Motorsport often requires that manufacturers base their racers on regular road cars. As with any sport, competitors are always looking to steal an advantage, and liberal interpretation of these ‘homologation’ rules is often the best way forward. So although these cars are all road legal, cruising the streets was far from the minds of engineers and designers.
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1980 Talbot Sunbeam Lotus
Hot on the heels of the Chevette HS was the Lotus-developed rally version of the Talbot Sunbeam. Most significant was the ‘type 911’ 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine, which was a bespoke Lotus unit developing 250hp in competition trim. The road-going model was 100hp down, but still benefited from the same stiffened suspension and uprated anti-roll bar. Success came with a 1980 RAC Rally win for Henri Toivonen, plus a Manufacturers’ title in the 1981 World Rally Championship.
1982 Lancia Rally 037 Stradale
Rallying was evolving quickly, and the Group B regulations for 1982 would push the sport to its limits. Lancia was one of the first to take advantage of new homologation requirements with the Rally 037. A 2.0-litre supercharged four-cylinder engine was mounted in the middle, and pushed out 325hp at its peak. The 200 road cars had just 205hp, though, and weighed some 200kg more than the rally machine. A 1983 WRC title win for the Rally 037 would be the last time a rear-wheel-drive car would take the championship.
1984 Audi Sport Quattro
Audi would dominate the WRC during the mid-1980s, and the Quattro was the icon that made it happen. Under pressure from Lancia and Peugeot, Audi introduced the Sport Quattro in 1984, with a shorter wheelbase, carbon-kevlar bodywork, and a 2.1-litre five-cylinder turbo engine making 302hp in road-going specification. Contemporary road tests recorded a 0-60mph sprint of 4.8 seconds, aided by Quattro 4WD. Only 164 examples were built, making them highly desirable with collectors. Prices can top £400,000 today.
1984 Peugeot 205 T16
Demonstrating just how wild Group B regulations allowed manufacturers to be is the 205 T16. Peugeot took a front-wheel-drive hot hatch, moved the engine to the middle, and made it four-wheel drive. It also worked hard to make the T16 look as close to a regular 205 as possible. The plan worked, and Peugeot Sport took the 1985 and 1986 WRC titles. An output of 197hp for the 200 road cars is barely hot hatch-spec today, but the full-fat rally cars were capable of delivering up to 550hp.
1985 Ferrari 288 GTO
Group B was not all about 4WD rally machinery. Ferrari began development of the 288 to go racing in the FIA GT Championship, and took the GTO name from the 250 of 1962. But before the 288 could compete, the FIA abandoned Group B due to several fatal accidents. This left Ferrari with a car but no championship to race it in. However, the market for supercars in the 1980s was sufficient for Ferrari to actually sell 272 examples of the 2.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 car, rather than just the 200 required for homologation. Prices today fetch over £2.2million – a sizeable return on the £70,000 initial asking price.
1986 Porsche 959
The 959 was an evolution of the 911 sports car designed for rallying and off-road use. It was also the fastest production car in the world when offered for sale in 1986, with a top speed of 195mph. The 2.8-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six engine made 444hp as standard, and was combined with 4WD and active aerodynamics. A total of 337 examples of the 959 were built in total, with Porsche reported to have made a loss on every car sold. Microsoft founder Bill Gates had his 959 held in storage by US customs for 13 years, before a law change allowed him to officially import it.
1986 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
After Group B came Group A, covering both rally and touring cars. The FIA hoped manufacturers would concentrate on milder production-based machinery, with higher homologation requirements of 5,000 road cars. Ford took the three-door hatchback Sierra and turned it into an unstoppable force in touring car racing, with 15 major championship wins. Over 5,000 road cars were produced, featuring a 2.0-litre turbocharged Cosworth engine making 204hp. A later RS500 evolution model would offer even more power and extra tweaks to keep the Sierra competitive.
1987 BMW E30 M3
Built for Group A touring car racing, the E30 M3 would also find itself competing in tarmac rallying. Victories in 18 championships across the globe demonstrated its capability on track, but it also had a lasting legacy as a road car. Initial E30 M3s featured a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine sending 192hp to the rear wheels. Later Evolution cars would boast up to 235hp, with even wilder bodywork. A total of 16,000 examples were produced in total, with demand remaining strong today.
1989 Volkswagen Rallye Golf
Although many of the cars on this list are well known, the Rallye variant of the Mk2 Golf is somewhat more obscure. Made to Group A regulations, with 5,000 production models built in Belgium, the Rallye used Volkswagen’s G60 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder engine and Syncro 4WD system. It only competed in three WRC rounds during 1990, with its best result being third place in New Zealand. The street machine had 158hp, and weighed in at almost 1,200kg, making it barely quicker than the contemporary GTI – despite costing almost twice as much.