If you’ve ever met one of your childhood heroes, chances are it’s a moment that’s deeply ingrained into your memory – and hopefully for the right reasons. I got the opportunity to meet my idol, Richard Burns, at an event at Castle Combe when I was about eight years old or so. And I was not happy with him one bit.
Not because he’d done anything wrong. Quite the opposite, in fact. He was every bit the nice guy you saw on TV. Rather, he’d signed for Peugeot after winning the World Rally Championship with Subaru in 2001 and, as a fan of team Prodrive, that didn’t go down too well with eight-year-old me. So when I was approached by a TV presenter, who shoved a mic in my face and asked who’d win the 2002 World Rally Championship, I said Petter Solberg. That’s how mad I was at him. Thankfully, I never said that to his face. I was far too star-struck to care and happily took home a signed poster as a souvenir. Perhaps if I’d known that Burns actually started his professional rally career with Peugeot, I might have been a tad more understanding.
After scrapping around in UK rally events with a Talbot Sunbeam in the late 1980s, Burns was gifted a Peugeot 205 GTI by friend and wealthy rally enthusiast David Williams, allowing him to enter the Peugeot Challenge for 1990. He’d win the series outright in 1991, where he was gifted a 309 GTI Group A machine in time for that year’s WRC finale at the RAC Rally. This is that car.
Though he’d made his WRC debut a year prior at the same event, where he finished 3rd in class, Burns was coming off the back of a dominant campaign in the 1991 Peugeot Challenge and was right on the pace from the get-go. The ad claims that Burns logged several ‘top 30’ times on the opening stages of the rally, which sounds far more impressive when you consider that the event had over 150 entrants. 70 of them would fall foul of the rally’s notoriously tricky conditions or suffer mechanical failures, yet Burns kept his nose clean and gradually worked his way up the order.
He’d move to the head of his class by the end of the seventh stage, a lead that’d remain through the remaining 30 stages. After four gruelling days of battling the cold, muddy stages of the RAC Rally, Burns and co-driver Robert Reid would claim a commanding class win and finish 16th overall – beating all-wheel drive Ford Sierra RS Cosworths and Lancia Delta Integrales in the process.
The rest, they say, is history. Burns would go on to drive for Subaru and Mitsubishi throughout the 1990s, returning to the Prodrive squad at the end of the decade. He’d win the championship with them in 2001, before moving back to Peugeot for 2002 and 2003. Sadly, we’d never get to find out whether Burns had another championship in him, but he left behind one hell of a legacy – with cars like this 309 GTI serving as a reminder of a golden era in rallying.
The car is presented today in its original 1991 RAC Rally livery, at the request of Richard Burns himself when he bought the car back from a private collector in 1998. It remained with the Burns family following his death in 2005, where it was used in charity events to promote the Richard Burns Foundation, which helps support families with affected by cancer and neurological illness. There’s a short but sweet thread about the car on PH, including some of its public appearances and pictures of the car alongside Burns’ other rally machines.
As of 2021, the car has been in private ownership again and has been looked after by rally specialists Autosportif Engineering. The ad says it was ‘overhauled’ in time for that year’s Rally Day at Castle Combe, marking the 20th anniversary of Burns’ championship win.
With the champion’s name plastered all over the owner’s documents and, obviously, on the side of the car itself, this 309 GTI is the ultimate souvenir for Richard Burns fans or those looking to get stuck into historic rallying. It’s likely out of my price range (the ad lists it as POA), so I’ll have to stick with my signed poster instead – and the memory of unfairly slamming him on TV. Sorry, Richard.
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