These Are The 12 Greatest BTCC Cars Ever
With its roots stretching back to 1958 as the British Saloon Car Championship, what we now call the British Touring Car Championship is without doubt one of the most spectacular forms of racing. Why? First, the close action. Second, the all-star drivers. Finally, that these vehicles haven’t strayed too far beyond what you or I could park in the garage. Here are our favorites.
On circuits across the UK, the cliché of ‘David versus Goliath’ turned out to be more like ‘Goliath versus David’ as the tiny Minis proved their worth against much larger machines. Watching then dice with huge Jaguars proved immensely popular with fans, and for good reason—the little guy can come out on top.
What other car can win a racing series that’s essentially unchanged except for the competitors in it as early as its double Championship wins in 1961-62 and as late as its two-year Championship-winning streak in 1978-79? First, it won as the Austin Seven. Then as the Mini Cooper. In the ’70s, the less-aerodynamic-than-the-originals British Leyland Mini 1275GT still managed to win the series, twice.
The final truly “British” Rover will go down in history as one of the most formidable competitors in touring car, sports car, and rally competition—winning in events as diverse as the RAC Tourist Trophy and its class at the Bathurst 1000.
In touring cars, the SD1 was a menace to its competitors, with the mid-’80s seeing the car take championships in Europe as well as in the UK for 1983-’84…with the latter result ending in disqualification.
Look, the cars were fantastic—no denying it—but one of the drivers who happened to win quite frequently in one was named Jim Clark. The Lotus-Ford Cortina is still a force to be reckoned with in vintage touring car races, but in period it was often only stopped by extenuating circumstances or a well-driven Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA.
Clark won the 1964 Championship, often ahead of larger, more powerful machines—his smoothness and ability to maintain speed while behind the wheel of the Lotus-tuned Cortina helped set the stage for how drivers and manufacturers approached touring car racing in the decades that followed.
How is it that manufacturers spend large sums of money in developing the latest racing cars, and in the early ’70s, were beaten to the British Saloon Car Championship by a privateer named Bill McGovern, driving a Sunbeam Imp?
Moreover, McGovern and the Imp were the series’ first three-time Champions—winning from 1970-’72.
The big difference between the BTCC S40 and the one you could take home was the addition of a cylinder—its engine was borrowed from the very successful, race-winning 850 Turbos that had turned the series upside-down.
Much better-developed than the 850s and in line with increasingly competitive grids, the late-’90s had Rickard Rydell taking home the Championship in 1998, ahead of a who’s who of factory entrants: the Renault Laguna, Honda Accord, Audi A4, Peugeot 406, Ford Mondeo (with Nigel Mansell!), and the Vauxhall Vectra.
Audi A4 quattro
Like in seemingly every series that allows quattro cars, Audi entered its A4 with all four wheels driven, winning 8 of 26 rounds, earning 13 pole positions and setting 13 fastest laps.
People weren’t happy when the Audis won. They accused the team (and drivers) of sandbagging when they lost—but around the world, the A4 brought home trophy after trophy. Winning the BTCC Championship in 1996, the car finished second a year later, and then quattro was banned.
Ford RS500 Turbo
The Group A era of touring car competition has got to be one of the most loved. With the might of Ford behind the RS500, the car was constantly developed from its origins as a Sierra XR4Ti to the all-conquering RS500.
Seriously, it was such a competitive machine that all of the Group A cars competing in the BTCC were RS500s. In 1990, its final year of top-flight competition, Robb Gravett ended more than 25 points ahead of his closest competitor, on the back of 9 wins from 13 rounds.
Alfa Romeo GTV6
In 1983, Andy Rouse took home the British Saloon Car Championship over the favored team, the factory-supported and TWR-prepared Rover SD1s. Sure, it was a victory given after driver Steve Soper and the SD1s were disqualified for a technical infringement, but the GTV6 had dominated its B class, winning 6 of 11 rounds.
BMW M3 / 318i
How many races and class victories did the BMW M3 win before someone, anyone, beat it? 27. Its single overall BTCC Championship victory in 1991 isn’t indicative of the car’s performance, which was quickly curtailed in later seasons with the rules changed to force BMW to enter 318i-based racing cars instead.
The rules didn’t change much as far as BMW was concerned, with drivers Tim Harvey and Joachim Winkelhock taking home the gold in the two years that followed.
Perhaps just as strangely as the Impala SS, who’d have thought a 2-door, rotary-powered coupé would be a force in the BTCC? Well, apart from great drives by Champion Win Percy, the RX-7 was developed by Tom Walkinshaw Racing, TWR for short, who are definitely not strangers to the taste of hard-fought champagne.
Winning the series in his RX-7 from 1980-’81, Percy then switched to an AE86 Toyota Corolla…and won another title.
Alfa Romeo 155 TS
What’s the best-looking BTCC car ever? Surely, it must be the aerodynamically-massaged Alfa Romeo 155, which—after a thoughtful reading of the rulebook—were eventually fitted with extremely effective aerodynamic aids, most notably an aggressive chin spoiler and large rear spoiler.
After Gabriele Tarquini won five races in a row at the start of 1994, the rulebook began to alter and, in response to its cars having their advantage cut, Alfa Romeo simply left the Oulton Park round in protest.
If only the team knew then just how well its car and driver would fare: by the end of the year, Tarquini was crowned BTCC champion in dominating fashion, 76 points clear of his closest rival.
Volvo 850 Wagon
There are two parts to this caption. The first is to say that, unlike nearly all of the cars above, the 850 Wagon never won a BSCC or BTCC Championship. The second part of this caption: who cares?
With TWR in its corner and a famously open rulebook to contend with, Volvo realized that an advantage may lie with the wagon’s superior, low-drag shape. Like the Ford Galaxies of old, the 850s were huge cars compared to other vehicles in the series, which left room for plenty of cameras and—in one case—stuffed animals facing backwards to taunt other drivers.
It’s said that Tom Walkinshaw opined about the “psychological pressure” placed on drivers who’d been passed by an estate car, which was probably a much more clever way of deflecting attention from the car’s very advanced cylinder heads and other improvements. Advanced? In 1994, each cylinder head reportedly cost more than £15,000 to produce, which in today’s dollars would run to about $30,000 Usd…
So, what did I miss? What’s your favorite BTCC car of all time?
Image sources: pinimg.com, pinterest.com, motoringresearch.com, tumblr.com,
autocar.co.uk, gtplanet.net, motorstown.com, wheelsage.org, nairaland.com,
autocar.co.uk, mx5parts.co.uk, gasolinasuper.es, jalopnik.com