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The Early Days of Turbo - Part Two

The Group B rally cars that ran riot with up to 600 horsepower....

By Michael Knowling

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This article was first published in 2003.

Over the space of just five years, world rally cars morphed from two-wheel-drive production cars with typically less than 300 horsepower into space-frame chassis'd, carbon bodied monsters with all-wheel-drive and anywhere up to 600 horsepower. These Group B racers from the early '80s are, to this day, the most lethal rally cars ever built; nothing comes close to the spectacle of watching an Audi Quattro or Peugeot 205 T16 being driven in anger.

In Part Two of The Early Days of Turbocharging we'll take a look at these outrageously fast - and largely out of control! - machines that tackled everything from black ice to desert safaris...

The Dawning of Group B

Up until the 1970s the world rally championship comprised only front or rear-wheel-drive vehicles. The most competitive vehicles from this era were the famous Mini Cooper S and the Ferrari-engine'd Lancia Stratos HF. As rallying become more popular, however, an increasing number of car manufacturers began campaigning 'works' vehicles and, as a result, team budgets were ballooning.

The rallying formula took a dramatic turn when, in 1979, FISA (Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile) announced that all-wheel-drive cars would be allowed to compete. Interestingly, though, many of the contemporary teams failed to recognise the benefits of AWD and chose to continue campaigning 2WD vehicles. "Too heavy and complex" were the opinions of many teams.

The car that proved them wrong was the Audi Quattro.

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The Quattro's superior traction went a long way in helping the relatively large Audi win its 1981 Austrian rally debut. Using a production car based monocoque chassis and steel body panels, these early Quattros used a single KKK turbocharger with an external wastegate, plus mechanical fuel injection on top of a DOHC, 2-valve 2.1-litre in-line five. The Quattro's impressive rally debut was then quickly backed with more wins - and the other teams started taking notice. And, if the car itself wasn't creating enough public interest, Audi received even more promotional mileage from the fact that Michele Mouton claimed victory in the '81 San Remo rally - she was the first female to win a round of international rallying.

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The success of the Quattro system was further established with numerous wins during the 1982 season. However, while it was certainly a fast vehicle overall the early Quattro was far from an ideal rally car - it had a few reliability issues and, as the early critics speculated, it was quite heavy (at around 1200 kilograms). Perhaps more of an issue, however, was that the engine was mounted forward of the front axle line, making it very nose heavy - the result was a vehicle prone to understeer, massive front tyre wear and difficult to drive. Regardless, the Quattro won the '82 constructor's championship but gearbox failure cost Michele Mouton her driver's championship win.

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Taking a stand against the Quattro was the mid-engine rear-drive Lancia 037 Monte Carlo of 1983. This was the first vehicle to take advantage of the newly introduced Group B regulations, which allowed a tubular frame, mid-mount engines and free suspension and brake layouts. A minimum of only 200 vehicles (built within 12 months) was required for homologation. It is said that the aim of Group B was to "allow car manufacturers to showcase their engineering capabilities."

Producing around 325hp from its supercharged Abarth 2.0-litre 16-valve engine (with water injection on some models), the sub-1000 kilogram 037 didn't have the all-terrain traction of the Quattro but it was spectacularly fast on tarmac. It was also more reliable - a trait that saw Lancia claim the constructor's title in the 037's maiden year. Audi's lead driver - Hannu Mikkola - took out the driver's championship.

Already, the Group B fight was on...

The Competition Gets Serious

Group B competition really started to hot up for the '84 season.

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For 1984, Peugeot launched its groundbreaking T16, which - visually - resembled the 205 mass-production hatchback. The 205 T16 rally car was a spare-no-expense clean-sheet design incorporating a space-frame chassis, all-wheel-drive and a rear-mounted engine. It was built around the Group B regulations and, needless to say, it had very little in common with the everyday 205. The engine was a 1.8-litre, DOHC, 16-valve four running a low 7.0:1 compression ratio and boosted with a Garrett turbo with an air-to-air intercooler. The official quoted power output for the early models was 450 horsepower. The T16's biggest advantage over the Quattro, though, was its relative lightweight (a quoted 910 kilograms) and extreme manoeuvrability. The team used the tale end of '84 primarily as development time for the '85 season.

Audi responded to the newly arrived, purpose-built Pug by releasing the Quattro Sport. The 1984 Sport was essentially a shorter wheelbase version of the predecessor, output was increased to 450+hp, a 6-speed gearbox was fitted and the body was made from Kevlar. Certainly, 1984 proved the most successful year in Audi's rally history - it won both the constructor's and driver's championships.

The vibe in the Lancia camp wasn't so positive during 1984 and the early part of 1985. Despite the previous year's success with the rear-drive 037, the more powerful AWD cars were comprehensively outgunning the Lancia team. A 25hp increase did little to gain ground on the ever-improving Audi and the new 205 T16.

Without question, the 1985 season belonged completely to Peugeot.

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Updated to a slightly lighter 'Evolution 2' guise, the basic specs of the T16 changed little during 1985. Still, thanks to the development at the end of '84, the little Pug proved a giant killer - the 205 T16 swiped both titles from under Audi's nose. The only major 'setback' was Ari Vatanen's near-fatal crash in Argentina. Ari's incident served as a wake-up call for all of the teams - it was realised that, due to the speed involved in Group B, any accident would likely be a major one...

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Audi's Quattro Sport was indeed quick in '85 - despite its relative weight disadvantage, flawed handling and some ongoing reliability problems. A demented version of the Quattro - the Sport S1 - made an appearance in the second half of the '85 season; it was hastily screwed together to end the emerging dominance of the 205 T16. Cranking out around 600hp (largely thanks to a larger turbocharger), the S1 goes into the record books as the most powerful world rally car of all time.

The Sport S1 is most easily recognised by its extroverted Kevlar body add-ons; its massive front spoiler and rear wing weren't there just to intimidate the opposition, they provided essential downforce at the incredible speed that the car was capable of. Due to its late entry into the '85 season, the Quattro Sport S1 won only one race that year.

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Also during 1985, Ford unveiled its Group B RS200 featuring a tubular space-frame chassis, dual dampers per wheel, all-wheel-drive (with adjustable torque split), a mid-mount engine and Kevlar body panels. The little Ford's turbocharged 2.1-litre 16-valve engine was credited with around 600hp in its ultimate guise - a close match for the Audio Quattro Sport S1. The RS200 was, however, relatively heavy when compared to the Peugeot - still, you couldn't say its sub-3 seconds 0 - 100 km/h time is slow!

Away from the rally circuit, the RS200 was the only Group B vehicle to be sold in numbers - at a profit - by Ford. It wasn't available in quite the same spec as the rally cars, however...

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The first half of 1985 saw Lancia continue squeezing every ounce of power they could get out of the outdated 037 Monte Carlo. Their change of fortunes came later in the season, when their all-new compact AWD hatch took up the reins. The Lancia Delta S4, to this day, used one of the most sophisticated engines ever seen in rally - it was both turbocharged and supercharged. Developed in conjunction with Abarth, the complex force induction system employed a volumetric supercharger to provide boost a lower rpm and a large capacity KKK turbocharger to boost through higher rev range. The transitional phase was about 5500 rpm, about 3000 rpm shy of the rev limiter. With a little bit of development, the 1.8-litre, DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder engine - with twin air-to-air intercoolers - generated over 500 horsepower along with unrivalled smoothness and drivability. Electronic fuel injection and ignition was also introduced - the first world rally car to do so.

A tubular space-frame chassis was the platform for the vehicle, with independent dual damper suspension hung at each corner, Brembo brakes and self-locking ZF differentials (delivering 70 percent drive to the front wheels and 30 percent to the rears). Using an assortment of carbon fibre panels, the S4's overall weight was as little as 890 kilograms.

Lancia - who had been slipping further off the pace since both Audi and Peugeot got serious - caught its competitors completely by surprise; the S4's 1-2 finish in its first outing was proof of that!

With most competitive Group B cars now weighing less than 1000kg and generating over 500hp, the demands on drivers was immense. Once the turbocharger was wound up, it was a real challenge to keep the vehicle pointing in the right direction - drivers claimed they no longer aimed for the optimum cornering line, but aimed merely to keep on the road... Furthermore, reaction times were reputedly halved compared to the cars driven in events just a few years earlier.

About this time, FISA grew concerned that the drivers were not able to fully control their vehicles - had the Group B regulations been too generous?

The speed of the Group B cars toward the mid '80s was indeed fearsome. The Lancia Delta S4, for example, could accelerate from standstill to 100 km/h in a claimed 2.3-seconds! In addition, it's rumoured that Henri Toivonen drove his Delta S4 around Estoril (the Portuguese Grand Prix circuit) in a time that would have qualified him sixth for the '86 Formula One race...

The Lesser Known Group B Monsters...

There were some other lesser-known vehicles that jumped onto the Group B bandwagon during the early '80s.

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Opel tried their luck with the Manta 400, Renault screwed together the stubby-looking 1980 R5 Turbo (which ran a detuned 1.5-litre Renault F1 engine!) and Citroen put together a BX4TC, which only ever saw one competitive outing. Other cars that were built for Group B rally but never got to compete include the Ferrari 288 GTO Evoluzione (tarmac special) and the Porsche 959 (which enjoyed success in events such as the Paris-Dakar).

Austin-Rover went against the trends with their 6R4 - a naturally aspirated 3.0-litre, 24-valve mid-mount V6 hatch based on the appearance of the Metro. With around 400hp, large spoilers and AWD the 6R4 was surprisingly unsuccessful. Note that Toyota also dabbled against Group B competition with its Celica twin-cam turbo - with only rear-drive and with up to 370hp, the car was quite successful in safari rallies due to its relative simplicity and durability.

The Beginning of the End

The Group B foundation started to crumble during 1986.

Lancia's new Delta S4 authoritatively set the pace for the start of the '86 season - its fine chassis balance, high levels of grip and the flexibility of its super/turbocharged engine put it in a class of its own. This elation was short lived, however... During the Corsica tarmac event one of Lancia's crews was involved in a very high-speed accident - Henri Toivone's S4 crashed down an embankment and burst into flames, killing both himself and his navigator. Also during the first half of the '86 season, a Ford RS200 lost control through a spectator special stage in Portugal, killing three people and injuring many more.

Grim times for the sport.

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Looking back, Henri Toivone's accident was the final curtain for the increasingly terrifying Group B cars. Following this incident, both Audi and Ford elected to withdraw from Group B competition completely; it was simply too dangerous to continue. Not surprisingly, the Lancia rally team was devastated by their lead driver's death and were beaten to the constructor and driver championship titles by the Peugeot 205 T16. This makes the hot little Peugeot the most decorated Group B car of all time.

Not long after the Toivone incident, FISA made the decision to scrap their Group B formula for 1987. Interestingly, its plans for a new Group S category were dumped as well; Group S was intended to showcase manufacturers' futuristic designs and the homologation requirement was only ten cars. Group S had already progressed to the stage Audi had planned a new vehicle (the 002 Quattro), Ford announced it would develop the RS200 to Group S specs and Lancia got to the stage of building a prototype vehicle. The plug was pulled on Group S nevertheless.

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Replacing Group S in 1987 was the highly successful Group A category. Group A cars were limited to 300hp and a minimum 5000 vehicles had to be built for homologation - certainly, the Group A cars were much closer to the vehicles that could be bought new in showrooms.

The 300hp limit continues to apply to today's world rally cars but, interestingly, you'll find the current cars generate considerably more torque than the Group B vehicles. Their suspension, driveline and brakes are also much improved.

So which is faster - a Group B car or a current world rally car? Well, over a twisting road the current cars would edge away. On an open road, however, the Group B car would romp away - hardly surprising given they have about double the maximum power...

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