Picking our five favourite cars from a paddock of more than 200, with vehicles covering the last 60 years of motorsport, is a difficult challenge indeed. But we've done our best, and think we've found five pretty special machines...
Peugeot 905 Evo 1B
What’s cooler than a screaming, 3.5-litre V10 F1-engined Peugeot 905? Well a 3.5-litre V10 F1-engined Peugeot 905 Evo, of course. And, even cooler than that is an Evo 1B. Yes the high-revving 3.5-litre era may have been the end of Group C, not just as we knew it, but completely, but it brought us some extraordinary cars. These monsters were not only at the very cutting edge of aerodynamic efficiency, and running at speeds that began to worry the powers that be in Formula 1, they also sounded absolutely incredible.
The Peugeot 905 was the car that really finished off Group C. The French home heroes arrived at Le Mans armed with a team run by Jean Todt, who’s latter career in Formula 1 is only too well documented, and with a car that blew the competition away. The World Sportscar Championship barely lasted a season after Peugeot arrived, and pretty soon Group C, and the World Championship, were dead. But the legacy is these stunning machines, and in Evo 1B form the 905 looks like the spawn of weird tryst between F1 and Group C. At this point it had sprouted not only the customary giant rear wing but a front wing, too, and its V10 was screaming louder than ever. The WSC was gone, but the 905 had one last hurrah at Le Mans, finishing first, second and third, a full three laps clear of the nearest Toyota challenger (with the leader a further eight laps up the road). Group C was dead, but what a way to go!
You’ve already heard from us once about this extraordinary car. And my colleague Seán Ward is bringing you a more in depth analysis of the amazing machine that is the Howmett TX. But it deserves to be on this list every time we see it. In the loosest terms it’s a sportscar with the engine from a helicopter, that’s being driven this weekend by a French hero with one arm. Just seeing the three exhausts from the jet turbine engine popping out of the back is enough to get you excited. This is a car with a single gear, that takes so long to spool up its power you need to be on the throttle while you’re braking for a corner to make sure you don’t bog down on exit, and that sounds like nothing else here.
OK, we’ve spoken about the SLR-bodied Morgans before. But the fact that these sleek beauties are Morgan Plus 4s underneath still blows our tiny minds. A quick reminder then, although you can read much more in depth about the SLR here, that SLR here does not stand for Single Lens Reflex, but “Sprinzel LawrenceTune Racing”. Basically a chap called Neil Dangerfield (great name, even greater legacy) got himself into Triumph racing, but decided he wanted a little bit more. So he commissioned Morgan-maestro Charles Lawrence and fellow racer John Sprinzel to create a new, more slippery, exterior for his TR4, and the SLR body was born.
That TR4’s body would then be replicated three times for use on Morgan Plus 4 bodies and so the Morgan SLR came into being. It’s definitely worth a read of the amazing history of these cars, so please check out Ethan Jupp’s article!
Wait, Ben, two things. Firstly, two Group C cars in this list? Secondly, you do know there’s a C11 at the Monza Historic this weekend? Well, you have a point, but let me address your concerns. Firstly, yeah, but I like Group C cars, and there’s a decent amount of difference between a 3.5-litre Group C car and a ‘classic’ version. Secondly we all know the story of the C9 and C11, but the C8 is where it all began.
The Sauber C8 was the first car that Mercedes and Sauber collaborated on, ready for the 1985 Le Mans 24 Hours, and the 1986 World Sportscar Championship. It didn’t have the greatest history, in fact a C8 was entered at Le Mans four times and never finished. It didn’t even start its first race in 1985, qualifying 17th but suffering damage in an accident later in the week which could not be fixed in time. It did however have some success, winning the daunting 1,000km of the Nürburgring in 1986, a very important win on home soil for Mercedes, and in an era dominated by their neighbours at Porsche. But the C8 is more important than its racing history. It was to spawn the C9 – the car that won Mercedes it’s only Le Mans – and a legacy for Sauber and Mercedes than continued for decades. it was also driven by some true greats. A quick look reveals Pescarolo, Quester, Nielsen and Thackwell. So yes, the C11 may be the mightier machine, but don’t count out the little C8.
Porsche 718 RSK
A few weeks after we celebrated the iconic conclusion to the 1959 World Sports Car Championship (for sportscar was two words then) – the RAC TT at Goodwood – it seems appropriate to meet again one of the cars that starred in that incredible season. This is a car that was developed for racing in both sportscars and in Formula 1, a true rarity even in those days. It was semi-succesful in both, managing a handful of podiums in F1, but winning the Targa Florio three times and the 12 Hours of Sebring once.
But it’s that ’59 season that makes us love the 718. A strangely stilted attack from all three manufacturers who challenged for the title (Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin) meant that it went down to the wire. Aston Martin came on strong to win the last three rounds, and that incredible finale – which you can read about here – but Ferrari had set the early pace, dominating at Sebring, and Porsche pushed themselves into contention when their lightweight 718s won the Targa Florio while all the Ferraris retired and Aston didn’t turn up. The RSK itself is a tiny little thing, powered by a 1.5-litre flat-four ‘boxer’ engine. On power it was very much dominated by its foes, but it could hold its own in the twisty bits and it ran the big boys close over a season. This weekend it looks delicate next to some of the bigger cars at Monza, but perhaps it’s all the better for it.