Top 10 Group B Cars
The Group B era enlivened special stages during the 1980s. Richard Heseltine looks back at ten rally pin-ups from a gladiatorial age
Citroen BX 4TC
Even by Group B standards, Citroen’s take on the theme made few concessions to beauty. With its long front overhang, four fully-functional doors and hydro-pneumatic suspension, the BX 4TC appeared unlike any other car in its class. This would have been of no consequence had it been competitive, but it wasn’t. Unfortunately, the BX 4TC’s arrival on the World Rally Championship in 1986 coincided with Group B’s cancellation. The works equipe participated in 15 events, of which only three were rounds of the WRC. There were only two finishes. Even then, the BX 4TC was generally humbled by Group A machinery.
AutoFact: 18 of the 20 rally cars were destroyed, although bare shells have since emerged.
Most Group B cars were built on the principle of purpose first, looks second. The Ford RS200 was the exception to the rule. 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 Sierra tail-lights for that matter) lends it a slight air of ‘parts bin special’. Tony Southgate landed the gig to design this brave new world in 1983 with Ford’s John Wheeler charged with developing project ‘B200’. Unfortunately, the RS200 never won a round of the WRC prior to its cancellation.
AutoFact: Several kit form replicas exist including one that is Austin Maestro-based…
MG Metro 6R4
The radical V6-engined 6R4 made its debut on the 1984 York National Rally, Tony 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 RAC Rally which rounded out the ’85 WRC. Pond claimed a magnificent third overall behind two factory Lancias, and great things were expected for the following year. Unfortunately, the British challenger had a terrible finishing record in 1986, by which time Group B was heading for the embalming table.
AutoFact: ‘Whitstable Will’ Gollop claimed the ’92 FIA European Championship driver’s title in a 6R4.
Audi Quattro S1 E2
Audi famously ushered four-wheel drive and forced induction into top-flight rallying with the Quattro with devastating effect. Tthe S1 E2 in many ways came to define the craziness of the Group B era. With its papercut-sharp bodywork add-ons, the S1 E2 looked every inch the iron fist inside an iron glove, and with good reason. This steroidal monster produced up to 590bhp depending on boost, Audi also experimenting with ‘PDK’ transmissions, forerunners to modern-day dual-clutch arrangements. The S1 E2 competed in only six events prior to Audi’s withdrawal from the WRC in 1986.
AutoFact: Bobby Unser used an S1 E2 to claim a new course record at Pikes Peak in 1986.
Lancia Delta S4
While notionally related to the production Delta, beneath the S4’s Frankensteinian outline it was a different beast entirely. And it really was bestial thanks to a mid-mounted 1959cc four-cylinder engine which boasted a turbocharger and a supercharger. The car was an instant winner at the end of 1985 and claimed three WRC wins into the following year. Fabrizio Tabaton also sealed the ’86 European Championship drivers’ title in an S4. Sadly, the model is perhaps remembered more for the crash on the Tour de Corse that year which claimed the lives of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto.
AutoFact: The passing of Group B at the end of the year also nixed the S4’s successor, the Group S ECV1.
Peugeot 205 T16
Peugeot’s budget was of the eye-watering variety and nothing was off-limits. A turbocharged 1775cc four-cylinder engine was created out of an ‘XU’ diesel unit, 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 set-ups, the end capacity was 2485cc. This meant the T16 would slot into the 2000-2500cc category. It was the most successful car of the Group B era with two WRC titles and 16 wins to its credit. It also foretold Paris-Dakar glory.
AutoFact: Subcontractor Heuliez made 200 road cars for homologation purposes.
The 037 was the first car built explicitly to class regulations rather than adapted to fit. Abarth, which had become Fiat and Lancia’s defacto competition department, was responsible for its design and construction, but, contrary to popular belief, the 037 owes little to the Montecarlo production car save for the mid-engined layout and the centre-section. For starters, its supercharged four-banger was turned through 90 degrees from a transverse placing to a longitudinal position, and allied to a ZF five-speed transaxle. The 037 was bloodied on the 1982 Rally Costa Smeralda, and Lancia went on to claim the 1983 manufacturers’ title.
AutoFact: The 037 was the last rear-wheel drive car to win the WRC.
Strictly speaking, this car predated Group B but it did lead to an ‘evolutionary’ model which competed in period. Charles Pozzi commissioned Michelotto to build the first Group 4 rally car. Pozzi team regular, the brilliant Jean-Claude Andruet, steered it into a two-minute lead on the 1981 Tour de Corse only to retire the car with a broken fuel pump. In 1982, he finished second overall on the Tour de Corse for Ferrari’s best-ever result on the WRC. Eleven Group 4 308GTBs were purportedly made, along with four Group B variants which featured a reworked version of the Quattrovalvole V8.
AutoFact: The Group B variations were 30kg heavier than the Group 4 cars.
Renault 5 Turbo
Like the Ferrari, Renault’s mid-engined weapon was competing off-piste before the arrival of Group B, but it spawned variations on the theme that were WRC regulars at the height of the movement. The 5 Turbo won the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally and the following year’s Tour de Corse. The first Group B edition ran in 1983 with a best result of third place on the following year’s Corsican round. The ultimate ‘Maxi’ version arrived a year later with Ragnotti claiming honour on the Tour de Corse. As a complete aside, a 5 Turbo also starred in rubbish Bond flick Never Say Never Again.
AutoFact: Only 20 Maxi variants were built.
It could be argued that Mazda never fully committed to Group B as it didn’t provide much in the way of finance for this project. It was left to Mazda Rally Team Europe to turn the popular rotary-engined coupé into a rally weapon, but the four-wheel drive revolution had already happened by the time it began competing in 1984. Packing around 300bhp, it was also losing the horsepower war. Nevertheless, it didn’t disgrace itself with a best-ever result of third place on the 1985 Acropolis Rally. Rod Millen also enjoyed success with his homebrewed 4WD car in the USA.
AutoFact: A four-wheel drive Group S version was under construction when the category was cancelled.
Pictures courtesy of Rota Archive and LAT