Alex Ri­ley’s ad­mir­ing mo­tor­sport en­gi­neers in his lat­est col­umn, and our cross­word is as tough as ever.

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News - ALEX RI­LEY Alex Ri­ley’s first me­dia job was as a BBC Top Gear scriptwriter. He is now a reg­u­lar TV and ra­dio show pre­sen­ter.

Ijust love the idea of mo­tor­sport en­gi­neers be­ing given a hum­drum sa­loon and asked what bits they’d like fit­ted on the pro­duc­tion line to turn it into a win­ner. And be­cause all those bits re­ally do have to work, a ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial has a level of cred­i­bil­ity that most other cars can only dream of. That’s why for me the best BMW M3 will al­ways be the first one – all the oth­ers were just the fast car in the range, the E30 was a proper road­go­ing race car.

Of course, ac­tual rac­ing cars make aw­ful road cars. They’re much too noisy, have rock-hard sus­pen­sion and en­gines which are gut­less at nor­mal speeds. But a ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial gives you enough mo­tor­sport magic to make the car fast and bal­anced and sexy, with just enough re­fine­ment to make it a daily driver.

And they’re of­ten bril­liant value, be­cause they need to sell a few hun­dred ex­am­ples quickly, mean­ing you got all those mo­tor­sport bits for less than cost.

But cost is prob­a­bly the rea­son why they’re so rare th­ese days. Tool­ing up for spe­cial pan­els, ex­otic sus­pen­sion parts and fet­tled en­gines for a rel­a­tively short run was a good way of los­ing a lot of money, and this put off a lot of mar­ques al­to­gether. So the rules changed. Now in top line ral­ly­ing you don’t need to pro­duce a tur­bocharged four-wheel drive road car to take part. You just need to pro­duce 2500 sim­i­lar-look­ing cars. Which means more man­u­fac­tur­ers com­pet­ing, but no ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial for us to live out our mo­tor­sport fan­tasies in.

But if you can’t do that, is there much point? Citroën may have won nine World Rally driv­ers ti­tles be­tween 2004 and 2012, but when you think Citroën do you think ral­ly­ing? No, be­cause it didn’t make a cred­i­ble rally replica. By con­trast Ford backed up its suc­cess with not only the pukka RS1800 but also a va­ri­ety of RS2000s and Mex­i­cos which looked the part but were a lot cheaper to make.

And there they were in ev­ery brochure along­side the bread and but­ter cars. Ford’s 1970s rally pro­gramme was the great­est value PR cam­paign ever.

I’ve driven a ur-Quat­tro which was lovely, and I drove an E30 M3 for a TV show once (back when good ones were only £10k), but left-hand drive, a dog-leg first and heavy traf­fic con­spired to make the drive ut­terly frus­trat­ing. So there’s un­fin­ished busi­ness there. And I’d love to drive a Lan­cia Delta In­te­grale, a Stratos and a Fiat 131 Abarth, oh, and a Rover Vitesse, a Cooper S and a Car­rera RS. That’s quite a list, a bit of mo­tor­sport magic re­ally can turn a good car into a great one.

‘Ford’s 1970s rally pro­gramme was the great­est PR cam­paign ever’

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