Famous 5 – Rallying's Greatest Noises

04th May 2016
Henry Hope-Frost

Noise is an intrinsic part of the appeal of motorsport. It goes hand in hand with the sights, smells and speeds of the machines that we flock to watch on the racetracks and rally stages of the world.

A great sound from a competition car on full song is as important as a memorable livery (you know, Gulf blue-and-orange, Martini stripes, Jägermeister orange-and-brown, Subaru blue-and-yellow, Alitalia red-and-green and so on), an evocative smell (think Castrol R, tortured rubber and that delicious odour of wet mud on a hot exhaust) and the speed at which what you’re watching travels. For the full wow factor, you need all three.

And the World Rally Championship has made a decent fist of ticking all those boxes down the years. If you’ve been out in the forests for many years, you’ll have marvelled at the look, sound and speed of many of rallying’s greats, with heroic drivers keeping them shiny-side-up between the trees.

With the Forest Rally Stage at the Festival of Speed, on which a horde of great rally machines will do battle, just a few weeks away, we’ve thought about which rally cars have made the biggest impression on fans’ ears. These are the five that immediately spring to mind.

Audi Quattro

The German giant’s four-wheel-drive supercar made its WRC debut in Monte Carlo in 1981, with a two-car entry for Hannu Mikkola and Michele Mouton. The first total-traction machine was a winner in its second outing, with Mikkola in Sweden, and its successors – A1, A2, Sport, Sport S1 and 200 – racked up a further 23 wins with Mikkola, Blomqvist, Mouton and Walter Röhrl up until 1987 and helped Mikkola (1983) and Stig Blomqvist (’84) to the drivers’ title. And, crucially, thanks to its five-cylinder turbocharg ed warble, accompanied by the off-throttle whistle of the wastegate dispelling unwanted exhaust gases, it had a soundtrack to match its power and poise.

Ford Escort RS1800

The Escort is surely one of the most-recognised and successful rally cars of all time – in national and international competition. The RS1800 (Mk2 shape) made its debut in the 1,000 Lakes Rally in 1975, with one of the men who would become an architect of its success, Timo Mäkinen, taking third. Originally fitted with a 1790cc Cosworth BDE, the induction howl of the fat-arched, rear-wheel-drive machine dancing to victory in the hands of Mäkinen, Roger Clark (Britain’s first winner at WRC level), Hannu Mikkola, Björn Waldegaard and Ari Vatanen is etched on the memories of all who saw and heard it. For 1979, when Waldegaard lifted the Blue Oval’s first title, the car had been boosted by two-litre, aluminium-block BDG power, with fuel injection, which only improved the aural sensation.

Lancia Stratos HF

Looking and sounding like some sort of spacecraft, Lancia’s mid-engined Stratos was king of cool in 1970s rallying. And thanks to the exploits of six men – Sandro Munari, Jean-Claude Andruet, Björn Waldegaard, Bernard Darniche, Markku Alén and Antonio Fassina – it took 17 WRC wins between 1974 and 1981, with a hat-trick of manufacturers’ titles in 1974, ’75 and ’76. But it was the noise the slippery, pointy-nosed, mid-engined rocketship made that endeared it to fans. The rasping, deep-bass tone of the 2.4-litre Ferrari V6 echoing off the trees and cliff edges was a WRC soundtrack like no other. And paired with that shape and those Alitalia stripes, not much could better it – then or now.

MG Metro 6R4

The boxy British bulldog, packing a three-litre V6 punch from behind the front seats, was as incongruous as it was fabulous. First appearing on the WRC stage for the 1985 season-closing Lombard RAC Rally, the Austin Rover/Williams F1 collaboratioon hung on to the tail of the turbocharged-and-supercharged Martini Lancia Delta S4s – also making their debut – thanks to the skills of home-grown hero Tony Pond. That third place would prove to be the car’s best finish at the top level but it battled on throughout 1986 until the demise of the Group B formula and then found a home in rallycross and national-level rallying, where it still competes to this day. Turn the volume up!

Subaru Impreza

Colin McRae going full beans in a 555-liveried Prodrive Subaru Impreza is, for many, the ultimate expression of what rallying is all about. The Scot put the maker of hitherto humdrum farmers’ pickups firmly on the motorsport map with his exploits, first in the British Championship, then at WRC level, in the 1990s. The blue-and-yellow livery was complemented perfectly by the distinctive sound from the two-litre ‘boxer’ four-pot and the fat turbo spooling up alongside. With double World Champion Carlos Sainz also on the driving strength, pushing McRae to a place where he thrived – the limit – the car generated a bigger following. And when Richard Burns started winning in a Scooby Doo, taking the 2001 title, British fans couldn’t get enough of the Impreza. It remains a cult car, in general automotive terms, because of the way it looked, sounded and went on the rally stages.

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