Back in 1982, Group was brought in by the Federation Internationale DE l’Automobile (FIA) to replace the outgoing modified grand touring and touring prototypes rally racing categories. Unlike Group A cars, Group vehicles enjoyed small homologation volumes, and virtually no limits on what could be equipped.
Unfortunately, the craziness of the entrance field caused fast, furious, and dangerous racing competitions. While it was resulting in record success, the World Rally Championship was forced to retire the Group category in 1986.
The World Championship was simply becoming far too dangerous, with too many racing car driver fatalities. Some of the best car models even inspired new race machines that came years later, such as the Subaru Impress, the re-released Mini Cooper, and legendary Ford Fiesta.
While it inspired many, the vehicles that it spawned and evolved are even more impressive, from the fearsome Ford Escort and Fiat 131 Abarth Rally to the groundbreaking Mitsubishi Lancer, there was no denying the value of the group. But rather than mourn, let’s take a look at some of the world’s fastest rally cars that epitomize the spirit and thrill of the banned group.
The Citroën project was doomed from the start, being launched just months before the ban on Group. While imbued with all-wheel drive, Citroën decided against moving the engine behind the driver as had its more successful competitors, it remained in its original location: between the front wheels.
The Citroën also retained its stock wheelbase, making it the more difficult to manage on stage roads. While this wild World Rally Championship machine wasn’t the fastestrallycarever, it certainly was one of the craziest.
The original design was powered by a V-6 version of an old aluminum V-8, fitted to the Range Rover that General Motors had sold off to the English. The engine was moved behind the driver, a complete tube chassis fabricated underneath, and an AWD system installed.
Power was quoted as 425 horsepower, but most likely was higher, The 205 T16 and E2 immediately took the lead in WRC competition, winning 12 events, until outdone by our next best rally car. It’s a whole different beast to the rear-wheel drive Lancia Stratus, but it’s a different kind of car.
With a layout similar to the Peugeot, Lancia took it one step further by creating an outside shell with no inside panels of any kind. Unfortunately a tragic accident with a Delta S4 brought an end to the reign of the Group WRC supercars.
As part of the investigation into several Group accidents, a panel of doctors determined that the cars were too fast for the drivers’ eyes and brain to process the fast-moving course and conditions. About Chris Riley I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more.
However, a series of major accidents, some of them fatal, were blamed on their outright speed and lack of crowd control at events. The short-lived Group era has acquired legendary status among rally fans and automobile enthusiasts in general.
Group A referred to production-derived vehicles limited in terms of power, weight, allowed technology and overall cost. The category was aimed at car manufacturers by promising outright competition victories and the subsequent publicity opportunities without the need for an existing production model.
There was also a Group C, which had a similarly lax approach to chassis and engine development, but with strict rules on overall weight and maximum fuel load. Group was initially a very successful group, with many manufacturers joining the premier World Rally Championship, and increased spectator numbers.
But the cost of competing quickly rose and the performance of the cars proved too much resulting in a series of fatal crashes. In the following years Group found a niche in the European Rally cross Championship, with cars such as the MG Metro 6R4 and the Ford RS200 competing as late as 1992.
Car companies were not keen on using 4WD as it was generally felt that the extra weight and complexity of 4WD systems would cancel out any performance benefits. Registered by the Audi Sport Factory Rally Team, IN-NE 3, as an opening (zero) car, it was driven by professional driver Hanna Mikaela.
While the new car was indeed heavy and cumbersome, its standing starts on gravel and road grip on Special Stages was staggering. Audi kept on winning throughout the 1980 and 1981 seasons, although lack of consistent results meant that Ford took the driver's title in 1981 with ARI Taken driving a rear-wheel-drive Escort.
The team's victory at the 1981 Rally Supremo, with the car piloted by Michele Mouton, was the first time a woman won a World Championship rally. Group was conceived when the FISA found that numerous car manufacturers wanted to compete in rallying; witnessing the successes of the Stratus and the Quarto, manufacturers felt cars with mid-engine and RWD or 4WD were preferable, however their RWD production models had been gradually replaced by their FWD counterparts, lessening their chance of winning.
By reducing the homologation minimum from 400 (in Group 4) to 200, FIA enabled manufacturers to design specialized RWD or 4WD rally cars without the financial commitment of producing their production counterparts in such large numbers. Renault later increased the size of the engine somewhat for the Turbo Maxi, to be able to fit larger tires (at the expense of somewhat higher weight).
For the 037 Lancia decided that the lower class might be too light and consequently too fragile for gravel rallies, and they happened to have a good 2000 cc engine. Nevertheless, the 037 performed well enough for Lancia to capture the manufacturers title, which was generally considered more prestigious at the time, with a rally to spare.
Like the Lancia 037 both cars were rear-wheel drive, but, while successful in national rallying in various countries, they were less so at World Championship level, although Toyota won the 1983 Ivory Coast Rally after hiring Swedish desert driving specialist, the late Born Waldemar. In 1984, Audi's Sting Blomqvist beat Lancia to the driver's title, although the victory was bittersweet: Midway through the year Peugeot had joined the rallying scene with its Group 205 T16.
At the wheel was the 1981 driver's champion ARI Taken, with future FerrariFormula One team manager and FIA President Jean Todd overseeing the operation. Although not without mishap: Taken plunged off the road in Argentina and was seriously injured when his seat mountings broke in the ensuing crash.
Late in the year, Lancia replaced their outclassed 037 with the Delta S4, which featured both a turbocharger and a supercharger for optimum power output. Rover created the distinctive Metro 6R4, which featured boxy bodywork and a large spoiler mounted on the front of the car.
For the 1986 season, defending champion Time Salonen had the new Evolution 2 version of Peugeot's 205 T16 with ex Toyota driver, Just Raikkonen. Lancia's Delta S4 would be in the hands of the Finnish prodigy Henri Poisoned and Markka Alien, and Ford was ready with its high tech RS200 with Sting Blomqvist and Kale Grendel.
Seven kilometers into the 18th stage, Poisoned's S4 flew off the unguarded edge of a tightening left-hand bend and plunged down a steep wooded hillside. The combination of red-hot turbocharger, Kevlar bodywork, and ruptured fuel tank ignited the car and set fire to the dry undergrowth.
With no witnesses to the accident it was impossible to determine what caused the crash other than Poisoned had left the road at high speed. While that fatality was largely blamed on the unforgiving Corsican scenery (and bad luck, as his co-driver, Maurizio Permission was uninjured), Poisoned and Crest's deaths, combined with the Portugal tragedy and televised accident of F1 driver Marc Surer in another RS200 which killed co-driver Michel Wider, compelled the FIA ban Group cars immediately for 1987.
The Peugeot's were disqualified from the Rally Supremo by the Italian scrutineers as the 'skirts' around the bottom of the car were deemed to be illegal. Their case was strengthened at the next event, the RAC Rally, when the British scrutineers passed the Peugeot's as legal in identical trim.
FISA annulled the result of the Supremo Rally eleven days after the final round in the United States. As a result, the championship title was passed from Lancia's Markka Alien to Peugeot's Just Raikkonen.
Time Salonen had won another two rallies during the 1986 season and became the most successful group era driver with a total of seven wins. Three Ford RS200 E2, Audi Sport quarto S1, MG Metro 6R4 and Peugeot 205 T16 E2 in the 1989 Rally cross EC round at Milk. Although 1987 saw the end of the Group cars on the world stage they did not disappear from motorsport.
Walter Royal's S1 Rally car won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1987 and set a new record at the time. Audi used their Group experience to develop a production based racing car for the Trans-Am and IMA GTO series in 1988 and 1989 respectively.
Ford sold off their RS200s to private buyers, with many being used in European Rally cross events from the beginning of 1987 till the end of 1992. The Metro 6R4 also became a frequent sight in Rally cross and the car was also entered in British and Irish national championship events.
The 961 prototype won the GTX class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1986 race but crashed and caught fire in 1987. By the time of its cancellation, at least four Group S prototypes had been built: The Lancia CV, the Toyota MR2 -based 222D, the Opel Cadet Rally 4×4 (a.k.a.
Vauxhall Astral 4S) and the Lady Samara Photo, and new cars were also planned by both Audi (the 002 Quarto) and Ford (a Group S development of the RS200). The combination of lightweight chassis, sophisticated aerodynamics and massive amounts of horsepower resulted in the development of a class of cars whose performance has not yet been surpassed within their category, even three decades later.
In reference to their dubious safety record, however, the class has also earned an unsavory nickname among enthusiasts: “Killer B's”. This particular category features predominantly fictional rally cars based on newer models, such as Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X and Subaru Wax STI, although it does include the Pikes Peak version of the Audi Quattro.