After the madness of the World Rally Championship’s Group B era, Group A must have seemed like a bit of a let down when it became the headline category for 1987.
Where Group B was a technical free-for-all, Group A cars were just modified production cars. They were big, heavy and only had half the power of a Group B car at most.
The Group A category had actually been an integral part of rally championships across the globe since it was introduced in 1982 – the same year Group B was unleashed. While many questioned its place at the top of the rallying tree, the on-stage action proved Group A fully deserved it.
Over the years, Group A machinery evolved from its lightly modified road car roots into thoroughbred rallying weaponry. They became massively more powerful, too. In 1987, the championship-winning Lancia developed around 220hp. By the category’s final year in 1996, the front-running Mitsubishi and Subaru were rumoured to make more than 400hp – rather more than the official 300hp.
A massive variety of machinery competed in Group A rallying over the years. Indeed, it’s probably fair to say that someone, somewhere, rallied a Group A version of every car that fitted the fairly broad homologation requirements.
Here we bring you the low-down on every Group A car that contested the WRC in a team registered for Manufacturers’ Championship points.
We’ve tracked down as many images of the rally cars as possible, otherwise the road-going version is pictured.
Audi 200 quattro, Coupe quattro, 90 quattro, S2 quattro
Audi had a few cars to choose from for Group A but focused its WRC efforts on the unlikely 200 quattro – a huge executive saloon. But it was powered by the well-proven five-cylinder turbo engine from the Quattro, so in that regard it was a sensible move. It debuted with a third place finish on the ’87 Monte Carlo Rally and scored a one-two finish on the ultra-tough Safari. A few more appearances in ’88 didn’t yield notable results.
The Coupe quattro contested a few events through ’87 and ’88 – scoring a single podium finish – then attention turned to the 90 quattro, which picked up a smattering of decent results. The new S2 had a brief campaign in ’93, but didn’t really achieve anything.
Whilst it cleaned up in touring car racing, the M3 also proved to be a highly effective rally car on Tarmac. The Tour de Corse was the closest the WRC got to a circuit race and it suited the M3 perfectly, Bernard Beguin winning in ’87. In subsequent years the lack of a turbo was a major handicap, but even so Francois Chatriot wrung the M3’s neck to achieve another couple of podiums in Corsica.
Ford Sierra XR4x4, Sierra RS Cosworth, Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth, Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4×4, Escort RS Cosworth
The V6-powered executive express Sierra XR4x4 may seem like an odd choice of rally car. And it was, being very heavy and rather underpowered. But the Sierra Cosworth was still only 2WD in the early years of Group A, so Ford rolled out the XR4x4 on rallies that really needed 4WD to run anywhere near the front. It scored just a single podium finish on the snow of Sweden.
The 3-door Sierra Cosworth never actually did that well in the WRC. The saloon-shaped Sapphire didn’t fare much better, though exuberant Frenchman Didier Auriol put in the drive of lifetime to win in Corsica in ’88. The Sapphire 4×4 fared better, picking up six podium finishes. But Ford’s campaign didn’t hit its stride until the smaller, lighter Escort Cosworth arrived in ’93.
The Escort picked up no less than five wins in its debut year and scored two more in ’94. But its time at the front of the field was short lived as the Japanese teams out-developed Ford. The Escort remain a solid finisher, but only won once more in ’96.
Lancia Delta HF 4WD, Delta HF Integrale, Delta HF Integrale 16v
Lancia utterly dominated the early years of Group A, taking 46 wins with various iterations of the Delta. The HF 4WD served through ’87 and early ’88, followed by the 8v Integrale. The 16v Integrale took over part-way through ’89.
The Delta’s success came despite it’s layout being badly compromised for a rally car. There was very little space under the bonnet, it was too narrow and the weight distribution was completely wrong. But it was extremely agile, had a jewel of an engine and Lancia quite simply threw gigantic amounts of money at it.
A wider, more powerful Evo version was developed for ’93, but Lancia pulled the plug before the season got underway. It was left to privateer teams to run the Evo, but it couldn’t get close to its Japanese rivals.
Regardless, the Delta’s record in Group A towers above all others – those 46 wins, four Driver’s Championships and no less than six Manufacturer’s Championships on the bounce from ’87 to ’92.
Mazda 323 4WD
Two generations of the little 323 were used in the WRC. And despite only running a 1.6 engine, they were regular front-runners being particularly suited to the faster rallies. Between them, they picked up three wins – two in Sweden – and a brace of podium finishes.
Mazda remained in the WRC until ’92, but didn’t score any notable results after ’90.
Mitsubishi Starion Turbo, Galant VR-4, Lancer Evo I, Lancer Evo II, Lancer Evo III
For the ’87 season, Mitsubishi could only field the RWD Starion Turbo, just entering the Finish and Ivory Coast events, neither of which yielded a significant result. But an all-new Galant was due in ’88 and Mitsubishi took the opportunity to create the 4WD VR-4 model specifically for Group A.
The sheer size of the Galant suggested it would be fairly hopeless. In fact, it always ran near the front and scored five wins. It was so tough that it could be rolled into a ball several times on the same rally and still cross the finish line.
’93 saw the arrival of the smaller, lighter Lancer Evolution which brought an electronic revolution with it. This was first Group A car to rely heavily on trick electronically-controlled diffs that sent power to the wheel that needed it most. It took until ’95 for the Evo to pick up its first win, but it and Tommi Makinen dominated ’96, scoring the first of four consecutive Driver’s titles.
Nissan 200SX (S12 and S13), Sunny GTi-R
Nissan didn’t achieve that much in the WRC. The tough, 2WD 200SX was best suited to the African events, winning the Ivory Coast rally in ’88 along with a couple of podiums on the Safari. The 4WD Sunny GTi-R only had two-season stint and scored a single podium finish.
The Kadett GSi and it’s Vauxhall Astra GTE twin spent the early years of Group A battling over top honours in the non-turbo 2.0 class with the Golf GTi. The Kadett was occasionally fast enough to rise to the overall podium and even won outright in New Zealand in ’88.
Renault 11 Turbo, 5 GT Turbo, Clio 16S, Clio Williams
It may look a bit dumpy, but with a 1.6 turbo motor under the bonnet, the 11 Turbo was monstrously kick on Tarmac, scoring podiums in Portugal and Italy in ’87.
Attention then turned to the 5 GT Turbo which was usually at the front of the 2WD field and even won the 2WD-only Ivory Coast rally in ’89. It was the same story with the Clio as well, though by then there were no 2WD-only events and there were so many 4WD cars that it couldn’t compete for overall honours.
It seems Skoda only registered for overall WRC points once, in ’94. By then the Favorit was already well established as the dominant force in the 1300cc class. On occasion in even won the under-2.0 division. Unsurprisingly, though, it never troubled the front runners.
Subaru RX Turbo, Legacy RS, Impreza 555, Vivio Sedan
Subaru’s early WRC efforts centred on the Leone RX Turbo, a solid but unspectacular performer that scored a single third place finish. Things picked up in ’90, though, with the introduction of the Prodrive-built Legacy RS.
Like the Galant VR-4 we saw earlier, the Legacy was oversized and overweight. And yet it was immensely fast, especially in the hands of certain young Scot – Colin McRae. Results were thin on the ground, though, partly because of McRae’s propensity to hurl his Legacy into the scenery. The Impreza 555 came on stream during ’92, but Subaru was desperate for the Legacy to win before it bowed out. McRae achieved that win – his first – in New Zealand in ’93.
With attention fully focused on the Impreza, the squad was a regular winner and secured the Manufacturer’s crown in ’95 and ’96. And, of course, McRae won his Driver’s title in ’95.
As for the diminutive Vivio, Subaru ran a brace of them on the ’93 Safari rally, essentially as a publicity stunt. Amazingly, McRae flogged his 660cc microcar up to third place before it started to fall apart around him.
Toyota Supra, Celica GT-Four ST165, Celica Turbo 4WD ST185, Celica GT-Four ST205
The massive, third generation Supra proved a useful competitor on the African rallies, finished third on the Safari in ’87. It’s time in the WRC was short-lived, though, as Toyota was cooking up the 4WD Celica GT-Four. It came on stream late in ’88 and Toyota quickly proved it was the only team that could consistently challenge the might of Lancia.
The first, ST165 Celica was so effective that Toyota continued to campaign it for several years after it had gone out of production. The ST185 took over for the ’92 season and came out fighting, finishing second on its debut. Lancia withdrew at the end of the year, which left Toyota clear to dominate in ’93 and ’94, claiming back-to-back Manufacturer’s titles to add to a tally of four Driver’s titles.
The next ST205 Celica came along in ’94. But it all unravelled in ’95 as, in their efforts to beat the dominant Subaru, an enterprising engineer devised an illegal turbo restrictor bypass. The ingenius device was eventually discovered and Toyota was disqualified from the whole season and banned from competing in ’96.
Volkswagen Golf GTi 16v, Golf G60 Rallye
Like its Opel Kadett arch-rival, the Golf GTi regularly headed the under-2.0 class and was occasionally quick enough to trouble the front-runners. It scored a brace of podiums during ’87, including winning in Ivory Coast.
VW switched to the 4WD, supercharged Golf Rallye for a limited campaign in ’89, which yielded a best finish of third in New Zealand. The squad withdrew at the end of the year and didn’t return until 2013.
By Graham King