Published on: Jan 19, 2016 @ 15:59 Originally Published in: 2014 (old website) (C) Jay Auger, David Sims, 6R4.net Notice: Any form of duplication methods (including but not limited to copy/paste of text and screen capture) of the website's content is strictly forbidden.
In 1980, despite eventually becoming competitive and reliable, British Leyland Motorsport ‘retires’ the Triumph TR7 V8 from international rallying as Audi announces that they will field two four wheel drive quattros for the 1981 World Rally Championship. Immediately after, the company began to plan ahead for the team’s first serious attempt at winning championships on the world stage. In 1981, John Davenport approached Williams GP Engineering with a proposition to design British Leyland’s future Group B contender.
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THE HISTORY OF THE 6R4 – by David Sims
After much discussion, the ‘VHPD’ (Very High Performance Derivative) international rally car concept emerged as a mid-engine, four wheel drive, Metro. The team having already rejected a front-engined V8 Metro with rear wheel drive, primarily due to the driver having to sit too far back that he couldn’t actually see the front of the car.
Combining the benefits of both the Audi quattro (four wheel drive) and the Renault 5 Turbo (mid-engine), the Metro’s powerplant was to be the biggest decision against the trend: use a large capacity normally aspirated engine. With this, the Metro 6R4 wouldn’t have turbo lag nor the heat and engineering problems associated with it. With a simple layout the car would be more driveable and therefore less tiring for the crew over the busy schedules encountered in World Rally Championship events.
Having rejected the Honda V6 (Austin Rover then shared a great deal of engineering development with the Japanese manufacturer), the only other obvious solution would be their own tried and tested 3.5 litre Rover (formerly Buick) V8 engine. The engine turned out to be too bulky to fit in the back of the Metro, so the decision was taken to cut out two cylinders and (literally!) weld it back together – the result being a 2.5 litre Rover V6! Fitted with a purpose-made crank, Rover Vitesse racing internals, and Weber carburettors, it produced a healthy 250 BHP – ideal to test the car until the final engine build was ready.
The original prototype first turned a wheel at a private airfield in Oxfordshire in February of 1983 – driven by Tony Pond in plain red livery. For the next 12 months the team concentrated on private testing at a variety of venues including Austin Rover’s test track at Gaydon, as well as Cadwell Park circuit & the MIRA wind tunnel.
In early 1984 at London Heathrow, the assembled motorsport press witnessed Tony Pond drive through a film screen as the team announced their future rally plans to the public – the MG Metro 6R4 was born! With a bold marketing step, Austin Rover Motorsport decided to show the cars in the ‘classic’ red and white livery reminiscent of the team’s very successful 1960’s Mini Coopers and ‘Big’ Healeys.
Promising that the team would enter national rallies to test the car in the heat of competition, the team reappeared 6 weeks later on the 1984 York National Rally. Despite taking fastest stage times on 8 stages – to lead by almost three minutes! – success was short lived as the car retired due to an alternator fire. Even with the low-powered ‘hacked’ engine, it was now official: Austin Rover Motorsport had a rally car which could potentially challenge the might of Europe’s finest, and also rekindle the success of its forefathers.
Throughout 1984 the car appeared on a host of other national rallies as the team attempted to develop the car towards its eventual homologation specification. All the developments (including wider track, longer wheelbase, and enhanced aerodynamics) improved the handling and stability to such a degree that the Metro 6R4 won its first rally, the 1985 Skip Brown Cars Gwynedd Rally in February.
All that the team were waiting for was to get their hands on the final engine to replace the ‘hacked’ V8. The 3-litre Austin Rover V64V engine, designed by ex-Cosworth employee David Wood, was a 90 degree V6 with 4 valves per cylinder (hence the “V64V” moniker), with belt-driven twin-overhead camshafts per bank producing either 250 BHP in basic ‘Clubman’ form or 380/410 BHP in ‘International’ tune.
With Austin Rover committed to building 200 6R4s, the homologation specification was announced to the assembled press at Knebworth House in May of 1985, when Tony Pond and Marc Duez took journalists for a ride around a ‘mock’ rally stage. The car bore very little resemblance to either the road-going Metro saloon or the prototype Metro 6R4 which had been announced 15 months earlier!
Apart from the V64V engine and reworked aerodynamics, the car’s suspension travel had been increased by four inches by welding box extensions to the turrets. This latest development meant that the team could use the new 390 mm Michelin tyres developed for Audi and Peugeot. The package really worked, with a victory the day after on the 1985 Autofit Argyle Stages – the car was fastest on all 9 special stages to win by over 3 minutes.
With the layout, design and specification virtually resolved, Austin Rover’s next race was to get the car homologated in time for the car’s proposed World Rally Championship debut on the 1985 Lombard RAC Rally. Austin Rover’s other big decision against the trend was to build the car as a ‘turn-key’ rally car without Type Approval. Basically therefore, the Metro 6R4 had to be sold as a kit, which owners had to carry out a minor degree of final assembly prior to it being ‘ready to rally’.
This point was proven when Ken Wood took delivery of his car on a Thursday, and with the above parts added (and Golden Wonder sponsorship decals barely dry!), went out and won the 1985 Sprint Tyres Trossachs Rally, a mere two days later! This was the first ever rally victory for a ‘Clubman’ Metro 6R4, and happened 6 days before the car was actually homologated!
In a mere three month period, August to October 1985, Austin Rover built 200 MG Metro 6R4s and had them inspected by the FISA, hence successfully homologating the car into Group B effective November 1st, 1985 (homologation # B-277). Austin Rover was one of the rare few manufacturers to be able to stay within its original homologation scheduling.
In preparation for the 1986 rally season, which would see Austin Rover Motorsport contest all the European rounds of the World Rally Championship (a bold move), the team started to recruit all of the necessary personnel and expertise required for such an intense programme. Despite having taken a rally test with the team, Hannu Mikkola chose to stay with Audi for 1986. Ford on the other hand lost the services of Malcolm Wilson to Austin Rover Motorsport, lured by the promise of a full World Rally Championship programme, of which Ford didn’t plan on doing in their first season.
With the whole nation behind them, Tony and Malcolm (partnered by Rob Arthur and Nigel Harris) made a patriotic debut on the 1985 Lombard RAC Rally. Followed throughout the event by Union Jacks and MG Metros, Tony finished 3rd Overall behind the two Lancia Delta S4s (also on their Group B World Rally Championship debut!). Malcolm however, retired with transmission problems.
With the race to get the car homologated over, and the impressive debut on the RAC behind the team, optimism was high for the following season’s prospects – little did the team know that Tony Pond’s 3rd Overall was the best result that the Metro 6R4 would ever take at World Rally Championship level.
Plagued with bad reliability and numerous retirements, as the team attempted to make up for their increasing power disadvantage to their turbocharged rivals, it wasn’t until the 1986 1000 Lakes Rally in September that the 6R4 achieved another finish on the world stage! Apart from the tragedy in Portugal – which saw all ‘factory’ teams withdraw – Austin Rover Motorsport had 4 entries (out of a total of 6) retire due to engine failures (usually either cambelt or valve guide related).
When the 6R4 was initially announced, much was made on the fact that the mechanical layout was a simple one, in reality it took far too long to cure teething problems which should have been eliminated with proper testing before the car made its World Rally Championship debut. In the end, the drivers were only driving at about 80% of the car’s capability, primarily in order to preserve their cars and enable them to finish the events.
In France, the R-E-D prepared car of Didier Auriol (despite a couple of early retirements) won five of the qualifying rounds to win the 1986 French National Championship on a tie-break! In the UK (and Ireland) the Metro 6R4 recorded its first international rally victory when David Llewellyn won the 1986 Circuit of Ireland Rally, against some much-fancied tarmac experts. Add to this numerous other rallies at all levels and it is clear to see that the Metro 6R4 was the car to have at every level except the top world echelon – winning a total of 5 championships during the 1986 season.
Back on the WRC ‘stage’, the latter half of the 1986 season saw some improving fortunes; three Metro 6R4s finished in the top 10 competitors of the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland, Malcolm recorded an excellent 4th overall on the Sanremo Rally and the team clinched the Team Award on the RAC Rally with 6th, 7th, 8th, & 9th positions.
Ultimately the 6R4 was too late, taking four and a half years to get from the drawing board to the stage, in which time turbocharging developments had progressed so fast that the turbo lag problems experienced with the early Group B cars had been overcome considerably! As a team, Austin Rover Motorsport finished higher in the 1985 World Rally Championship (solely from Tony’s RAC result!) than they did in 1986, after a full season!
FISA instigated an international Group B supercar ban, taking effect on January 1st 1987, due to their concern about the escalating power figures quoted by manufacturers and the increased use of flammable lightweight composite materials. The future of the Metro 6R4 (and in particular the vast amount of cars still remaining in the compound at Cowley) looked decidedly bleak!
In Britain, the authorities, the owners & Austin Rover Motorsport had a problem – where could the Metro 6R4 still be used in anger? Following some lengthy meetings, the Metro 6R4 achieved its first ‘stay of execution’ when the authorities agreed to let the car compete on British national rallies if they were reduced in power to no more than 300 BHP.
Austin Rover Motorsport hence devised the ‘Clubman 300’ specification Metro 6R4 – advertised for a bargain price of approx £16,000! It was basically the same car as the original ‘Clubman’ except for an engine which gave about 50 BHP more, but at a price only 40% of the originals! This would serve two purposes. Firstly, the authorities could still accept 6R4 entries on national rallies from competitors (of which there were still a large quantity). And secondly, Austin Rover Motorsport could quite easily clear their compound of this, effectively redundant, Group B supercar. During the latter part of 1986 and early 1987, Austin Rover advertised the car so extensively that within 10 months they had sold every single car – one enterprising company even bought a batch of 40 to prepare as road cars!
Austin Rover Motorsport encountered some major internal problems at this point. A large number of the employees had been made redundant after the WRC programme had been forcefully abandoned. Others remained to oversee the low key 1987 national programme. The theft of a couple of cars from the compound, plus an internal fraud investigation were too much of an embarrassment for Austin Rover, and the Motorsport department closed its doors completely in May 1987 – after completing just four rounds of their intended national programme.
1987 also saw the Group B invasion in the world of rallycross in part by the Metro 6R4; with the likes of Will Gollop, Michael Shield & Barry Hathaway taking on the Fords, Peugeots, Audis, and Lancias which had also been banned from the WRC. Varying in power from ‘Clubman’ to ‘International’ tune, the rallycross Metro 6R4 often had trouble living with its faster turbocharged rivals. However, the car was ideally suited to tight twisty circuits which favoured the 6R4’s nimble handling characteristics, and therefore narrowed the power disadvantage.
Later on in the Metro 6R4’s rallycross career, several owners resorted to turbocharging the V64V engine, quoting power figures of up to 700 BHP! The most successful was certainly Will Gollop, getting Austin Rover Motorsport engine builder Cliff Humphries to build a 2.3 litre bi-turbo engine which eventually netted him the coveted European Rallycross Championship in 1992 – the last year of Group B supercars.
In late 1987, a group of owners concerned about the future of the Metro 6R4 in rallying, formed the Rover sanctioned ‘6R4 Owners Club’ in the hope that they could present a ‘united front’ against all the organisers, officials and competitors attempting to ban or handicap the cars out of the sport. As such, for 1988, Rover instigated the Esso Metro Superchallenge – a multi discipline one make championship solely for ‘Clubman 300’ Metro 6R4s. It proved to be a great success.
Inspired by it (but not directly part of the Superchallenge) was the Metro 6R4 Trophy race – a supporting attraction to the 1988 and 1989 FIA Formula 3000 Birmingham Superprix, a high profile street race around the the city. The 1988 winner was guest celebrity driver Tony Pond (having his first competitive drive in a Metro 6R4 since the 1986 RAC Rally) and using all his previous racing experience to win convincingly from Pete Slights, who later went on to win the inaugural Superchallenge that year. The same format was repeated in 1989, with the Superchallenge falling to Bill Barton, and the Metro 6R4 Trophy race once again going to Tony Pond.
The Metro 6R4 has since taken over from the Mk2 Escort as the mainstay of British national rallying – what the Escort achieved in the 1970s, the Metro 6R4 has achieved since the late 1980s, and is continuing the tradition right up to the present day!
Nowadays, Metro 6R4 owners use their cars on a far wider variety of events than the car was ever designed for. From circuit racing to hillclimbing, and autocross to drag racing, the Metro 6R4 has done them all, even competing on the infamous Pike’s Peak Hillclimb and Paris-Dakar rallies during its extended competition lifetime. It will no doubt go down in the history books as the Group B rally car with the most successful national record and longest post-ban rally career.
(C) Main article by David Sims – 6R4.net (used under permission, please visit their community website to learn more about the Metro 6R4)
(C) Main article slightly abridged and modified, with added pictures, by Jay Auger – RGBS owner and author
- (Images are the property of their original owners)
- (Eifel Rallye Festival Pictures used under permission – McKlein Publishing)
Special thanks to: Dan Ellmore (Ellmore Digital), Nicky Lindon & David Sims (6R4.net)
RALLY CAR SPECIFICATIONS (WRC)
|Group/Class||B/12||Homologation number: B-277 (click # to view papers)|
|Type||“V64V”, V6, DOHC 24v, gas||located middle longitudinal|
|Displacement||2991 cc||WRC: 2991 cc|
|Output power – torque||380~410 HP @ 9000 rpm||270 lb-ft (366 Nm) @ 6500 rpm|
|Materials||block: aluminium alloy||cylinder head: aluminium alloy|
|Lubrication system||dry sump|
|Type||four wheel drive||5 speed gearbox|
|Gearbox ratios||1st: 3.31
|Differential ratio||front/rear 3.44, center 1.00 or 1.43 or 1.60||helical gears ferguson viscous coupling epicyclical center differential, 1st output to hypoid spiral bevel gears limited slip rear differential located in engine sump, 2nd output to hypoid spiral bevel gears limited slip front differential. 35%-65% front to rear torque distribution|
|Clutch||AP twin plate|
|Type||two main longitudinal chassis members, integral full roll cage, fabricated front and rear chassis frames. 2 door hatchback fiberglass bodyshell, with aluminium roof panels and steel doors concealed with plastic air boxes and front and rear aerofoils|
|Front suspension||MacPherson strut with lower wishbone, coil spring, telescopic Bilstein gas shock absorber and anti-roll bar. Ride height, camber, toe-in and anti-roll are all adjustable.|
|Rear suspension||MacPherson strut with parallelogram wishbone and trailing arm, coil spring, telescopic Bilstein gas shock absorber and anti-roll bar. Ride height, camber, toe-in and anti-roll are all adjustable|
|Steering system||rack and pinion||2.5 turns lock to lock|
|Brakes||front and rear ventilated disks 305mm diameter with four piston calipers all round||dual circuit with servo, adjustable ratio split front to rear|
|length: 3657 mm (144.0 in)||width: 1880 mm (74.0 in)||height: 1500 mm (59.1 in)|
|wheelbase: 2391 mm (94.1 in)||front track: 1510 mm (59.4 in)||rear track: 1515 mm (59.6 in)|
|Rims – tires||Dymag 16″ cast||Michelin TRX|
|Dry/Unladen Weight||1040 kg (2290 lb)|
|Weight/power||2.5 kg/HP (5.5 lb/HP)|
|Fuel tank||110 lt|
Very loosely based on the Austin Mini Metro, this homologation car was very far off from the normal production model. The 6R4 moniker is explained as follows; “6” for the six cylinder engine, “R” for rally, “4” for four wheel drive. The official homologation version was known as the “Clubman” and per the rules 200 units had to be built. It was one of the cheaper 4WD Group B supercars to purchase and was sold as a kit to bypass some registration rules.
The £40,000 “Clubman” featured the same Austin Rover V64V engine but with a milder cam, producing a net 250 BHP. The car also used a fully synchromesh unit, whereas the evolution cars used a vastly quicker, and very much stronger “dogbox” with synchro on the reverse gear only. The interior features a standard MG Metro dashboard and steering wheel, vinyl Austin Metro door cards, and grey Cobra bucket seats.
For the exterior, the “Clubman” features steel doors with glass windows. Otherwise, wheel arches, door pods, sills, front bumpers, bonnet and tailgate are constructed from fibreglass. Every Metro 6R4 features an aluminium roof skin and front and rear spoilers also made from shaped and riveted aluminium, although the design is different from the evolution car.
With the simple addition of harnesses and fire extinguishers the “Clubman” was “ready to rally”. Thus, actual road cars turned out to be very rare since most of them were upgraded to international rally spec shortly after leaving the factory by their owners. It is estimated than less than 40 units still exist in road trim.
After Group B’s ban, most of the unsold 6R4s were converted into the “Clubman 300” version built specifically for participation in UK rallies. At £16,000, these cars featured 50 more horsepower while costing a mere 40% of the price of the original Clubman. Many of these cars still compete favourably to this very day even though they are largely handicapped by various restrictions.
After the post Group B ban sell-off period was over, the remainder of the cars had their engines removed (for a really special reason) and the emptied chassis sold to privateer rallycross teams since the Formula A / Division 2 regulations permitted use of any brand of engines. The extirpated V64V engines went on to live a very exotic life: they got turbocharged and installed in the Jaguar XJ220! It is quite ironic but befitting that the now V64V-powered XJ220 was originally designed with Group B regulations in mind.
|Class||Supermini||Homologation number: B-277 (click # to view papers)|
|Production||1985~1986||Assembly: United Kingdom|
|Type||“V64V” V6, DOHC 24v, gas||located middle longitudinal|
|Output power – torque||250 HP @ 7000 rpm||225 lb-ft (305 Nm) @ 6500 rpm|
|Lubrication system||dry sump|
|Type||four wheel drive||5 speed gearbox|
|Differential ratio||N/A||limited slip rear differential|
|Type||two main longitudinal chassis members, integrated roll cage, fabricated front and rear chassis frames. 2 door hatchback fiberglass bodyshell, with aluminium roof panels and steel doors concealed with plastic air boxes and front and rear aerofoils|
|Front suspension||MacPherson struts, coil springs, dampers, adjustable anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension||Struts, lower wishbones, coil springs, dampers, adjustable anti-roll bar|
|Steering system||rack and pinion||2.5 turns lock to lock|
|Brakes||Ventilated discs, 304mm front and rear, hydraulic handbrake|
|length: 3657 mm (144.0 in)||width: 1880 mm (74.0 in)||height: 1500 mm (59.1 in)|
|wheelbase: 2412 mm (95.0 in)||front track: 1510 mm (59.4 in)||rear track: 1515 mm (59.6 in)|
|Rims – tires||15″||
|Curb Weight||1000 kg (2200 lb)|
|Weight/power||4.0 kg/HP (8.8 lb/HP)|
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(C) Article by Jay Auger – website owner, main author & chief editor