The Group B Era, The Crazy Eighties by James Jones

Audi quattro S1E2 by James Jones.

Group B refers to a set of regulations incorporated into world rallying in 1982. Unlike previous years when a manufacturer had to manufacture at least 400 vehicles to homologate it for rallying the Group B regulations required only 200 vehicles. A further evolution of the car was permitted and required only 20 (called the 10% minimum rule) to be produced.

Many manufacturers were already committed to a rally programme such as Ford, Vauxhall and Porsche. The motorsport governing body, the FIA, realised that these new rules might put some manufacturers off  if they hadn’t developed a car specifically for the new Group B rules so they allowed manufacturers with cars already homologated into the old Group 4 ( 400 minimum build ) category to transfer them into Group B.

Most of the car makers already rallying read the rules and did this knowing that the 10% rule would suit their future ambitions in the rally arena.  

This meant an enormous amount of cars were homologated into Group B. Anyone familiar with this period will know of cars like the Austin MG Metro 6R4 but some might be surprised to know that  the same manufacturer homologated the BL Triumph Spitfire and the BL Triumph TR7 ( 2 ltr & V8 ). Many other manufacturers did the same. The actual list of cars homologated into Group B is massive.

Manufacturers exploited the vague and ambiguous rules to the point where some cars barely resembled the base model. Light weight composite panels, four wheel drive systems, complex turbo and supercharging produced final versions which with in-excess of 500bhp could out accelerate formula 1 cars of the period on gravel !

In fact on the 1986 Portuguese Rally one of the stages started outside of the Estoril Race Circuit where they had recently held the Grand Prix. The stage start roughly started where the Grand Prix started and after timing the cars people there realised that the rally cars would have reached the first corner of the Grand Prix circuit before the Formula 1 cars.

Rallying’s popularity had grown considerably in the 1970’s with the Lancia Stratos and the battles between the Ford Escort and the Fiat 131 Abarth. Group B cars arriving in the eighties increased interest in rallying so much that ironically it became its downfall. Spectators flocked to see these loud, fire spitting, mud churning monsters, especially in European countries like Portugal. Spectators would line the stage route inches away from cars travelling at 100 miles an hour plus. Some would even reach out to touch them !  Between the rules being implemented in 1982 and its demise in 1986 the cars had gone from 250 horse power conventional front engine rear wheel drive cars to hi-tech 500 horse power plus, mid – engined four wheel drive cars.

The Group B Era of 1982 to 1986 saw interest in rallying and rally car development accelerate at a speed never seen before or since. It was inevitable that something had to give.

 

 

 

A number of incidents including Lancia works driver Attilio Bettega’s death in 1985 on the Corsica Rally and ultimately Henri Toivonen and his American co-driver Sergio Cresto’s deaths on the same Rally a year later led to the end of Group B.

It has been suggested that the then time president of the FIA, Jean Pierre-Balestre only needed these incidents to happen to validate his actions of effectively banning Group B at the end of 1986 whilst under pressure from the organisers of Formula 1. Rallying was far more popular than Formula 1 then and was within reach of  the common man. The change of rules excluding Group B cars scoring points in the World Championship actually went against the FIA’s own rules of having to give two years notice to manufacturers of a change in the rules but somehow they stood. Peugeot even tried to sue the FIA !

Many of the drivers of the time were appalled at the changes bringing in Group A cars. Most of the Group B cars were purpose built rally cars, designed to do the job. Not standard production cars adapted to go rallying. However the FIA stuck to their decision and Group B was over.

 

  

 

The Group B era, like many other periods of  motor sport, such as the American Can-Am series of the 1970’s and the GT series of the 1960’s produced a selection of vehicles at the pinnacle of development for their time.

James Jones.

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