Inside Group B: the insane cars that changed motorsport forever
Search Driven for vehicles for sale
Formula 1 in the forests. Supercars between the trees. In the brief turbocharged, four-wheel-drive era between 1983 and 1986, Group B took motorsport to the absolute edge of performance, but put it beyond common sense.
One word, one number, changed everything. Quattro. Four. There were still those who believed the combination of four-wheel drive and turbocharging would never work: too complicated and too heavy. But when Franz Wittmann gave Audi’s Quattro its competitive debut on the 1981 Jänner Rallye he won every one of the 31 stages and took the race by more than 20 minutes.
Six stages into its World Rally Championship debut in Monte Carlo a couple of weeks later, Hannu Mikkola was almost six minutes ahead in a Quattro. Rallying would never be the same.
But if Audi changed the game, it was Peugeot that defined the era. The Quattro was good, but the smaller and nimbler 205 utilised the full freedom of Group B regulations. The turbocharged engine was mid-mounted and, of course, drove all four wheels.
This was Ari Vatanen’s car. The Finn was one of the few men in the world who could contain the fearsome power of a Group B car and get the best out of it. For five rallies spanning the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Vatanen and the Peugeot 205 were unbeaten and utterly unbeatable.
As a fledgling “flying Finn”, Vatanen had cut his teeth in a Ford Escort Mk2. For him, there was no finer machine than an RS1800 – the car in which he won his 1981 World Rally Championship title. “That car,” he says, “was the glove on my hand.”
But when the director of Peugeot motorsport Jean Todt (now president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, motorsport’s governing body) told him about the 205 T16, he was sold.
“I was intrigued by this new car they were making,” says Vatanen. “And I was not disappointed. It was incredible. Remember, at the time, Peugeot was not really so well known in the world of rallying.”
As soon as he tested the 205 T16, everything was different. Group B demanded a different style of driving. “The cars were so much more efficient,” says Vatanen. “The Escort was always sideways, rear wheels spinning and not always so much forward momentum. But with the Peugeot, yes, we were sideways, but look to the front wheels – they are straight. These cars would slingshot you from one corner to the next.
“The power was incredible. When you were driving the car and controlling that power, it was like conducting an orchestra. When I sat at the start of a stage in a T16, I could feel the side of my mouth making a smile.”
Speeds in Group B were getting higher and higher and the death toll among fans and crews was rising. Vatanen himself almost lost his life in a terrifying crash in Argentina during 1985. By the end of 1986, Group B was gone.
The cars, the Lancias and Audis, Austin Rover’s MG Metro 6R4 and Ford’s RS200 live on only as space-age museum pieces, too fast, too deadly and too monstrous for modern motorsport.
MG Metro 6R4
Austin Rover’s humble hatch was an unlikely rally weapon. With a mid-mounted, 3.0-litre V6 it was fast, but initially fragile.
Lancia Delta S4
One of the most potent Group B cars, featuring a supercharged and turbocharged engine. Won rallies, but not the championship.
Audi Quattro S1
Audi started the turbocharged, four-wheel-drive Gp B madness. The later S1 had a shorter wheelbase for improved agility.
Peugeot 205 T16
Peugeot applied the formula of a mid-mounted engine and four-wheel drive to great effect. The T16 won two world drivers’ titles.
- Telegraph UK