Will Race Cars Ever Look This Honest And Exciting Ever Again?
There was a time, way back in the ’70s and ’80s, when the words “box”, “bubble” and “arches” were the holy grail of any car modifier—long before the body kits we all know and (possibly) hate today. I am, of course, referring to the “ultimate” customisation you could add to your everyday road car: wide arches. Be it those of the bubble variety, or the ultimate in race-car-for-the-road looks: box arches.
They were the automotive equivalent of flared trousers. Thankfully, flared trousers are long gone and buried, but the love of wide-bodied cars, when done correctly, is very much back in vogue at present. No doubt you would have seen the recent stories on Petrolicious featuring such cars as AMG’s Autobahn-storming SEC and Koenig’s Strada-splitting twin turbo Testarossa.
Well, to see the pinnacle of this movement and witness the undisputed champions of the look, go no further than Group 5.
This championship, which by name alone will leave many blank-faced, has some of the greatest racing liveries of all time. If you haven’t Googled it yet and are still none the wiser, I’m talking of the race series that was home to the likes of BMW’s CSL ‘Batmobile’. The Zakspeed Ford Capri. And the BASF BMW M1.
Not to mention some of the first legendary, spectacular, awe-inspiring, and inspirational BMW Art Cars were in fact Group 5 race cars.
The full title of the championship is important though, as the racing classification has had many derivatives. I’m focusing on the fourth and final incarnation, the Group 5 “Special Production Cars” from 1976 to 1982.
This series introduced cars so radical and cool-looking that many of the sponsor liveried cars could have passed for ‘art cars’. Great design is timeless, and as much as these cars scream “the ’70s”, their brave, bold, colour-packed designs and “folded over” boxy bodywork deliver thrills abound to a nostalgic eye. Why?
Underneath, these cars are impossible to recreate today. Purposeful, brutish fighters, that if had they been painted matte black could have been inhaled into the Mad Max story canon.
Thankfully, though, they dressed like the hippest, flamboyant playboys of the time. With chin spoilers as big and brash as a multi-coloured silk cravat, arches like striped bell-bottom flares, and a rear wing with all the height of the most severe topple-inducing platform boots, they were glam rock on the race track.
“Glam Racing,” if you will.
It seems that the glam rock comparison is a good analogy. For during its reign of the charts through the mid-’70s, bands were forever under pressure to go wilder and wilder than their chart rivals.
When it comes to Group 5, the tactics seem no different. Arches, spoilers, and wings got bigger and with it, the size of the stripes. If you thought the 40th Anniversary CSL was a little stingy with the M-Sport livery, then you need to feast your eyes on the Group 5 320i.
You really could only get away with it back then. Some designs did get on the verge of ridiculousness, though, which is, after all, a natural progression. As the series marched into the ’80s, things began to get more “real”. Very much like a band on their third album, the cars, manufacturers, spectators, and sponsors had all grown up a bit and showed it was time get really serious.
The cars had grown to become true thoroughbreds with big racing budgets—and along with it—the liveries. The Würth-painted Zakspeed Capri, Lancia’s caped Montecarlo, the Martini-coated Porsche 935 ‘flatnose’ are all today highly revered and are as much design classics as they are racing classics.
However, the series didn’t last long into the ’80: after various FIA restrictions—including a ban on the super wide body kits—the series would be banished after 1982 in favour of the Group B regulation.
The band had split. However, the next generation would be equally as crazy…in a very different way. Group 5 was promptly replaced by Group B!
The look still lives on for those die-hard fans of the genre with the insane, homebuilt Japanese bōsōzoku cars, but more importantly, I see the series as being the forefather of race car livery experimentation: Group 5 is where the Art Cars were born, after all.