The more I dig into past motorsport history, the more I get mad at the WRC (World Rally Car) class rules that were introduced by the FIA in 1997. No, I’m not complaining that WRC-class cars “only” had about 300 HP while Group B cars had 450~600 HP near the end. In fact, I’m complaining about how little the WRC cars represent themselves in the real world of publicly available road versions. See, Group B had a minimum of 200 cars to be produced for homologation. While you might say that 200 cars for the whole wide world is not a lot and that it made them overpriced, you are right, but they still represented the true nature of the rally car itself without much compromise. Most were fabricated by the rally teams themselves and not by the manufacturer, thus making them even more special.
Even the Group A cars of the late ’80s and ’90s better represented themselves in the real world with 5,000 units (which was reduced to 2,500 at one point) of true all wheel drive platforms required for homologation. In Group A, front wheel drive to all wheel drive conversions were NOT allowed by the rules. The car had to come this way from the factory. This gave easier access to rally-bred performance for the public. Furthermore, even some of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution versions of the latter Group A days had anti-lag (ALS) installed from the factory, it was simply turned off via the ECU. The same goes for the some of the Toyota GT-Fours (All-Trac) which had one part of the ALS missing to make it inoperable on the street, albeit that could be easily rectified.
Ah, now you guess where I’m getting at? If you didn’t know, the WRC-class rules mandates that only 20 (this was reduced to 10 at some point) “evolution” cars have to be built based off a production platform (manufactured at 25,000 units minimum) for the car to be homologated for competition. If you do not know about these, the “evolution” cars are basically the rally cars themselves; they are built and used by the teams as their main rally cars, spares, and test vehicles. If they so wish, they can build another set each year to homologate any major changes. Those cars very rarely escape works team usage and are almost never sold to the public, except to very connected wealthy insiders and collectors. At best, the cars that live through their works usefulness are then sold to privateer rally teams who rally them until eventual destruction or end up in private collections never to be driven again.
While the 25,000 production chassis requirement helps to bring a familiar face to the rally car, the biggest downer is that the FIA’s WRC-class rules allows front wheel drive platforms to be converted to all wheel drive for the construction of the “evolution” homologation cars. This allows teams like Peugeot, Citroën, Volkswagen, etc, to simply use cheap front wheel drive platforms. If you never realized it before, this is why, ever since the switch from Group A to WRC in 1997, no manufacturer sells (for the purpose of WRC homologation) true top-class turbo AWD machines for us to enjoy. Quite lame, isn’t it? For me, I sure wouldn’t buy a Citroën DS3 or Volkswagen Polo just because they win rallies, and even less so a Ford Fiesta because Ken Block showboats in one. Why? These cars have no real direct link to the street version besides the badge, basic shell, and similar exterior resemblance. I think it pisses me off worse than the energy drinking skater boy turned rally driver hero crap that’s being fed to us today!
That being said, we can thank Mitsubishi and Subaru for having continued to produce (post-WRC) true turbo AWD rally bred machines (with the Evo and WRX/STi respectively) if only for financial gain and lesser Group N homologation. However, Subaru went one step further in 1998 when they commemorated their third WRC Championship with the making of the very limited Impreza 22b. A year later in 1999, Mitsubishi also gave us the special Evo 6.5 Tommi Mäkinen Edition (TME), the very last of the great Group A homologation cars.
These manufacturers didn’t have to build those units you know. In my opinion, it was done in the true spirit of the older homologation rules; to give real rally fans a chance to own something truly special, something with a more direct bloodline to the top class rally car than the normal version. They had pride. They dared. They shared. For those reasons, Subaru and Mitsubishi have my eternal respect.
Imagine, just try to imagine, what our automotive world would be today if true homologations machines were still required for top class motorsport, not just in rallying but in general (remember the GT1/GT2 days?) From the Audi Sport quattro to the Porsche 911 GT1, I leave it to each one of you to dream up what your favorite rally/race car would look like in street trim.
Here are but a few examples of “true” homologation rally cars:
…and all cars that although not used for homologation kept the spirit alive!
If only we still dared to push things a little further without being restrained by today’s fears in economics and as a society in general. If only, by consolation, manufacturers would take a page from Subaru’s & Mitsubishi’s book and produce a voluntary limited run of road cars directly based on the rally/race version to be sold in the dealerships. I’d be the first in line to sell my organs to buy them… Meanwhile, you can all keep your Fiestas and Polos, I want nothing to do with them!
What’s your take?