Video: Top Gear’s Top 10 of all things Group B
It’s Top Gear Live time this weekend in the UK, with May, Hammond and Clarkson hitting the road with their globe-trotting live show. Haven’t they got enough money yet?
Still, we’re sure it will be a cracking spectacle, and all the more so because, opening this year’s British extravaganza, the team has created a veritable automotive Jurassic Park.
Yes, with all the irresponsibility of Dickie Attenborough reviving the velociraptor, Top Gear Live has brought back from extinction what remain the most exciting, the most spectacular and most lethal rally cars ever created – the monsters of Group B.
In celebration of this gathering of some of the greatest rally cars of all time, and to remember the days before Group B was rendered extinct, here’s Top Gear’s Top 10 of all things Group B:
10) MG Metro 6R4 – Britain used to build cars, you know. The road-going Metro was billed as ‘a British car to beat the world’ and Mrs. Thatcher approved of it wholeheartedly. As a result, Austin-Rover employed the Williams F1 team to design something that looked a little bit like the Metro, but was constructed from Kevlar and powered by a 400bhp mid-mounted V6 engine. It claimed the award for the shoutiest rally car of all time, but never bested its WRC debut when it howled and growled its way through the forests to take third on the 1985 RAC Rally. 6R4s still cut a dash in club rallies 25 years on, while its motor was grafted into the Jaguar XJ220.
9) Ferrari 288 GTO – That’s right. One of the world’s most lusted-after sports GTs was born because those enterprising types at Maranello discovered a thumping great hole in the Group B regulations and decided to mix it with the bobblehat brigade. True enough, the sensuous GTO never got a whiff of Kielder Forest or the Ivory Coast – in fact it never turned a wheel in anger. And yet it remains one of the most celebrated Ferraris of all time and was the foundation for the F40.
8) Lancia Delta S4 – We shouldn’t like the Lancia Delta S4. It is the car which killed off Group B rallying after its greatest exponent, Henri Toivonen, died alongside his co-driver Sergio Cresto in an inferno on the Corsican hills. And yet if ever there was a car created for Toivonen’s mercurial talent, it’s one that would hit 60mph in a whiff over 2 seconds on gravel and lapped Estoril fast enough to qualify sixth for the 1986 Portuguese GP. Only one car ever mastered those feats and only one driver – Toivonen – truly mastered the Lancia Delta S4… even then all-too briefly.
7) Ford RS200 - As the man who masterminded both the Mini-Cooper’s domination in the 1960s and that of the Ford Escort in the 1970s, Stuart Turner could be relied upon to do something special when he returned to Ford in the 1980s. He did: in the shape of the RS200. It was a mix of the exotic and plebeian, with a chassis from Tony Southgate, later famous for his Le Mans-wining Jaguars, but the windscreen and switches from a bread-and-butter Sierra. It was faster on gravel than the mighty Delta S4, but is also famous for the wrong reasons after Joaquin Santos lost control of his RS200 in Portugal, killing four spectators. A great ‘might have been’.
6) Skoda - To schoolkids in the 1980s the Eastern Bloc meant geriatric leaders with uncontrollable eyebrows and the ever-pesent threat of a mushroom cloud rising over the western world. Yet in an example of sporting togetherness that would bring cheer to Boris Johnson and turn the 2012 Olympic logos green with envy, Skoda was part of the fabric of international rallying. Breaking free of the Communist yoke, the little Czech team with its rear-engined buzzbombs would pop up everywhere from Harrogate to Monte Carlo, usually leaving with a suitcase full of class honours and some new playground jokes about their cars.
5) Porsche 911 SC – The ultimate yuppie accessory of the 1980s was a Porsche 911, which usually had a short and eventful life before the chap in red braces at the wheel ran out of talent. For a different breed of driver, however, the 911 was pure rally nirvana: skittering along the Col de Turini and other vertiginous European stages like mountain goats with that unmistakably brawny rasp echoing off the hillsides. To win with the 911 during the Group B era required a mixture of yobbishness and delicacy that can scarcely be imagined in today’s world – but remains a high water mark of bug-eyed adrenaline-fuelled adventure in the annals of the sport.
4) Renault 5 Turbo – The chic and cheerful little French runabout fell in with the wrong crowd in the late 1970s, who put Renault’s new turbocharged F1 engine in the back where the baguettes and brie should go and flared the bodywork to the approximate width of the USS Nimitz. Run by a fabulously French outfit, Renault’s star driver, Jean Ragnotti, would occasionally drive flat out while hiding beneath the dashboard just for a laugh. It might not have been the greatest car of the era, but character counts and, after winning both in Monte Carlo and Corsica, the ‘SuperCinq’ deserved the Legion d’Honneur.
3) Peugeot 205 T16 – Where the Renault was cheerfully bonkers, Peugeot took a different route to Group B stardom for the glory of France. Ths was the first major sporting programme to be anchored by Jean Todt and, just as he created the ‘Schumacher era’ at Ferrari, the diminutive French wizard left nothing to chance in any aspect of designing, building and running this mid-engined 4WD monster to the very limit. Sadly lead driver Ari Vatanen was left fighting for his life after a monumental accident, but while he recovered the last two Group B championships were sewn up by fellow Finns Timo Salonen and Juha Kankkunen respectively.
2) Lancia 037 – Takes the runner-up spot by virtue of being the most elegant rally car of all time and also the last rear-wheel-drive car to have won at the top level. The 1983 season saw Audi’s steamroller struggling to contend with the lithe little Lancia, which was based on a vague outline of its scruptious Beta Montecarlo coupe. Lancia filled the driver’s seats with the megastar pairing of Markku Alen and Walter Rohrl, who between them they made sure that the Audis were denied the constructors’ title in what was the last, glorious hurrah for powersliding rear-drive machines before 4WD ubiquty enveloped the sport.
1) Audi Quattro – Rallying was once a place where boxy saloon cars went sideways. Then in 1980 some German engineers turned up with a coupe that made a very fruity noise from its five cylinders, accompanied by the whistle-pop of a turbo. It was only the course car on its debut, but completed the event half an hour faster than the actual winner. Thus the Audi Quattro heralded the four-wheel-drive and turbocharged revolution of the 1980s and made superheroes out of Hannu Mikkola, Michele Mouton, Stg Blomqvist and Walter Rohrl. The arrival of mid-engined, Kevlar-built contenders prompted Audi to trim the Quattro’s wheelbase, pump in more power and fit enormous wings to make the scariest rally car ever seen. It wasn’t enough to fend off the new generation that the Quattro had spawned, but by then history had already been written… and its legacy lives on to this day.