A three-box saloon is kicking up dust on the Forest Rally Stage. There’s long relaxed oversteer through every corner and it’s breathing through twin Weber carburettors. We could be describing that rally stage perennial, the Ford Escort Mk2, but we’re actually going to take a look at something a little different: a Lada 2105 VFTS.
This Group B legend is... a Lada!
This is the only Group B Lada in the UK, and it has been brought to the Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard by its owner of 15 years, Tim Bendle. Rally driver Stasys Brundza was the driving force behind the Group B Ladas. Having had success throughout Europe, Lada gave him the green light to oversee production of an official competition variant of the Fiat-derived saloon. It was Vilnius Fabrik Tuning Sport in his native Lithuania the completed the work, hence the VFTS branding.
The twin-choke carburettors and other work liberated 167PS (123kW) from the 1.6-litre, eight-valve four-cylinder engine – up by about 100PS on the showroom car. The VFTS also went on a weight-loss programme. The first editions weighed about 920kg, while a move from fibreglass to aluminium body panels later reduced that by a further 100kg. To make an affordable equivalent of a dogleg gearbox, the shift pattern was re-arranged so that first gear is top right of the ‘H’ and second is top left. Close ratios ensure that the 1.6-litre engine is always in the strongest part of the rev range.
Having rallied in Ladas he’d built himself years before, Tim had always dreamed of owning a Group B equivalent. He started the search in 2005, homing in on Hungary where even today they are prolific in club level rallying. By 2006, he’d found the car you see here being sold by rally driver Laszlo Szabo.
The process of buying the car proved unusual. Laszlo had arranged a local rally stage as the venue for the test drive. It was late at night and they set off in an ever growing convoy. Far from being a closed gravel stage Tim assumed they were going to, it was a public road that had been closed by the police for the occasion. It was late at night, and snowing. Having witnessed what the car was capable of from the passenger seat, Tim declined the offer of a drive on the closed road. Instead, he took for a more gentle drive the next morning.
When he took delivery of the car, it was in Subaru Impreza style blue with contemporary sponsorship stickers. He spent time researching its original livery to put it back, the roof proving hardest to find a photographic record of. He has also maintained its original Group B spec, including that unorthodox gearbox. It also still runs the original steering box and disc brakes on the rear. In Hungary, many Ladas have been upgraded and modernised, just as Escorts have here.
Despite its modest power, Tim gets a real kick from driving the Lada. “I get more pleasure out of driving the Lada than any other rally car I’ve driven,” he says. “I don’t know why, it’s just great. It gives a lot of driver satisfaction. It does everything you want it to, it’s very simple and user-friendly. The Ladas we’d built ourselves were never anything like as good as this. It surprised me the first time I drove it for the test drive.”
To give Tim’s comparison some context, he also has a Rover V8 powered Metro 8R4 and a Toyota Corolla WRC car, and runs Slowly Sideways which gives him plenty of opportunities to get into some serious machinery.
And what of the Lada’s unusual gearchange? “It’s a bit strange to get used to. Going down into first is probably the trickiest. When you’re under heavy braking you’ve got to think about getting into first. All the other gears you don’t really think about.”
Tim generally uses the Lada for demonstration events such as the Forest Rally Stage, but he has had competitive outings. The 2008 Rally Ireland was the scene of Tim’s only off thanks to a steering box failure that saw the car turn promptly left, across a hedge and into a farmer’s field. “We were stuck there and wondering how we’d get out. We’d jumped the hedge, so I wasn’t going to back over it!” Thankfully it only caused slight bodywork damage.
After the run of Group B cars, Lada developed a turbocharged engine with the intention of fitting it to a spaceframe chassis Samara to take on the front-running Group B cars. It came to nought when the category was cancelled, so Lada switched to Rally Raid.
A Lada might not be at the top of everyone’s rally car wishlist, but, like Tim, we’re really very fond of the 2105 VFTS.
Photography by James Lynch, dynamic image by Michael Pospisil.
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