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