The popularity of touring car racing exploded during the Eighties. The new Group A rules introduced in 1982 produced some truly spectacular machinery and increasing TV coverage opened the sport up to new fans.
The racing was close and there were healthy championships across the globe. On top of that, there was the prestigious European Championship and the blue ribband Spa 24 Hour race to fight for.
Some truly great touring cars took to the tracks during the Eighties. Here are five we think are just a little bit greater than the rest.
Alfa Romeo GTV6
The GTV6 never won a race outright, as it didn’t compete in the top category. But it dominated the 2.5-litre class to such an extent it frequently won the overall championship.
Andy Rouse won the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) in 1983, while Alfa won the European (ETCC) Manufacturers’ title four times from ’82 to ’85.
In some fairness to everyone else, the Alfa didn’t have that much opposition. But if you want to win, you at least have to turn up. And only Mazda did on a regular basis.
But let’s not take anything away from the Italian stallion. It was hugely fast, extremely nimble and, surprisingly, reliable. And few other cars have looked or sounded so good.
Yes, we had to include the M3. Although it was by no means the full story of BMW’s touring car activities. The decade was very nearly a BMW whitewash, only missing the ETCC Drivers’ title twice before the series was canned in ’88.
The M3 picked up two of those and the lone Makes’ crown. Add in a BTCC title and six Spa 24 Hours wins (three for the M3) and it really was BMW’s golden age.
But why is the M3 so legendary when the 635CSi did most of the winning? Part of it must be the styling and the dirtily snarly noise. And success breeds admiration.
But most of it must surely be that it shouldn’t, technically, have won so many races. Like the Alfa, it didn’t actually contest the top class. But it was a truly thoroughbred racer and frequently bloodied the nose of the vastly more powerful, but less wieldy, Sierra Cosworth. Speaking of which…
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
Ford conducted a toe-in-the-water exercise with the American-market Sierra XR4Ti in 1985, which yielded the BTCC title for Andy Rouse. The lessons learnt went into the RS Cosworth.
Engine tuning gods Cosworth developed a twin-cam, 16-valve head for Ford’s 2.0 Pinto engine, then strapped a turbo onto the side. In later RS500 guise, it was good for well over 500bhp and (allegedly) nearly 200mph.
The Sierra had most success in the BTCC. But the drivers were so competitive that they rarely won enough races to take the overall championship – that usually went to a driver contesting the 2.0-litre class.
Still, the whale-tailed, flame-belching Sierra had greater visual impact than pretty much any other touring car in history. And it was a Ford. So the road-going Cossie was cheap enough to be obtainable by an average Joe if he worked just a little harder. Hero status was assured.
Rover SD1 Vitesse
While the road-going SD1 handled reasonably well, it’s running gear was becoming old hat even when it was introduced in 1976. So by the time Andy Rouse took his spanners to it in ’84, it was positively ancient.
But, engineering genius that he was, he turned the humongous, wallowy Rover into a winner, predictably winning the BTCC title (that’s becoming a theme here).
Other teams cottoned on to the V8-powered monster’s effectiveness, notably Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR outfit. But there was fragility to go with the speed. It qualified on pole at Spa twice, but never finished the race.
Really, the Vitesse arrived too late. As it arrived the big-engined brutes were already being superseded by the turbo brigade.
Volvo 240 Turbo
There was probably never been a more unlikely starting point for a touring car than the Volvo 200. The blocky Swede was tough and dependable, but a very long way from sporty.
Nevertheless, Volvo strapped a honking-great turbo to the engine – good for at least 350bhp – lopped several feet from the suspension and stripped out a few tons of weight.
Sounds promising, but it had a very fundamental flaw: the tyres were far too narrow, so cornering was… interesting. But once it was pointing in a straight line, it exploded down the road, with a top speed approaching 170mph.
The Eggenberger-run factory team took the ETCC Drivers’ spoils in ’85. Having achieved its goals and with some controversy over its interpretation of the homologation rules, Volvo pulled the plug at the end of ’86.
Images courtesy of Favcars.com
By Graham King