They were fast, dangerous and extremely popular. Here are some of the most successful (and a few slightly less so...) Group B Rally cars
Competing against each other is embedded deep within our DNA; show two men a rock and they will soon be seeing who can throw it the furthest. So when the automobile was barely in its infancy it is no surprise to learn that these rickety motorised carriages were soon being lined up on anything resembling a flat surface to see whose machine was the fastest. The Paris-Rouen horseless carriage competition held in 1894 is the earliest recorded motorsport race with the Monte Carlo Rally of 1911 generally acknowledged as the first official rallying event.
The popularity of rallying has endured ever since and aside from a hiatus during wartime it has spread across the globe with events taking place in every condition imaginable. Arguably Rallying’s most extreme era was during the Group B period, run from 1982/3 to 1986 it spawned some of the most sophisticated racing machines ever built. Predictably, massive power outputs and poor safety precautions don’t mix, and a number of accidents and fatalities forced the FIA to ban the class. > Read about some of the greatest Group B road cars here
We take a look at some of the most memorable and interesting Group B machines built. Let us know which your favourite Group B car is via the comments below.
Audi Sport Quattro (S1)
When the fabled Audi Quattro arrived on the rallying scene it didn’t just change the game, but completely rewrote the rallying rulebook. Employing its Quattro four wheel drive system to devastating effect it proved unbeatable on dirt and gravel spelling the beginning of the end for rear wheel drive rally cars. Many will still remember its off-beat five-cylinder scream as it flew over jumps in a cloud of dust and flames to another victory. Continuous development meant multiple drivers and manufacturers’ titles, and, in its final short wheelbase iteration, the Quattro was producing almost 600bhp. It remains one of the most significant rally cars in the sport’s history.
Arriving mid-way through the 1984 season the Peugeot 205 T16 proceeded to more or less dominate Group B until the class’s demise two years later. With drivers like Ari Vatanen, Michèle Mouton and Juha Kankkunen piloting the 450bhp T16 it was perhaps no surprise that Peugeot won the championship in both 1985 and 1986. After the end of Group B the T16 continued to run roughshod over the competition in rallying events across the globe for the remainder of the 1980s.> Take a look at Peugeot 205s for sale in the classifieds
Lancia 037 Rally
One of the most beautiful of all Group B cars, the Lancia 037 Rally achieved its greatest result in the 1983 season where it became the last rear wheel drive WRC car to win a constructors championship. Its in-line four-cylinder engine was mid-mounted, supercharged to reduce lag and in its final iteration produced 325bhp from just 2.2 litres. Bowing out in 1984 it made way for the Delta S4 which would bring added power and all-wheel drive to the fight.
Naturally aspirated four- and six-cylinder engines, V6 and V8s, and turbocharged four- and five-cylinder power units ensured Group B provided a hugely varied aural experience. Mazda’s rotary-engined RX-7 brought its own unique soundtrack, but sadly delivered little in the way of results.
> Browse the classifieds for a Mazda RX-7 for sale
Lancia Delta S4
The Lancia Delta S4 was a major redevelopment of the 037 Stradale and introduced four wheel drive for the first time in a Lancia WRC car. Its engine capacity was slightly lower at 1.8 litres but the addition of both a turbocharger and supercharger meant that power was significantly higher. Official figures claimed a maximum output of 480bhp but some reckon that the S4 produced much more. Sadly Henri Toivonen and his co-driver lost their lives on the Tour de Corse in 1986, adding impetus to the final banning of the Group B class.
> Take a look at Lancia Deltas for sale in the classifieds
Renault 5 Maxi Turbo
It may have lacked four-wheel drive, but at least the Group B Renault 5 had its turbocharged engine in the correct place, right behind the driver and navigator. The final Maxi version won the Tour de Corse in 1985 in the hands of Jean Ragnotti and Pierre Thimonier, after Lancia had withdrawn following the death of Attilio Bettega.
MG Metro 6R4
Based on possibly the most unlikely road car, the MG Metro 6R4 arrived late in 1985 to the Group B scene. Reliability issues mostly due to inadequate development time meant that it did not initially perform as hoped. Its mid-mounted naturally aspirated 3.0-litre V6 produced up to 410bhp however it was less than dependable and aside from a few podium finishes the 6R4 didn’t match expectations. By the time its reliability issues had been sorted Group B had been abandoned and the Metro was left to prove its mettle by becoming a potent rallycross weapon. Its V6 engine also became the basis for the Jaguar XJ220 supercar, where it gained two turbochargers to briefly make the XJ220 the fastest road car on the planet.
Toyota Celica Twincam Turbo TA 64
The Celica debuted in 1983, retaining a traditional rear wheel drive layout made it a handful on some surfaces, but good reliability and a powerful 2.1 litre turbocharged engine producing up to 380bhp saw it achieve success in a number of events. While no match for the four wheel drive competition on the European events its ruggedness helped it achieve stunning success in Africa with six rally wins earning it the ‘King of Africa’ moniker.> Take a look at Toyota Celicas for sale in the classifieds
Citroen BX 4TC
Citroen’s BX 4TC came late to the Group B party in 1986 and embarrassed itself very badly on the dancefloor. Its ungainly front-engined, five-door body format was about as fashionable as a John Travolta disco suit. It never stood a chance of keeping step with the nimble, mid-engined Peugeots and Lancias on its Monte Carlo debut. It did manage a sixth place in Sweden, but after failing to finish the Acropolis Rally it was never seen again.> Take a look in the classifieds for a Citroen BX for sale
Another late entry into Group B, Ford realised that its rear-wheel drive RS1700T would be no match for the four-wheel drive competition so the RS200 was born. Its 1.8-litre turbocharged engine produced massive power but low end lag made it a tricky car to pilot around hairpins. Despite this it placed third in its first ever race but sadly soon after was involved in one of the worst accidents in WRC history killing three spectators and injuring 30 others. With just one year in Group B the RS200 did not get a chance to prove itself, but it’s widely considered that the Ford would have challenged for the championship if it had been allowed to continue. Like the Metro, it found more lasting success in Rallycross events.
Porsche 911 SC RS
Henri Toivonen came close to winning the 1984 European Rally Championship in Porsche’s 911 SC RS. What might Porsche have achieved if it had homologated its much more technically advanced, twin-turbo, four-wheel-drive Paris-Dakar-winning 959 into Group B?
> Take a look at classic Porsche 911s for sale
Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet both won in BMW’s mid-engined M1, but that was on the racetrack in the one-make Procar Championship. Taking the behemoth coupé onto the rally stages was another thing altogether. With 430bhp produced by its naturally aspirated 3.5-litre inline-six engine and excellent handling characteristics the M1 debuted in 1983 at the Corsica rally to high expectations. Despite retiring from that event it did achieve some noteworthy second place finishes later in the season but overall the M1 did not quite live up to expectations. The car’s wide proportions and rear-wheel drive limited its effectiveness on the tight and slippery rally stages. Nevertheless, it still provided some great sideways sliding action for spectators who were fortunate enough to witness it during its short Group B career.
Engineered in a similar vein to Toyota’s TCT, but having to make do without a turbocharger, Nissan’s agricultural 240RS was no match even for its fellow rear-drive rivals.
Not all Group B cars were fire-breathing monsters, the lower tiers also had their champions and the Skoda 130LR was one such car. While 130bhp may not seem like much, it was produced from just 1.3 litres without the aid of turbocharging. Combined with a rear mounted engine which greatly aided traction and a featherweight chassis, the Skoda regularly took top honours in the 1300cc class outperforming some much more prestigious competitors.
The 959 was one of the ‘what-if’ cars of Group B. Early plans were to develop it for this no-holds-barred class however the time it took for the 200 homologation road going models to be built and a change in Group B’s focus meant that the 959 never got a chance to compete. It became a test bed for Porsche’s latest technological developments and achieved great success in rallying, notably a 1-2 finish in the gruelling 1986 Paris-Dakar. > Take a look at Porsche 959s for sale in the classifieds
Opel Manta 400
The devil has all the best tunes and Group B rally cars had all the best liveries. The iconic red, white and blue Rothmans colours were carried on the MG Metro 6R4 and the Porsche 911 SC RS. But they looked best on a lightweight tarmac-spec Opel Manta 400. Type ‘Oh Dear God Opel Manta’ into YouTube to see how Ari Vatanen could make the car dance, and be thankful you weren’t in navigator Terry Harryman’s racing boots that day.
> Have a look at Opel Mantas for sale in the classifieds
Almost, but not quite...
Another Group B entrant that never turned a wheel in anger, the 288 GTO was a development of the successful 308 rally car. FIA regulations dictated that the turbocharged engine’s capacity be reduced slightly to 2.8 litres, the same as the 959. However with the addition of twin turbo’s the 288 GTO produced up to 400bhp and could achieve over 190mph. By the time it was ready, the Group B racing series that it was built for had been killed off, its lasting legacy is instead to be found in the road going version.> Take a look at Ferrari 288 GTOs for sale in the classifieds