8 Most Under Appreciated Group B Cars
To me, “under-appreciated” is a machine that never lived up to its full potential. In racing, that test is really easy: did it win? Group B winners are a group rightfully worthy of our praise, but what about their often-forgotten competition?
As categories go, Group B was both broad and popular, consuming several manufacturers in doing all-out battle in international motorsport. No corner of the world was left untouched; the big Bs raced at Le Mans, the Paris-Dakar, and became art. Because of the incredible pace of development, huge technological advances, and the realities of how race cars gestate, however, there were several vehicles developed that never saw success. There were some that saw limited running, or crashed out, or were neutered by regulations.
Group B rules were designed to accommodate different vehicles from previous categories, so it’s important to note that many oddball cars were run under Group B rules but may have not been designed for the series. May seem like a small distinction, but it’s the difference between a Peugeot 504 pickup truck and Ford RS200.
The record books rightfully salute the winners, and in Group B, those cars are well-known. So what about the outliers?
FIA Homologation no.: None; not enough were built
You should know, right away, that Group B wasn’t just for rally cars. No, its rules set was adopted by several series’ for both rally and sports car racing. The 959 (and later 961) were geared toward circuits, and would have competed against the BMW M1 and Ferrari 288 GTO. The M1 did rally, actually, and did pretty well, but the 961 couldn’t catch a break.
Its debut at the 1986 24 Hours of Le Mans was promising, finishing 7th overall; when run in North America at Daytona it suffered dangerous tire failures, and its second Le Mans ended in a crash-caused barbecue. Porsche still has the car, of course, and shows it from time to time.
Citroën BX 4TC
FIA Homologation no.: B279
It’s not a good sign when a manufacturer conceives, designs, tests, builds, races, and sells a car—before trying to buy them all back again. Citroën did just that, when its hugely impressive BX 4TC fell well short of expectations. In racing, it arrived too late and simply wasn’t fast enough: its engine was underpowered and the hydropneumatic suspension had a difficult time coping with all that weight slung out beyond the front tires.
As groupbrally.com notes, “The BX 4TC competed in one World Rally Championship rally, suffered three mechanical failures, was rolled back onto the boat, and was never seen again in competition”. Around 60 road cars were sold, before their owners were asked to kindly, uh, have them crushed. Some did, some didn’t—if you find one, buy it, then give us a call…
Toyota Celica Twincam Turbo TA 64
FIA Homologation no.: B239
Front engine, rear-wheel-drive, rally car…in the ’80s? While we don’t think of Toyota as being behind the times, when it came to Group B, its approach (until its very successful campaigns in Group A and WRC) was to build a quick-but-strong car. Simple. Robust. It won its second race at the Ivory Coast in 1983, becoming somewhat of a specialist in longer-distance African rallies. As groupbrally.com notes, “The Celica won no less than six rallies in Africa, including three consecutive Safari rallies in Kenya from 1984 to 1986…making it the undisputed king of the desert during the Group B era”.
So why don’t you have one for hooning around in the desert?
Mazda Rally Team Europe RX-7
FIA Homologation no.: B255, B289
There wasn’t an official Group B effort from Mazda, instead, the Belgium-based Mazda Rally Team Europe took it upon itself to have the RX-7 homologated as a proper rally car. If you could have watched it race at any event, the one to be at would have been the 1985 Acropolis Rally in Greece, where it finished third with driver Ingvar Carlsson and co-driver Benny Melander, less than a minute behind the winning Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Evolution 2 piloted by Timo Salonen.
MG Metro 6R4
FIA Homologation no.: B277
Obligatory, right? This car seems to be on so many of these lists, and the subject of so many magazine features, that I wonder how tired MG Metro 6R4 fans are of reading that the car had a normally-aspirated 3.0-litre V6 engine with 400 horsepower, was screwed together by Williams Grand Prix Engineering, and it still didn’t see much success.
Ferrari 308 GTB
FIA Homologation no.: B220, B236, and B241
In Italy, Michelotto developed a few 308 GTBs into rally cars—and saw some outright success, too. In Sicily, the cars were very fast against the competition and scored outright wins. The car was never going to be a world contender, or developed into a more advanced, quattro-fighting machine—Ferrari’s focus on the faster, road racing-focused 288 GTO sealed the 308 GTB’s fate.
Still, it’s worth planning your Sicilian holiday around a local rally, where it’s very likely one of these cars will be sliding sideways around the island’s narrow roads.
FIA Homologation no.: None; remained a prototype
Remember that one time in the early ’80s when Ford decided to fit a 1,778-cc turbocharged 4-cylinder Cosworth engine into a three-door, rear drive hatchback? You know, the one with more than 300 horsepower? No? As the car was being developed, Ford realized rear-drive was a losing proposition and cancelled the project.
Reports say hundreds of body panels, transaxles, engines, and various other components were made—and ready—before the project was cancelled. As an interesting footnote, in addition to a few race versions, one of the road-going RS1700T prototypes survives, rightfully, with M-Sport.
Nissan 240 RS
FIA Homologation no.: B233
Did you know that the 240 RS is the first (and only) Group B car raced-and-won-in by the late Colin McRae? The 240 RS is a proper Group B car, and was actually made in a limited number—box flares and all. Like its competition from Opel, Toyota, and others, Nissan kept the car rear-drive.
It was wildly unlike its competition underhood, however, with the FJ24 engine: a 2.4-litre, normally-aspirated, carbureted…and still was developed up to 277 horsepower. Over two years, its best finish was a 2nd overall—just not good enough.
Which Group B car do you feel is the most under-appreciated?
Images courtesy of their respective manufactueres & by James Mann courtesy of RM Sotheby’s, wheelsage.org