Group B rallying was fantastic but fatally flawed. Groups was ment to take all the best bits and leave out the bad. It would have done just that, says John Davenport, given half a chance
This is a story of power. Not the sort measured on the dyno (though there’s plenty of that) but the high-octane material found in smoke-filled rooms. In the 1980s there was something called Group S. It was meant to be the saviour of rallying. It never saw the light of day. Its seed was sown in 1982 when the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FI SA) swept away two decades of Groups 1-6 and replaced them with Groups A, B and C. This might not sound like much, a case of neatly shuffled paper bound tightly by red tape, but this move produced rallying’s most spectacular, most controversial era.
Group B was it as far as the manufacturers were concerned. A quick-fix passport to worldwide participation. Put simply, all they had to do was build 200 versions of a special car, which could incorporate four-wheel drive and turbocharging even if these did not feature in their road car range. There was, however, no immediate rush to fill the rallying world with exotica: 1982 was a compromise, old Groups being allowed to continue and manufacturers able to transfer Gp4 cars into GpB — but after Fl SA’s Executive had voted unanimously for a five-year period of GpB stability as from 1 January 1983, the new era was up and running. There was a catch, though, that did not manifest itself for a while. This was tied up in the regulations that applied to the cars’ homologation. Their evolution, to be precise. Large-scale manufacturers, particularly the Americans, tend to update their models every year. This meant FISA had to draw up a list of items that could ‘evolve’ in order to keep pace. All that was needed was to produce 10 per cent of the original number of cars incorporating these evolutions.
The catch was that this list of evolutionary possibilities, which was meant in the main to deal with GpA cars (minimum annual run of 5000), also applied to GpB. It’s simple maths: just 20 `evo’ cars were required to see a swift and sizeable performance improvement. Manufacturers quickly cottoned onto this, normally producing their first evolution coincidentally with the launch of the standard car. Thus rallying was soon accelerating flat out towards the horizon. New Gp B cars now started to emerge at a steady rate, each one better and more capable than the last. The temptation to overuse the `evo’ rules became irresistible. The first year was a fight between Audi’s quattro warhorse and Lancia’s two-wheel-drive, supercharged 037. And then Peugeot introduced its shockingly different, mid-engined, four-wheel-drive 205 T16 — it won everything, changed everything. Audi responded in the middle of ’85 with the E2 version of the quattro Sport, then Peugeot produced their evolution of the T16. By the end of ’85, Lancia had its Delta S4 with a mind-numbing 500bhp. Big wings, even ground effect, had come into play.
The sport had turned very publicly on its head. As so often happens, however, seemingly unconnected behind-the-scenes intrigues would have a greater effect. Nobody directly involved in rallying flinched when, in September ’84, FISA fell out with the Monaco GP organisers over TV rights. They did, though, when the charismatic Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA, retaliated by axing the Monte Carlo Rally from the ’85 calendar.
Facing the loss of the jewel in the rallying crown, the manufacturers united and forced him to back down. He was not a man to forget or to forgive. In March, his FISA hat firmly in place, Balestre announced manufacturers were no longer to be represented at FISA. Furthermore, he stated that the FIA, of which he was shortly to be elected president, would redraft its statutes so the major car-manufacturing countries would no longer get a seat as of right on the FISA Executive. Round two to Balestre.
He still needed to work with the manufacturers so he set up the Manufacturers’ Commission, in which his cronies at SEAT, Lada and Skoda would have equal rights to the big-hitting companies such as Peugeot, Audi, Ford and the Fiat Group. The next twist came when this commission met in June, where he took everyone by surprise by launching Group S, to be phased in by 1 January ’88; beyond that date, Group B cars could run, but only in their pre-evolutionary form. The new rules required just 10 identical cars, limited to approximately 300bhp. This was all news to the manufacturers, yet they were unanimous in their support: stunned by the latest GpB cars, they could see budgets going through the roof Group S was now it Everyone kissed and made up and Balestre asked the manufacturers to create the new formula in their own image.
Fired by this new enthusiasm, their proposal was on the table by September. It was for 1.2-litre forced induction and 2.4-litre normally aspirated engines; everything else was free, bar the shape and styling which had to come from a mass-produced car. The FISA Executive accepted without protest Everybody was happy and Group S was set for lift-off.
Then it all came crashing down. The Ford RS200 of Joaquin Santos speared into the crowd during the 1986 Rally of Portugal and several spectators were killed. The works drivers met that night and refused to start the next day’s leg unless they received assurances on crowd control and safety. Balestre’s number two at FISA, Cesar Tones, who was also Clerk of the Course for the event, refused to give any assurances and insisted the drivers continued. They refused to budge.
Balestre was furious that the manufacturers had not forced their drivers’ hands. His retribution was swift Before the start of the Tour of Corsica, he withdrew the manufacturers’ registration qualification for the World Rally Championship.
Despite his spitting anger, there was no mention of the cars being unsafe. Even when, three days later, Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto met a fiery death in their Delta S4 and Balestre appeared on TV, there was still no mention of it being the fault of the car or the formula that created it. But 24 hours was a long time in rallying back then. His next-day volte-face called for shorter routes and stages and a 300bhp limit. GpB cars other than those of less than 1.6 litres were banned from the World Championship. Oh, and Group S was cancelled on the spot. All via a telex vote by Balestre’s ‘rubber stamp’ FISA Executive.
Efforts to revive Group S were made but to no avail. Balestre had had enough of meddlesome manufacturers. It never stood a chance. Which was a great shame. Especially since a great deal of world rallying’s current high profile can be put down to a swathe of safe rally cars boasting 300bhp and based on small production numbers. Had things been different, the World Rally Car era might have been in its 12th season by now.
Instead, we got GpA or nothing. Worthy in its way. But there can be little doubt that the loss of Group S put rallying back 10 years. engineers involved,would have been as happy running on the ceiling as on the floor. It never got the chance to prove its worth, though. The cars and service barges were ready to go when Audi pulled out of the World Rally Championship just prior to the ’86 Acropolis Rally.Those close to the project still hoped Group S would be the way to go. A week later the prototype was a museum piece. Opel:GM Europe’s competitions bossTony Fall got around to building a four-wheel-drive prototype that was meant to replace the rear-wheel-drive Manta 400. His problem was that he couldn’t get his bosses to give him the budget to develop a new engine. So his first four-wheel drive Kadett was powered by a front-mounted turbocharged BDA supplied by Zakspeed.
Two more such Kadetts were built, fitted with Manta 400 engines and entered in the Paris-Dakar of I986.These would have been within Group S requirements for the powerplant was a normally aspirated 2.4-litre.One of these cars was used by the German motorsport authorities in their presentation to the FISA Technical Commission in May ’86 as part of a last-ditch attempt to save Group S.
Peugeot: The Lion’s boss Jean Todt was confident that Group S was the future of rallying. But he was also confident that GpB had stability through to 1988, so he was not anxious to rush through a prototype. The car that had pushed GpB to its limits and was thrown out of the San Remo Rally for having aerodynamic skirts,the 205T16,would remain competitive for a while yet A well-sorted 1.7-litre turbo versus 1.2-litre turbos in unproven chassis would probably come out on top. Even a weight penalty was unlikely to hold it back for at least a year or so.
Of course it never came to that and the bad boys of GpB went down with it. Peugeot fought its banning so hard (took the FIA to court and lost) because they did not have any plans to manufacture a turbo four-wheel-drive car suitable for Group A. Lancia:The Italians were in the same situation as Peugeot and were looking at an evolution of their current GpB car, the Delta S4.Their thoughts in that direction were revealed at theTurin Show late in I 986.They came in the form of the remarkable Experimental Composite Vehicle (ECV).This was a joint project between Bizzarini, who had contributed the carbonfibre monocoque, and Abarth, who had built the rest.
While the transmission was pretty much S4 plus some nifty composite shafts, the engine was distinctly new in the breathing department Its block was S4 but the cylinder head featured inlet and exhaust valves arranged diagonally opposite each other instead of being in pairs.This `Triflux’ arrangement was fed by two turbochargers, one on each side of the engine, with a large central plenum chamber with vertical inlet tracts and individual butterflies underneath it.
Lancia had not reached the stage of developing a 1.2-litre version of the engine, but it is certain from the testing done at the CampoVolo, near Abarth,that any future Group S Lancia would have been based on the principles incorporated into ECV.
Toyota:At this stageTeam Toyota Europe (TTE) was not in a position to design and develop whole cars independently of its parent. It took all of boss Ove Andersson’s persuasive powers to persuade them to build a four-wheel drive car. With great thoroughness,Toyota came up with two prototypes both aimed initially at GpB: one had a longitudinal engine, the other transverse — the same two-litre, I 6-valve turbo unit powering both.The first was delivered towards the end of ’85, taken to the Bagshot test facility and was found to be a big improve ment over its rear-wheel-drive predecessor.
The second was delivered in April ’86 and TIE was given the green light to construct its new factory in Cologne, where the new GpB contender — and any Group S developments — were to be built. The news of Group B’s demise and cancellation of Group S came just one day after Toyota had cut the first foundations of their factory.The second prototype was never tested and poor Andersson had to start chivvying all over again.
Austin Rover:Their obvious Group S strategy was to run a 2.4-litre version of theV64V in an evolution of the current MG Metro 6R4.This format would have benefited from the turbo coefficient moving from 1.4 to 2.0 and the constraint on all runners to use pump fuel.The appearance of ‘independent’ fuel bowsers following the turbo cars in ’85 was a sure-fire giveaway that F1-type fuel had reached rallying.
A less obvious route, however, was being seriously contemplated:a compound engine.This would have been a very special, 1.2-litre, forced induction unit based on the then-new K-series, but featuring a Sprintex compressor and turbine coupled to its crankshaft.This was a similar layout to the Wright R-3350 engines used on Lockheed Super Constellations, and Fleming Thermodynamics were developing the Sprintex for this use. By the time Group S was canned, this project was well advanced.
Ford: The RS200 was the last of the serious Gp B cars and was thus furthest from its second evolution. However, just months after its debut on the ’86 Swedish Rally, John Wheeler, the chief engineer at Boreham, was already thinking along the lines of an actively-suspended Group S car.
There is plenty of evidence that the announcement of Group S had triggered a whole host of design offices into action: Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, SEAT and Porsche attended meetings to discuss it. And then it got the bullet it didn’t deserve.