Imagine if suddenly all the power-cap rules for a major racing series were abolished overnight.
A mad rush of skunkworks projects would be fast-tracked, with racecars zinging out their red-hot turbochargers through the World Rally Championship stages just 18-months later. Porsche, Ferrari, Lancia, Ford, and Audi all dove into the Group B program with both feet.
The results on track were mixed for many of these cars: the lack of power cap rules meant that intagibles like chassis control, visibility and reliability were paramount for winning rallies in the short Group B time on the global stage.
The excitement of a powermad series brought out record crowds, and with them tragedy, as these barely-roadworthy prototypes started crashing with immense force, taking out drivers and spectators alike.
An idea ahead of its time: mid-engine turbo rocketships with rear-drive for mixed-grip, off-road and even snowy rallies. The cancellation of the race class left many of these companies deeply invested in turbo and shatterproof race innovations, with no production feasibility on the horizon. Gas struts, electronic fuel injection, variable valve timing? All rapidly progressed during the Group B years.
Alas, the salvaged bits of these engineering moonshots provided the astounding basis for supercars we all know and love today: 959, F40, GT-R, Evo and STi were all born from Group B.
Few of the racecars of the that era are still in customer hands, still intact, and still roadworthy and road legal.
This left-hand-drive RS200 is the rare unicorn of the group, so whoever lands this half-million-predicted Ford will own a piece of history — a legend for its achievements as well as Group B’s flop on the global race stage.
1986 Ford RS200
1986 Ford RS200
- Chassis no. SFACXXBJ2CGL00169
$450,000 – $550,000
To be auctioned on Thursday, December 10, 2015
250 bhp, 1,803 cc DOHC Cosworth turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with Bosch electronic fuel injection, five-speed manual transmission, four-wheel independent suspension with coil springs and shock absorbers, and four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 99.6 in.
- One of 200 road-going versions; the last customer car delivered
- Two private owners since delivery; extremely low mileage
- A near time-capsule example of Ford’s Group B legend
THE GOLDEN ERA OF RALLY
The Group B regulations fostered some of the quickest, most powerful, and most sophisticated rally cars ever built. This period of competition is often referred to as the Golden Era of rallying.
Though less high profile than sports-car and open-wheel racing, modern rallying has attracted many discerning fans over the years with its point-to-point multi-leg format and highly modified, small-displacement, production-based cars. Such enthusiasts almost universally speak with glowing memories of the Group B era, when revolutionary all-wheel-drive chassis and turbocharged engines resulted in some of the most athletic cars to ever face a timer.
While Ford’s European racing concern in Boreham, England, had dominated WRC competition in the 1970s with various iterations of competition-prepared Escorts, even winning the Manufacturers’ Championship in 1979, America’s oldest carmaker dropped out of the format in 1980 to develop something that could compete with Audi’s forthcoming Quattro and the mighty R5 Turbo from Renault. A new program was undertaken in 1983 to build an alternative to the conventional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive Escort, one that would prove to be a disruption of its own.
Formula 1 designer Tony Southgate engineered a brand-new chassis predicated on all-wheel drive and the mid/rear placement of a 1.8-liter turbocharged Cosworth engine. The motor was slated to produce 250 horsepower in street guise, though in race format it could develop a shocking 420 horsepower or more. The distinctive new bodywork was designed by Italian styling house Ghia.
As 200 road-going examples were required to homologate the model for WRC certification, the new creation was dubbed the RS200, and it showed tremendous promise right out of the gate with a victory in its debut race. At its first WRC contest, the car came in 3rd, portending a great future. Unfortunately, the new Ford arrived to the party a bit late, with the model only debuting in the 1986 season after more than two years of development. Several tragic accidents compelled the FIA to cancel Group B classification after just four years, making the RS200 ineligible for the WRC after only one season of competition.
In terms of its Italian exterior design and F1-bred chassis, the purpose-built RS200 is almost completely unique to Ford’s history, perhaps comparable only to their great GT40 endurance racer. Ghia’s softly curved wedge design was copied in numerous road cars of the era, and the mid-engine layout was also soon imitated by other manufacturers. Though it took no racing titles, the RS200 was an incredible evolution of the everyday sports car. The RS200 remains a favorite of Group B enthusiasts to this day, likewise appreciated by design experts and performance connoisseurs for its disruption of the conventions of the day.
CHASSIS NUMBER 169
Chassis number 169 is among the later RS200 examples built and is believed to be the last car delivered from the manufacturer’s stock, reportedly sitting at the Boreham facility until August 1994. Acquired then by a Michigan-based enthusiast, the RS200 was treated to a pampered life while occasionally taken to motorsports events for display, including the Daytona International Speedway in 2010.
Currently displaying approximately 1,960 kilometers, this Ford was recently acquired by the consignor. Though the car has been kept in very good mechanical condition, the grey carpeting had deteriorated somewhat from natural aging, so correct Wilton wool carpets in the original color were sourced and properly installed. This is believed to be the only non-original item in this otherwise totally original RS200. The car is currently titled in the United States, having been properly imported during the 1990s, and is therefore ready to enjoy on the open road as US compliant.
Probably one of the most, if not the most, unused of the RS200 examples produced, this car benefits from just two caretakers over 21 years and has never been run in competition. The unusual racecar is a jewel of disruption, a sensational anomaly in the Ford production output that represented the legendary Group B rally cars. For rally connoisseurs or dedicated fans of 1980s sports cars in particular, this superlative RS200 would make an important acquisition to any collection as a notable example of one of Ford’s most extreme racing creations.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.