No expense spared on Group B

New book offers definitive history of rallying’s most famous era

If I were to tell you there’s a Group B rallying book currently on sale priced at €999, you might wonder whether I had missed out a decimal point. I haven’t.

However, as Marks & Spencer might put it, this isn’t just any Group B rallying book… Rally photographer and book publisher Reinhard Klein has spent the past three years putting together this 1008-page, two-book tome. There are 3106 pictures, more than 500,000 words and, together with co-author (and co-driving great) John Davenport, Klein has covered everything from the testing of Group B machines at the end of 1982 through to the category’s demise in 1986 and the non-starting Group S cars.

“This is not a photographic book as such, it’s about what happened in those four years, and especially the development of the cars,” says Reinhard at his office in Cologne, Germany. “It’s not the ultimate adventure story but it is a report on everything that happened from January to December.”

It has not been easy collecting all the relevant data as many manufacturers who competed in that era saved little or nothing. “Many of the companies involved don’t give a shit. Well, some of them still do rallying officially, but that’s the museum department giving cars to classic events. That’s as far as it goes. If you ask Audi about the chassis numbers of the Quattros, they’ll have no idea.

“I have a fair amount of information from the past, some I got from others who have collected it, and there are bits and pieces on the internet,” adds Reinhard. “Then there are the registration plates in the photos which also helps.

“The whole sport needs to be documented properly as it just hasn’t been done. We sort of pushed it aside. A lot of that is rallying’s fault – we don’t promote ourselves properly and we don’t have a Bernie [Ecclestone] to put things forward.”

Although Klein’s love for the Group B period is evident when you talk to him, he doesn’t shy away from the problems with those cars. “Group B cars were extremely dangerous, but there was no reason why they had to burn [the cars were susceptible to catching fire]. There just weren’t regulations to prevent it. They had technology to stop cars burning in Formula 1, but they weren’t imposed on rallying. It would have been easy to do. When [Henri] Toivonen went off [in Corsica in ’86] there was no need for the fire – that car could have been built a lot safer. We were incredibly naïve and many people didn’t care. They were using little plastic fuel pipes because they were light, so what do you expect?”

Klein and I chatted for over an hour about the state of rallying at the moment (he’s not a fan of the new cars and short stages). Never before has there been such a definitive book on arguably the most famous – and certainly most infamous – period in rallying’s history, and even with the price tag I wouldn’t be surprised if all 500 limited editions are
sold. Two hundred have been snapped up already, and Davenport says the orders are still coming in.

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