– until it got too fast. By David Evans
stepped back, looked at the bigger picture and found the right folk for the right job. Who knew a thing or two about forced induction in motorsport in the early Eighties? Try Renault in Formula 1; hence the signing of Jean-pierre Boudy. Acknowledged expert engineers Jean-claude Vaucard and Andre de Cortanze tuned the transmission in and the world’s hottest hatch flew.
So good was the T16 that when its successor arrived in mid-1985, the competition was still struggling to keep pace with the original.
The French evolution delivered front and rear wings, which kept the T16 E2 straighter in flight (the original was known to nose-dive on landing), while a Garrett blower replaced the KKK unit on a reinforced block. Running 2.5 bar of boost on its debut in Corsica, the car offered 440bhp. Turning the blower up to 2.8 bar for Finland sent the numbers north of 500bhp.
Juha Kankkunen took the 1986 title in a T16 E2 and remembers the first time he took it out on wet asphalt.
“Just using the throttle, we were spinning all four wheels in third gear,” he says. “The power was incredible.”
The corridors of power were becoming slightly alarmed at the power on show on the stages.
In June 1985, Balestre dropped a bombshell; Group S would be introduced from 1988 onwards. To qualify for Group S, a manufacturer needed to produce just 10 cars. But those 10 cars would be limited to 300bhp with turbo engines restricted to 1400cc, while naturally aspirated cars could run to 2.4-litres.
Aerodynamics would be kept to an absolute minimum, exotic materials were cast aside, steel rollcages returned and slick tyres were banned. Predictably, regulations were slow in arriving and there was still intensive debate well into 1986.
One of the considerations Balestre gave to the current machinery was that, in its original form, Group B cars could continue into 1987. Which is why Peugeot wasn’t too stressed about the change – the original T16 would be more than a match for anything the new category could offer.
Elsewhere, there was significant concern. While Lancia’s Delta S4 was making its debut on the final 1985 round in Britain, its successor was already being planned. And that car, labeled 041 at the Abarth factory, was shaping up to be something special.
Inside a carbon-kevlar shell, a Triflux engine would be installed. Triflux meant an exhaust manifold and a turbo on each side of the engine. The second turbo would replace the S4’s original supercharger, spooling up at much lower revs before the secondary blower took over, ensuring seamless power delivery for the driver.
Ford’s RS200 had been so long in the delivery, when it did arrive, there wasn’t an immediate successor planned. The original car’s poise and handling was arguably the finest in Group B, but chief engineer at Boreham, John Wheeler, admitted there were plans to increase the physical length as well as bore and stroke of the 1803cc BDT block into a 2137cc. Such developments would have meant knocking on the door of 600bhp. And when you add in the significant aero additions which would have followed, it’s not hard to imagine just how quick the RS200 would have been.
The revolutionaries themselves weren’t to be left behind, either. A return to the top of world rallying was planned with a mid-engined quattro. Ingolstadt made and tested it and it looked virtually nothing like the original car. On first view, some engineers questioned the lack of aero at the front – before they realised the sloping front was one big piece of aero, balanced by a monstrous rear wing to keep the rear of the car planted.
There’s no doubt Group B had become a victim of its own speed and success. Think back to what these supercars had replaced: an Opel Ascona, a Ford Escort, and a Fiat.
Yes, to you and I the 400, RS1800 and Abarth 131 were things of utter beauty, but to the man (and woman) in the street they still looked a little mundane: a bit too similar to the thing sitting on their drive and taking them to and from work every day.
Then came these dream machines from another planet. And they really were all that: flame-spitting monsters that launched themselves from standstill to 60mph at the speed of a Formula 1 car. On gravel.
Little wonder Austin Rover’s MG Metro 6R4 made a chunky story in the Sunday Times magazine on the day of its debut on the 1985 RAC Rally. Group B had brought the sport to the masses. The world had been forced to sit up and take notice of something formerly left to bobble-hatted enthusiasts.
The cars were feats of extraordinary engineering and ferocious performance, while the drivers were the fighter pilots of the forests. Until May 2, 1986. Then everything changed.
The deaths of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto brought drastic and immediate action from FISA. Group B was finished at the end of the year and Group S would never begin. Instead, Group A (the old Group 2 for modified production cars) was the new base formula for the World Rally Championship.
Instead of making 10 cars, manufacturers were now faced with the need to demonstrate the production of 5000 if they wanted a World Rally Championship future.
Group A was shocking. Markku Alen echoed Geistdorfer’s sentiments from the top of this story.
“When I test a Delta HF for the first time,” says the Finn, “hey, this is a big joke. This car cannot follow S4. Terrible car, it felt terrible – so slow!”
In less than a decade world rallying was taken to its most extreme form before being dumped in its least attractive and spectacular season ever.
Not that anybody would have believed it early doors in 1987, but it would only be three years before those dull, mundane Group A cars had progressed sufficiently to be regularly besting Group B stage times. Even with half the horses, transmission and suspension technology was enough to carry the Lancias, Fords, Toyotas and Subarus of the day to ever greater – and much safer – speeds.
Ultimately, the sport, allied to pioneering technology, found a way of sustaining and bettering supposedly unsustainable speed.
Quicker Group A might have been, but Group B cars would always, and will always, be the monsters that rocked the world of rallying. ■