugeot 205 T16 and Lancia Delta S4 (which had three limited-slip differentials), offered no scope for adjustment unless the whole transmission was changed. The Toyota’s Xtrac system, on the other hand, used hydraulically controlled mechanical clutch packs in all three differentials, and the settings of all three could be modified from the cockpit. A small black box with four dials in front of the gearlever had the approved settings for wet and dry conditions stuck to its upper side in Dymo tape.

And the handbrake operated its own hydraulic valve to throw the centre differential bias almost completely towards the rear, to assist in the process of tackling hairpins and awkward junctions. A far cry from the Group B cars of only three years earlier, where settings were factory-adjusted and handbrake turns had an uncertain outcome.

This car, from the Gino Macaluso Collection, is one of the last ST 165s to be built and thus has the most developed of these systems fitted. It was in early August 1990 that TTE started work on chassis TC-438. It was destined to be shipped out to Australia for the rally in late September, so time was of the essence. While it was being built, Carlos Sainz won the 1000 Lakes Rally and thus arrived in the Antipodes with a 48-point world championship lead. His main rival was Juha Kankkunen, who had won Australia the previous year in a GT4 but was now driving for Lancia.

From the start of Rally Australia, these two and Kenneth Eriksson (Mitsubishi) were in a class of their own. Sainz was the first to hit trouble, however, with a puncture. The time lost with that and a bent gear selector pin, damaged when he reversed away from an overshoot at a junction, meant that he had to be content with second place. His WRC lead was now 60 points and third place in Sanremo, at the wheel of another GT4, cemented his world title.

But the year was not finished for him or K-AM-7878. It was shipped back from Australia and prepared for Sainz to drive on the RAC Rally, which was hotly contested by all the usual suspects — including a wild young Scot called Colin McRae in a Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4. The initial sparring involved Markku Alen in a Subaru Legacy and Kankkunen in a Lancia Delta Integrate. Alen’s engine failed on the second of the four days and the lead passed to Eriksson who, thanks to a wrong tyre choice, was then overtaken by Sainz. Just before the end of the third day, Sainz had a puncture and slipped briefly off the road in Kielder, and it was Kankkunen who swept past to lead. He was not to hold it for very long as, under pressure from Sainz, he left the road on the last morning after hitting a stretch of ice. His retirement meant, astonishingly, that no Finns finished the rally and Sainz’s victory was the first for a non-Scandinavian on the RAC since Roger Clark won in 1976. For Sainz and Toyota, it rounded off an extremely good year.

K-AM-7878 continued to serve in the TTE ranks. In the early part of 1991, the car that won the RAC was refettled for Armin Schwarz to drive on the Rally of Portugal. At first it looked as if it would carry on its winning ways as Schwarz set fastest time on four of the first 10 stages and led the event from Francois Delecour in a works Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4. Then the rally arrived at the legendary Freita special stage. This usually provides a damp run, at best, with the possibility of fog on the top, but now it had all that plus some fresh snow. Both Schwarz and Delecour, young men in a hurry, went off the road and ended their rallies, leaving the slightly more sedate Sainz to come through and win ahead of a trio of Lancias.

This was Sainz’s second win of the season and he soon added Corsica to earlier victories in Monte Carlo and Portugal. Those victories and a second place on the Acropolis Rally gave him a 17-point WRC lead by the time he arrived in New Zealand, where he was reunited with old friend TC-438, now rescued from the hills of Portugal and sent to the southern hemisphere to help increase his chances of a second consecutive world title. And that it did magnificently. Sainz led from the third special stage to the finish, 37 stages later, without a single incident. It was Kankkunen, the man who was finally to pip him to the 1991 title, who was forced to admit that, in New Zealand at least, the combination of Sainz and this GT4 was uncatchable. Perhaps it was the personalised rear number plate — “CARLØS” — that TTE had created…

What would be the destiny of K-AM-7878, a double winner for Sainz? It was used by TTE as a test car prior to the Rally Australia of 1991 and then rebuilt by Darryl Bush of Toyota Australia for Neal Bates to use on the event, in which he finished ninth. After that it was used by Toyota Australia — and still carries ID from the Targa Tasmania — until being sold to Gino Macaluso.