You’ve probably heard the expression “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday,” implying that participation in motorsports and the subsequent association with the roadgoing cars will boost sales.
Well, in the world of racing homologation it’s quite the contrary. Certain racing regulations require carmakers to sell a certain number of road-legal versions of the racecar to be eligible to race.
The reasoning was quite simple; at the time, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) didn’t want carmakers constructing purpose-built racing machines for production-based classes to maintain more than just a passing semblance to the actual street cars they were based on and not be silhouette racers.
Per Merriam Webster, “homologate” is “to approve or confirm officially.” Hence, carmakers looking to participate in racing such as Group A and other classes were mandated to produce a minimum number of road-legal versions of the racecar to make it to the starting grid.
If you’ve ever heard the term “homologation special,” it’s referencing a bespoke roadcar that adheres to specifications such as engine displacement, chassis dimensions and suspension layout identical to the racecar.
You can thank the World Rally Championship (WRC) and the lunacy of Group B as well as Group A touring car classes like the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) for lust-inducing metal in the form of the Subaru Impreza WRX and BMW M3 (E30).
Though the numbers required have since dropped to encourage participation in motorsports, you can thank homologation constitution for the insanity of racecars being legalised for road use and some of the wildest metal to ever sport a road tax sticker on its windscreen.
The latest member of that exclusive club of delirium on four wheels is the diminutive Toyota Yaris GR. A true rally homologation special for Toyota’s assault on the next years’ WRC, it’s inspired us to take a look at 10 of the craziest rally homologation specials to ever require a Puspakom inspection.
1. Audi Quattro
Is any rally homologation list complete without the Audi Quattro? The Ur-Quattro; as mythology alludes to the storied hero, completely shredded the rallying rulebook and had the largest impact on rallying homologation although it wasn’t the first rally special.
Prior to the Quattro, four-wheel drive machines were bulky machines lacking refinement. Audi wanted to portray an image of engineering superiority. Therefore, Audi’s manager of experimental running gear and the father of the Quattro; Jörg Bensinger, worked to merge refinement via a centre differential with a light, compact four-wheel drive system.
It’s turbocharged five-cylinder with that unique growl made 200hp and hit the century mark in 6.5-seconds; quicker than a Ferrari 308 GTBi. That helped it finish almost 30 minutes ahead of the actual competition cars when it debuted as the course car at the 1980 Algarve Rally and the rest is history.
2. Lancia Stratos
As implied above, the very first rally homologation special was actually the instantly recognisable Lancia Stratos. It defined the homologation madness as the Italian carmaker built the competition car first and then produced the required amount that barely grazed the surface of road legality… or did they?
Folklore states they missed the required 500 by a smidgen, rolling out an estimated 492 instead. Nonetheless, the Ferrari-sourced mid-mounted 2.4-litre V6 from the Dino gave it close to 200hp; nothing to sneer at in the 1970s. Moving to fuel injection later brought that figure closer to 300hp in a car that clocked in at under 900kg.
No less than 18 World Rally victories and three consecutive World Rally Championships from 1974 through to 1976 ensures its spot on this list.
3. Peugeot 205 Turbo 16
The era of Group B banality saw the birth of the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. The French had to build 200 (seems like a missed opportunity by not making 205 units) and the road version didn’t stray far from the competition car. It did however share only the lights and grille with the standard 205 GTI.
A 1.8-litre turbocharged engine was mounted smack in the middle courtesy of a tubular steel structure. It made a 197hp that hit all four wheels, good enough for both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships consecutively in 1985 and 1986.
Why didn’t it win in 1987? Well, the FIA banned Group B that year. When new, the 205 Turbo 16 cost as much as a Ferrari 308 GTB. Might have been hard to justify back in the day but surely that rear clamshell alone more than made its supercar killer cred worthy.
4. Lancia Delta Integrale
While there’s plenty of debate surrounding the legitimacy of the word ‘winningest’ in the English language, there’s absolutely no disputation of the Lancia Delta Integrale’s status as the winningest rally car of all time with 46 World Rally wins overall and six consecutive constructors’ championships from 1987 to 1992 under its fine Italian leather belt.
That’s all you need to know about it really.
5. Ford RS200
Another chapter in the book of “racecar preceding roadcar,” the Ford RS200 was built for the bonkers Group B; just in case the short wheelbase, four-wheel drive and mid-mounted 1.8-litre turbo four engine didn’t give it away. As the name suggests, only 200 road going models came out the factory to satisfy the FIA.
It had a neat double damper setup at each corner but a lack of development for the competition car hampered its competitiveness as it only started its fight in 1986; the last year of Group B. A third-place finish was its best Group B performance before the FIA shut down the class.
6. MG Metro 6R4
Much like its hatch-based homologation peers, the MG Metro 6R4 (6-cylinder, Rear-engined, 4-wheel-drive) had its engine shifted behind the driver. Unlike its peers however, said engine was also over the rear wheels and a 3.0-litre V6 with no snails hanging off the sides; fully naturally-aspirated.
It bore little resemblance to the regular Metro. Instead, Williams Grand Prix Engineering developed the semi-monocoque seam-welded tubular chassis that held the engine in place over the rear wheels.
The wild bodywork was wonted of Group B and made mostly from glass(fiber) reinforced plastic (GRP) with only the roof being aluminium, the doors steel and what little else it shared with the original Metro. You could probably see those plastic airboxes over the doors from space.
Engine troubles and the demise of Group B meant the Metro 6R4’s gracing of the rally stage was short-lived. Oh, and that engine in the rear? It later had a couple of turbos attached and went on to power the Jaguar XJ220.
7. Renault 5 Turbo
While the Renault 5 Turbo did shift its 1.4-litre turbo four engine to the middle like Group B homologation hatches often did, it opted to drive only the rear wheels instead of all four. This placed it at a disadvantage on gravel stages but made it a monster on tarmac stages as tarmac hotshoe Jean Ragnotti delivered three Rally Monte Carlo wins.
Moving the engine to the rear meant a deep dive into the Renault parts bin, resulting in the rear suspension from the Renault Alpine A310 V6 and the five-speed manual from the Renault 30 TX.
However, the 5 Turbo can lay claim to bragging rights in that Renault produced close to 5,000 units of the hasty hatch, instead of the minimum 200 units that homologated it.
8. Toyota Celica GT-Four
Although the Toyota homologated entered three generations of the Celica GT-Four, we’ll be focusing our attention on the last of the trio; the ST205. Although not the most successful of the trio, this was the notorious car with the now legendary turbo restrictor-plate cheat that got Toyota Team Europe banned from the World Rally Championship in 1995.
As the FIA mandated a restrictor plate to bring power and subsequently, speed, down, Toyota reengineered the plate to disengage cleanly when installed and pop back into place compliantly if the component was ever removed from the engine bay. Pure genius.
Max Mosley, the FIA president at the time, called it the “the most ingenious thing I have seen in 30 years of motorsport.” High praise but all in vain as the FIA banned Toyota from the 1995 and 1996 season together with stripping their drivers of all points that season.
9. Mitsubishi Evo 6
The FIA states that the phenomenon dubbed the Mitsubishi Evolution is a homologation special up to its sixth iteration. Hence, we’ll take a look at that. The Evo first came to be after the Galant VR4 dropped off the pace.
While the Evo 6 was an advancement from the 4 and 5 preceding it (these three sat on the same platform), it also gained an evolution of the haloed 4G63T 2.0-litre turbo four mill that powered it up to the Evo 9.
Many claim the Evo 6 was the perfect balance between the raw, brutish sensation of the earlier models and the sophistication of the 7 onwards. It had a trick Active Yaw Control active differential that was essentially torque-vectoring before the word became commonplace.
Although the Evo 6 gave us the most recognisable version in the form of the Tommi Makinen Edition, that wasn’t a homologation special as it was built to commemorate the Finn’s four world titles.
10. Subaru Impreza RA
Oh Subaru, how do we even sum up the venerable Impreza with the hundreds of special or limited editions you’ve put out over the year? We can barely keep track of them all. Nonetheless, the pre-1997 models with the RA designation are the homologation specials… we think.
Much like its arch nemesis, the Mitsubishi Evo, the Impreza never strayed far from its pioneering initial version and was blessed with mechanical upgrades along the way; chiefly to its distinctive boxer engine.
Between the duo, the Subaru always had a cooler rep; no doubt aided by the late and great Colin McRae’s balls-to-the-wall driving style that led to his famous quote, “If in doubt, flat out.”
And contrary to popular dogma, the famed Impreza 22B isn’t a homologation special. The displacement alone should be enough to make that clear.
11. Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution
Yes, we know we said 10 but the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution is just too cool to leave out. Bred during Mitsu’s heyday when they did cool things, it was a stab at Dakar supremacy and the only other model to sport the Evo name.
They made about 2,500 units to meet the Dakar Rally's production-based T2 class requirements. Power came from a 3.5-litre 24-valve DOHC V6 with Mivec. Only a two-door body style was used and sported the mandatory exorbitantly wide fender flares, hood scoop, skid plates and a pair of fin-esque rear spoilers.
It rode on double wishbone independent suspension on the front with a multi-link independent suspension in the rear; something only the Pajero Evo had. Of course, all four wheel wheels were driven with front and rear Torsen differentials in place.