Deliberately unlike any Ford made before or since, the Group B RS200 rally car is now enjoying a second career as an enthusiast’s track day machine Think of the most stirring motoring moments you’ve ever witnessed and there’ll almost certainly be a Group B episode or two in there. Group B left an impression like no other branch of motor sport. The problem was, it left too big an impression for all the wrong reasons: deaths were an integral part, so it was no surprise when the series was canned before many of the key cars had even been fully developed.
One example was the RS200, set to crush its rivals only to have the plug pulled before it had even got going.
The RS200 project started in 1983; Ford needed to get a competitive rally car developed and built as quickly as possible. It would have four-wheel drive, and a unique shape so it wouldn’t immediately be obsolete. There would also be an incredibly rigid chassis of honeycombed aluminium, steel and composites, over which was to be draped a composite bodyshell, the whole lot powered by Ford’s 16-valve BDT twin-cam engine.
October 1985 saw the first production cars built. By then the RS200 had already won its first works outing, the Lindisfarne Rally. It won a few more rallies at the start of 1986 but the writing was now on the wall for Group B. The final production cars were made in January 1986 but, by the time they were delivered to their new owners at the end of that year, the RS200’s competition career was over.
Because of the cancellation of the Group B series, some potential owners decided they no longer wanted their cars. As a result Ford never made the full quota of 200 vehicles: records show 158 vehicles sold. Ford apparently stripped down 50 cars already built, to resell them with extra equipment fitted.
By the end of 1988 they’d all found new owners but it wasn’t until 1990 that the final cars were delivered.
Motoring historian Graham Robson, who had close contractual links with Ford’s motor sport department, ran a series of RS200s: ‘On the open road nothing was faster, safer or more nimble, but in traffic the RS200 could be a pain. Long journeys were at first exhilarating because of the car’s poise and performance but became tiring as the noise, heavy steering and poor rearward visibility took their toll.
‘Traffic jams were best avoided, for it was all too easy to overheat that precious engine or to cook the clutch. But the RS200 was a miraculously fast car on ordinary main roads: if the turbo was on song, there was always space to overtake slower traffic.’
Steve Stripe runs XWorkss, which maintains Ford’s own trio of RS200s plus many privately owned examples. He comments: ‘There’s always a steady demand for RS200s, because they’re perfect for track days. Expect to pay £50,000 for a well-maintained example that’s ready to roll. A decent Evo is another £30,000, while the ceiling is £100,000 for an ex-competition car – but it’s got to have an interesting history to be worth so much.
‘Values have remained pretty static for a while and will probably continue to do so. The RS200 isn’t an investment as such but you won’t lose your shirt on it.’
Surprisingly, there are usually plenty to choose from at any one time. The best place to find one is online at Justin Smith’s website www.rs200.org, an essential site for anyone who owns or aspires to own an RS200.
There were two types of engine fitted to the RS200: a 1.8-litre unit or a 2.1-litre unit unique to the 20 Evo editions. An Evo with a sickly powerplant will cost mega money to fix; Geoff Page Racing will shortly be offering new Evo engines at £32,000-35,000 depending on ECU and turbo specification. Beware of oil smoke from the exhaust of an Evo, because the cylinder bores were Nikasil-lined and reboring isn’t an option.
However, if the engine is in rude health, it’s cheap and easy to keep it that way because servicing costs are so low – even a full service with a fresh cambelt should be under £400.
One of the best ways of ensuring good engine health is an annual coolant change; these all-alloy powerplants need a good dose of anti-freeze so make sure it isn’t too dilute. If things have started to get silted up, the radiator is bespoke and a new one is £450.
Also ask when the cambelt pulley retaining bolt was last replaced; they have a habit of shearing, wrecking the powerplant in the process.
The more powerful the engine, the more likely it is to fail. In standard road-going form there was 250bhp on tap, although Ford offered an upgrade to 350bhp for those who wanted more, while a full-blown competition engine could be tuned to give over 600bhp.
Regardless of the state of tune, it’s important that you ascertain how much use any car has had, and whether the miles have been racked up on the road or the track. A high-mileage road car may well be in better condition than a low-mileage example that’s been caned on the track. The most likely engine malady is a worn turbo: if a car has been driven hard but not left to idle for a few minutes before switching off, the turbo’s bearings will be cooked. A standard rebuild is £350, but an upgraded (stronger) unit is £600.
ECU upgrades are also desirable; the original EEC-IV system is crude and doesn’t allow the BDT engine to give its best. Most owners opt for a bespoke system by MBE for around £3500, but an alternative (and much more costly) system is offered by Pectel, which is best suited to competition use.
Considering what the transmission has to endure, it’s amazing how few problems it gives. The gearbox itself is strong and unlikely to need attention; if it does, a decent used unit is £1500-£3000 and there’s no shortage of serviceable units around. A specialist charges £300 to strip and inspect a gearbox, but if any parts are needed the costs add up quickly because it’s getting ever harder to track down fresh components.
There were two types of gearbox fitted: a road-spec unit with synchromesh, and a race spec with straight-cut gears. Even for the track you’re better off with one of the former, as it’s plenty strong enough, quieter and much easier to use.
The clutch is also tough but it will need replacing at some point. It’s a standard £500 AP unit and is a doddle to change as it was designed to be done in 15 minutes in the pits. A decently equipped workshop can do the job in a couple of hours.
The final potential weak spot is the propshaft, which features a bearing that can wear. When it does, you’ll feel a vibration at a fixed road speed; renewal is a £400 touch.
SUSPENSION, STEERING AND BRAKES
Standard RS200s featured conventional rubber-bush suspension, while Evos had a rose-jointed set-up. The latter has been obsolete for a while but will shortly be available once more through XWorkss at £2500 for the complete system, including adjustable anti-roll bars. Neither set-up gives trouble; even with hard use there are no weak spots.
The steering is similarly hardy, with the standard unassisted rack unlikely to give problems. However, for comfort you can fit a power-assisted Sierra rack, with the whole job costing around £800. The brakes are straightforward too.
The pads may have worn but at £150 for a set that’s not an issue. The ventilated discs are £150 apiece – but they are freely available and easy to fit yourself. Most RS200s are bought for track days and if that’s your plan it’s worth fitting a set of Yokohama A008s at around £160 per corner. As is usual with Yokohamas, there’s oodles of grip but you’ll get through the tyres very quickly.
BODYWORK, ELECTRICALS AND TRIM
Corrosion isn’t an issue and, surprisingly, accident damage rarely rears its ugly head. New panels are available and, unless a car has been comprehensively trashed, it just gets rebuilt with new parts. If an RS200 was to be more or less destroyed, a whole new tub would be a problem but Arch Motors can usually repair a damaged item.
A lot of detail parts were taken from the Sierra, such as the door mirrors and windscreen, while other bits, including the door handles and instrumentation, were borrowed from the Fiesta.
The RS200’s electrical system is simple and reliable, while the interior trim is bespoke but durable. There are unlikely to be any problems with any of it, aside from the possibility of worn seats. You’ll struggle to find any parts for these, which is why most owners simply slot in a fresh set of Recaros or get the existing ones retrimmed.
As a road car the RS200 makes only a certain amount of sense. If you’re going to buy one, it ought to be for at least some track use.
An RS200 should be bought in the certain knowledge that its neck will be wrung every time it’s taken out. Not only is the RS200 fast and accomplished when you give it its head, but the cars are amazingly strong. In Group B rallying the RS200 could be broken but you’re unlikely to have anything go wrong on road or track in normal use.
Even more appealing are the running costs. Many of the non-specialised parts were from Ford’s road cars, so they’re often ultra-cheap. Even better, no special tools are needed to maintain an RS200, which is why many owners do their own maintenance.
However, you need to ensure you’re buying the genuine article. Most cars will come with the original bill of sale and this can be verified with records held by the RS Owners’ Club. The spares that were never built into full cars by Ford may well have been used to create a new car since production ended, and there are even replicas around which have been known to be passed off as the real thing.
Ford RS200 specifications
Engine: 1803cc in-line four, twin overhead camshafts, 16 valves. Alloy head and block. Ford electronic fuel injection, Garrett AiResearch T03/4 turbo with air-to-air intercooler Power: 250bhp @ 6500rpm Torque: 215lb ft @ 4500rpm Transmission: Five-speed manual, four-wheel drive Suspension: Front and rear independent via coil springs, double wishbones, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar Brakes: Ventilated discs all round, no servo assistance Weight: 1180kg (2602lb) Performance: 0-60mph 6.1sec, top speed 140mph Cost: £49,995 new
Mar 1984: First prototype is completed Nov 1984: RS200 debuts at the Turin Motor Show Sept 1985: RS200 wins its first race, the Lindisfarne Rally Oct 1985: First production cars are built Jan 1986: Last cars are made, the final 20 being 2.1-litre Evos Early 1990: Final cars are delivered, having been rebuilt and resold