Group B's 5 Weapons Of Wonderment

09th June 2016
David Evans

Five supercars made all the headlines during the heyday of rallying’s most revered era – for good, bad and sad reasons. David Evans recalls a quintet of classics.


Audi Quattro

When Freddy Kottulinsky started a handful of rallies in a factory-entered Audi 80 in 1978, the outside world showed little or no interest. There was similar ambivalence a year later, when lead engineer Jurgen Stockmar asked a September meeting of the World Rally Championship manufacturers if there would be any objection to the removal of a ban on the use of four-wheel-drive cars?

Not an objection or an eyebrow was raised.

And all the time, Ingolstadt was plotting, planning and priming the car to truly revolutionise the sport of rallying.

When Audi’s new machine broke cover at the Algarve Rally in October 1980, Hannu Mikkola drove it as course car. It ‘won’ 24 of the 30 stages. Had the Finn have been competing, he would have battered the opposition to the tune of half an hour.

Still there were those who remained unconvinced. The Audi was big, heavy and cumbersome in tighter, more technical stages. And the turbo lag coming out of those slow corners could be measured on a calendar.

But still, the writing was on the wall after the first day of WRC competition at the 1981 Monte Carlo. It was Italian. With German intonation. Quattro.

In six snowy stages and less than 100 competitive miles, Mikkola had opened up and advantage of almost six minutes.

Six Minutes.

It all came to nought when the leader’s foot slipped off the brake pedal and the car’s left-front corner lost its argument with a bridge parapet. No matter. Notice had been served.

A fortnight later, Mikkola finished the job with a two-minute win on the Swedish Rally.


The first Quattro, run under Group 4 regulations, was clearly a potent indication of the shape of things to come. But it was by no means a finished product. The car suffered a variety of engine problems, but still Audi managed the makes’ title in 1982. Had the car been slightly more reliable Michele Mouton could well have taken the drivers’ title, instead the French lady was second to Walter Röhrl’s Opel Ascona 400.

The birth of Group B brought Quattro evolutions, but neither truly solved the frustrating reliability issues. You’ll be able to see examples of both the A1 and A2 at June’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. Both were quicker – substantially quicker. Granted, they won’t be pedalled with quite the same verve as they were 30 years ago, but stop and listen. Those five cylinders still sing.

Further mechanical issues cost Audi the manufacturers’ title in 1983 (by two points to Lancia), but Mikkola was crowned champion. The double was finally delivered in 1984 with Stig Blömqvist and victory on seven of the 11 rounds.

By this point, the rest of the world had found the same page and were most definitely on it. Peugeot’s 205 T16 moved Group B on to the next level by mid-mounting the motor in a spaceframe chassis.

Audi’s answer was the Quattro Sport. The new car was 244mm shorter overall and 320mm less in wheelbase. On top of that it was 57mm wider. And it was more powerful than ever, with close to 500bhp on offer. The short, squat Sport looked the business, but with the engine still ahead of the front axle, no amount of power would compensate for a rabid appetite for front tyres and more understeer.

Aero. That was the answer. Audi bolted wings to the Sport, called it the E2 and hoped for the best. Only a massive test programme allied to the pace and patience of Walter Röhrl could get the best out of the final Group B Audi. Walter’s win on the 1985 Sanremo was the last in Group B for the marque that made rallying what it is today.


Peugeot 205 T16

Just as Audi was starting its second season of full and exclusive four-wheel-drive competition in the World Rally Championship, Peugeot began plotting its downfall.

The first 205 T16 was drawn early in 1982, the first version launched alongside the 205 road car a year later. Outwardly, the Parisian take on Group B looked fabulous. And it made sense from a weight distribution and handling perspective, even if the transverse, mid-mounted engine did cause the nose to dip over jumps.

Behind the scenes, all was not well in the use of forced induction. Peugeot drafted in Jean-Pierre Boudy, a man who had learned all about the use of turbos in motorsport during his time with the Renault F1 team. That would go some way to fixing the delivery of power, but the distribution of it was still getting the better of Vélizy. It took the combined engineering genius of Jean-Claude Vaucard and André de Cortanze to get the transmission to the point where the car was in the ballpark to beat the Audis.

Then Jean Todt hired Ari Vatanen, the Finn who had beaten him and Guy Fréquelin to the title just a few years before in 1981. Vatanen did the rest.

The 205 T16 made its debut on the Tour de Corse in 1984 and was an immediate hit, leading for 11 stages before Vatanen aquaplaned off the road in a big accident.

On the car’s third outing, Vatanen reeled off 31 fastest times through his native Finnish forests to give the car its maiden victory. Back-to-back wins in Sanremo, Britain, Monte and Sweden served notice of just how effective the Peugeot was.


Effective, but by no means the easiest to drive.

While Peugeot celebrated its early wins, the factory was already working flat-out on the evolution.

The 205 T16 E2 was the real deal. A reinforced block combined with a new turbocharger running up to 2.8-bar boost offered the drivers upwards of 500bhp rather than the paltry 350 they’d had to deal with in the car’s predecessor.

Peugeot also found a way around the horrible lag, introducing a very early form of anti-lag to keep the turbo spinning – absolutely necessary when the power was all found between 6,000 and 10,000rpm.

Problems with overheating brakes and dampers were also addressed with the new car which, of course, grew wings with a sizeable front spoiler and massive one at the rear. This all helped with handling and gave the drivers astonishing grip to match the exceptional grunt. On fat, sticky slicks the T16 E2 was a sight to behold as it – in places – ripped up the asphalt in Corsica.

Juha Kankkunen mastered the E2. Then he learned to love it.

“When I first tested it on wet Tarmac,” he says. “All four wheels were spinning in third gear, and that was just using the throttle…”

It’s hard to argue against the 205 T16 E2 being the most complete Group B car. With solid foundations in the T16, the successor did everything a good bit better. It was a brutal tool with which Vélizy crushed Lancia in 1986.


Lancia Delta S4

Is it fair to call a car that won six rounds of the World Rally Championship in just a couple of years a mistake?

Maybe ‘mistake’ is a touch harsh. But certainly, Lancia was caught on the hop when the 037 hit the streets in 1982. Typically, the first genuine Group B car was a thing of absolute beauty. Turin had done its history proud; the Stratos had itself a worthy successor.

And the 037 was a fine rally car: light, fabulously balanced and powerful with a supercharged 2.1-litre engine developing 330bhp. But its rear-wheel-drive transmission rooted it firmly in the past. On its debut, it was already obsolete.

Work on the so-called 038 had begun. And Lancia’s second stab at Group B would be right on the money.

Next month’s Festival of Speed will have examples of both and it’s worth watching the glorious 037 through the woods at the top of the hill – you’ll soon see why four-wheel-drive was so important in Group B.

The Delta S4, as the 038 became known, was expected to make its debut mid-way through 1985. The 1,000 Lakes to be precise. It didn’t. The delays were delayed and mid-season turned to the end of the year and the RAC Rally.

In all honesty, Lancia was as surprised as anybody to depart Nottingham with first and second after five days in the forests. Both Henri Toivonen and Markku Alén’s cars suffered significant engine and transmission issues, but the Turinese kept on patching the cars up and sending them out.


It’s worth remembering, however, Alén’s second came courtesy of countryman (and, er, Toyota driver…) Juha Kankkunen stopping to tow him out of one of Kielder’s deeper ditches.

Having seen their rivals beset by turbo lag, Lancia carried a supercharger over from the 037 and mated it to a KKK blower in the new car. Hey presto, plenty of power and near-instant response.

Rearward bias in weight distribution forced Lancia to send more power to the back wheels, usually with a 25:75 torque split ensuring the car was always that bit of a handful and never quite a dialed-in as Peugeot’s second-evolution T16.

Just as Peugeot relied on Vatanen to take its original 205 by the scruff of the neck, so Toivonen was called upon to grab the S4 and force it down the road. The outcome wasn’t always the prettiest, rarely the straightest, but it was regularly the quickest. And definitely the bravest.

The Delta S4 never looked to have quite the same potential once Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto perished in the fire that engulfed their Tour de Corse crash.

That fire understandably raised questions of the S4, not least the positioning of petrol tanks – carrying the explosively flammable, Toluene-mixed fuel – beneath the driver and co-driver’s seats.

The S4’s not remembered with any great fondness by those who were paid to drive it, but there’s no denying its majesty, beauty and significance in the story of Group B.


MG Metro 6R4

For years, the BDA ruled. The sound of a hard-charging Group 4 Ford Escort simply couldn’t be beaten. Then the MG Metro 6R4 came along and changed all that.

Don’t believe us? Come to the Festival of Speed, head for the forest at the top of the hill, stand among the trees; shut your eyes, open your ears and prepare yourself for a six-cylinder symphony.

The Metro 6R4 was the most outlandish of the Group B cars when compared with its road-going cousin – a very distant cousin in this case. When Austin Rover launched the final version of the car, it bore little resemblance to the legion of Mini Metros running up and down the country.

But beneath the wings, scoops and splitters, it was a Metro by dimension. And, immediately, that brought its own restrictions and problems.

Sitting the engine where the rear seats once sat was entirely necessary, but cramming the bulk of a three-litre V6 motor in there wasn’t the work of a moment. The engine sat up in the car, doing little to enhance its centre of gravity and giving the ARG engineers some serious homework when it came to getting the car to handle.

But get it to handle they did. Any car the notoriously fussy Didier Auriol could get on with must have worked well. And Auriol loved his French Championship-winning season aboard an RED-run 6R4.

A tie-in with Williams Grand Prix Engineering meant the Metro came from the pen of Patrick Head and its aerodynamic efficiency was always one of its strongest points.


Conversely, the absence of a turbo charger was probably what hit it the hardest. At the height of its development Tony Pond and Malcolm Wilson were able to call on around 400bhp and natural aspiration meant no lag, but it simply wasn’t enough. Not nearly. Not when Audi was offering close to 550 at the same time. The British-built Group B machine couldn’t cope with such a power deficit especially not when that curve was found to take a serious dip in the middle of the rev range. Unfortunately, this wasn’t spotted until the middle of 1986.

Add in serious cambelt issues and a horrible habit of ingesting dust through inadequate air filters – which regularly silenced the car on hot gravel rallies – and you can understand how the 6R4 struggled against the full might of Group B competition.

When the car made its WRC debut at the 1985 RAC Rally, it had been four years in the making, but a Pond podium made the wait worthwhile.

That third place at home was as good as it would get in the World Championship. At a national level, however, the Metro was a solid and very successful competitor. Among the highlights were Marc Duez’s Hunsruck Rally win in Germany and David Llewellin’s victory on what would be the final round-island epic Circuit of Ireland. 

If sporting success didn’t quite match ARG’s hopes and aspirations, the 6R4 starring in its own prime-time television soap opera must have ticked a marketing box. The Winning Streak was filmed on and around actual British national rallies in 1984 (with Colin Malkin and Ian Grindrod crewing the Ternco-coloured car) before being aired in six shows through September and October of 1985 in the lead up to the Metro’s World Rally Championship debut on the RAC.


Ford RS200

For 037 read RS1700T. In the early 1980s, Ford found itself in precisely the same situation as Lancia: that of a manufacturer manufacturing a rally car with a distinct lack of drive to the front wheels. Where Lancia pressed ahead with its rear-drive 037, Boreham binned the RS1700T.

Stuart Turner led the charge back to John Wheeler’s drawing board.

This was a difficult time for the Blue Oval, which had been an absolute powerhouse of world rallying with the Escort a decade earlier. It was going to take something special to carry Ford to the top of Group B.

And something very special was planned. The RS200.

Of all the Group B cars, on paper at least, Ford’s interpretation had the most going for it: fabulous shape, longitudinal mid-mounted engine with plenty of power all connected to the road via double-wishbone and double-damper suspension.

The downsides were a slightly flabby showing on the scales, where it was found to be 100 kilos heavier than some of its rivals and a distinct lack of workable aero.

The car’s tendency for front-end push in corners was controllable by the slightly unconventional use of the transmission’s oddly named splined-muff coupling, which allowed for power to be cut to the front wheels. On approach and entry to a corner, the driver could flick all 450bhp to the rear, get the car set up on the throttle then deploy total traction at the exit. It wasn’t the ideal solution, but it could work.

Such issues would undoubtedly have been addressed with an evolution – and that MkII version would have been needed in the 1986 season. On its Swedish Rally debut, the RS200 was immediately outpaced by the existing cars around it.

The RS200 never stood a chance. An initial target of producing 15 cars per week from August would have just about got it across the line to show FISA 200 examples for a November 1 homologation date. The intention was for an RAC Rally 1985 debut. That came, went and became February 1, 1986.


In building the cars, Boreham forged an unlikely alliance with Reliant, producers of the famed three-wheeled Robin. Ford’s argument was simple: save reworking its own manufacturing process to use fibreglass, why not go to the experts in the field of building plastic cars.

Chief engineer Wheeler tells a great story of the Shenstone firm’s product-testing process in 1985. After the agreement was made, Reliant went ahead and built the first monocoque for Ford to examine. Wheeler and co. were invited to witness the first test, which involved a shotgun being fired directly at the fiberglass structure. It passed.

Like Britain’s other Group B supercar, ARG’s 6R4, the RS200 made the podium on its World Rally Championship debut, courtesy of Kalle Grundel’s third in Sweden. In another, rather less fortunate similarity with the Metro, that was as good as it would get.

Probably the biggest disappointment for Ford came on the Acropolis Rally, where testing had shown its suspension set-up to be something of a revelation on rough roads. Both Grundel and Stig Blömqvist were at the races in Greece until the wheel studs broke on the former’s car and Stig went off. It should have won.

Despite the passing of its 30th birthday, the RS200’s timeless looks still hold their own today – as you can see for yourself with a visit to the Forest Rally Stage at the Festival of Speed.

Images courtesy of LAT

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