ROCKETSHIPS

– un­til it got too fast. By David Evans

Motor Sport News - - Monsters: Group B - Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

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. ■

Audi quat­tro (left) paved the way, and Lan­cia’s Delta S4 pushed bound­aries MG Metro 6R4 took ral­ly­ing to masses

Ford’s mighty RS200

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