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Homolorated! | Forgotten Group B

Hero worship is easy. Let's hear it for the misfits...

By Matt Bird / Thursday, April 2, 2020

Okay, you got us - a week and a bit into lockdown and PH is writing about Group B cars. Quelle surprise. However, hopefully this one is a little different. First off, this is obviously part of a series on homolgation cars in general, and that's surely a subject we can all huddle around like vagrants at a bin fire. Anyone interested in throwing in some more kindling is of course more than welcome.

Secondly, this list isn't the tired old rerun you'll see featured on a lesser car site. No, sir - this is PH; we can all take it for granted that an Audi Quattro or Lancia Delta are unassailably cool. Instead we've chosen to rundown the lesser creations which might have slipped from your memory banks. And if anyone has anything to contribute on the real oddball stuff of the era - cars like the Skoda MTX 160 RS, Lada Samara EVA and Moskvich Aleko 2141KR - then we're all ears...

6. Ford Escort RS1700T
Ford really had a torrid time of it in Group B, which no-one would have expected given its dominance with the rear-drive Escorts for so many years before.

You can hardly blame it, then, for continuing to pursue RWD with the Mk3 Escort body. Which was a front-wheel drive road car. It's a bloody-minded determination common in a few of these cars that makes you admire the end result, Ford persisting with Sierra this and Mustang that to make it work, even using old Escort bits in a desperate bid to make a competitive rally car. (As for the road cars, let's just say the 200 required never quite made it to showrooms and leave it there.)

And the Escort RS1700T would have been a competitive rally car... were it not for four-wheel drive. As it was the Escort just couldn't compete, so the manufacturer had to start again with something more appropriate that would become the RS200. And while the Escort would never be fondly remembered - most of all by Ford - that its engine and transaxle lived on in the RS200 certainly gave it a legacy. We all love a trier...

5. Opel Manta 400
Not as rare a groove as some others on this list, the Manta makes the Homolorated rundown for a couple of reasons: one, for making one of the coolest road cars of the period - see here for proof - and, two, because it might be most sideways rally car ever.

Look for Manta vids anywhere on YouTube and every single one features the old Opel coupe at some ludicrous angle of attack, the big four-cylinder up front barking along and drivers making it look like it's the only sensible way to go through a stage. It's absolutely superb, if not all that fast in the four-wheel drive era. That so many Mantas did eventually enjoy success in the British rally championship helped its reputation over here, though.

If you can find one today - just 245 were produced back in the 1980s - an Opel Manta 400 road car would surely be an experience and a half. We found one in the classifieds a couple of years back, all pent-up wheel arch attitude and jazzy decals. Perfect for the collection alongside a Sport Quattro and 037 Stradale...

4. Mazda RX-7
If the Manta was all about the way it cornered, the RX-7 deserves to be remembered for the way it sounded. Once more, this was never going to be a conventional legend of the era as it lacked four driven wheels (and just seven were built before Group B's demise), but what a damn sexy sounding way of going slower than everyone else.

In case you're not spotting the theme with the other cars, we love the RX-7 for defying all convention. Logic would surely dictate a strong, torquey turbo engine would suit a rally car best, especially when just 20 were required under the 'Evolution' rules. Not Mazda; it persisted with an atmospheric rotary, making peak power at 8,500rpm and 270lb ft at 7,500rpm. Most likely hopeless for hauling the car out of tight hairpin lefts, but what a noise it left behind. The wider rallying world might have forgotten the RX-7; those whoever witnessed it race, however, most surely did not.

3. Nissan 240RS
Another inclusion here for the silly and sideways school of Group B, the 240RS was an evolution of the S110 Silvia of 1979. The Nissan is notable in this group, however, and sneaks into third, for a trio of podiums; Timo Salenen came second in New Zealand (1983), Shekhar Mehta took third the year after in the Ivory Coast and Mike Kirkland snuck third on the 1985 Safari. So it did work, to an extent, and the Nissan was appreciated for its toughness, affordability and relative simplicity, thanks to lots of bits carried over from the Violet GTS Group 4 car.

Perhaps the 240 is forgotten because of everything else Nissan did in motorsport at the time (most notably in sports cars), and the fairly humdrum shape can't have helped with exotic silhouettes like the 037 and the Ferrari below also around. Today, though, there's something immensely appealing about its boxy, purposeful stance, again with arches giving it impact and the minicab origins juxtaposed with the rally equipment. Even the FJ24 engine looks exciting. A Japanese Manta perhaps? There can be no higher praise...

2. Michelotto Ferrari 308 GTB QV
Even those who know about Ferrari in Group B will think of the 288 GTO, and how it was going to tackle the Porsche 959 in competition. But the category had a Maranello representative before then, with the Michelotto-prepared 308 GTBs.

Having built the cars to Group 4 spec before the 1983 rule change, Michelotto knew their way around a 308. Obviously the Group B work involved more power - around 320hp, produced at 8,000rpm - but also reducing weight, meaning a Group B 308 was around two seconds a kilometre faster on a stage than the old car. In total, just four such cars were built by Michelotto, with just three using the four-valve V8. Lacking four-wheel drive and the outright power of some competitors, the 308 was never top of the timing sheets on international events, but who cares? A Ferrari rally car is immensely cool - just look at the pictures - which is why it's so high up. And if you're wondering what a Group B 308 GTB might actually be like, wonder no more; this very Michelotto car, a 1984 WRC competitor once driven by Harri Toivonen, is now for sale...

1. Citroen BX 4TC
Trust Citroen to do something bizarre when it came to Group B rally cars. The BX never looked to anyone like a natural rally weapon, though Citroen persisted. But it persisted the wrong way: despite the Audi being the poster car of this era, both the Lancia 037 and Peugeot 205 T16 showed that sticking the engine in the middle was the way to go. So Citroen put the four-cylinder turbo longitudinally in the front, with loads of weight over the axle.

Arriving late, the BX 4TC never shone, achieving a best of sixth place. The road car was arguably even more of a debacle, with only 85 sold by 1988. Things got so bad, rumour goes, that Citroen attempted to buy back the cars - built alongside Heuliez - and have them scrapped to prevent any expensive responsibility relating to the handbuilt machines further down the line. And that's why we love the BX 4TC; exactly because nobody liked it, even down to the people who built it. For being a bit weird, extremely courageous and as French as a garlic saucisson, the 4TC had to be our number one.

Images: RX-7 by Rowan Horncastle, for RM Auctions, Manta by Tim Scott for RM Auctions, Ferrari courtesy of Girardo&Co.

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