The 1980s heralded the arrival of one of the most legendary classes in the history of motorsport. It was a time when the lack of real regulatory restrictions spawned some of the fastest, most powerful, and most sophisticated rally cars ever built. Introduced in 1982 by the FIA to replace the Group 4 and Group 5 classes on top of the wave of optimism ushered in by the new American president, which had swept across all aspects of our lives, Group B had very few design constraints, in addition to requiring only 200 road cars to be produced for approval purposes. The weight was kept as low as possible, high-tech materials were allowed and there were no restrictions on the architecture of the engine or on the choice of traction. The result was cars capable of producing up to 600hp with acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in under 3 seconds and maximum speeds of over 200 km/h thanks to the weight that rarely exceeded 900kg. The manufacturers considered the rally world an important test bed for their series models, as well as a great stage to champion their image from. During the Group B years, the level of passion around the sport went through the roof, and an increasingly large number of fans began to follow the races live, even covering great distances just to catch a glimpse of their heroes. The largest rallies drew audiences in excess of two million people, attracted by the big names and the sheer performance of both cars and drivers. Group B, therefore, represented a challenge for both drivers and engineers, since the former were grappling with extremely difficult cars to drive, while the latter were constantly busy designing more powerful but at the same time lighter and more manageable models. The dream lasted 48 races divided into 5 seasons, with the first safety doubts raised by the death of Attilio Bettega in 1985, up to the final chapter in 1986, the year in which the hardest awakening of all occurred, with the serious accidents of Joaquim Santos in Portugal with the Ford RS200 which caused three deaths and thirty wounded and subsequently, on 2nd May, with the death of Henri Toivonen and his navigator Sergio Cresto, burned alive after leaving the road in Corsica on board the Lancia Delta S4. At that moment, everyone realized that we had gone too far, the lack of security for the spectators and for the drivers themselves led the Federation to the sad but now inevitable decision: Group B was cancelled. The 1986 season ended with the victory of the Peugeot 205 T16 driven by Kankkunen, the last champion of a category that left a deep void among its many fans. Today, all that remains is the memory of those fantastic cars, of their unmistakable roar, of their tarmac-tearing acceleration.
Here are the five most iconic Group B cars
Announced in 1981 by Cesare Fiorio, then the FIAT team’s sports director who had the difficult task of replacing the 131 Abarth, a car capable of conquering three world manufacturers and one driver’s championship. The 037 was based on the chassis of the Lancia Beta Montecarlo, developed by Dallara with Pininfarina bodywork. The engine was a 1995cc 4-cylinder engine arranged in a central-longitudinal position, supercharged by a volumetric compressor and capable of producing north of 300hp depending on the configuration. It was the last rear-wheel drive car to win a world rally title, the 1983 manufacturers’ championship.
In 1979 the possibility of using all-wheel drive was included in the FISA regulations and Audi was the first to recognize the advantages, despite the increase in weight, developing the Quattro. There were several evolutions of the car for Group B starting from the A1 of 1983, up to the S1 of 1985 which represents the most extreme development of the 5-cylinder 2110cc engine with power outputs that ranged from 500hp to 600hp based on the road surface. The German team boasted Walter Röhrl and Michelle Mouton among its ranks but the two world driver’s championships in 1983 and 1984 came with Mikkola and Blomqvist. After retiring from World Rallying, the final evolution of the Quattro won on the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1987.
Peugeot 205 T16
The 205 T16 debuted in Group B with the 1984 Evo version, also with all-wheel drive but much lighter and more compact than its rivals. The engine was a 1775cc 4-cylinder turbo unit mounted in a central transversal position producing over 500hp. In 1985, it immediately became clear that the further evolution, called Evo2, would be the car to beat. This car totally dominated the season with Timo Salonen’s final world championship win, repeated the following year by Kankkunen. After the cancellation of Group B, the Peugeot T16 went on to win at Pikes Peak Hill Climb and the Dakar Rally, dominated in 1987, 1989 and 1990.
In 1985 Ford also decided to compete in Group B with a new car equipped with four-wheel drive and mid-mounted engine, developed by Cosworth, to challenge their Peugeot and Audi rivals. The bodywork was made of plastic and fiberglass and designed by Ghia, while it was produced by Reliant. In order to balance the weight distribution, the front transmission required that the power go first to the front wheels and then to the rear ones, giving rise to a complex traction layout. Although the RS200 was sufficiently well balanced to be competitive, its power-to-weight ratio was poor in comparison to its rivals and the engine had a consistent low-rev turbo lag. The third place obtained at the 1986 Swedish Rally by Kalle Grundel was the best position it ever reached in the Group B category.
Lancia Delta S4
The Turin racing department gave birth to the Delta S4 (Supercharged and 4 for four-wheel drive) with the aim of returning to the centre stage of international Group B rally competitions and beat their French rivals Peugeot. It was equipped with cutting-edge technical solutions such as dual supercharging: a KKK turbocharger combined with a Volumex volumetric compressor gave it a healthy push from as little as 1,500 rpm. The race version at its debut in 1985 was credited with just 480hp, while the final evolution the following year could pump out 650hp for short distances using overboost. The S4 did not bring home the much anticipated success despite its obvious competitiveness but laid down the foundations for the development of the Delta Integrale, a car capable of winning some 6 constructors’ championships.