I dream in Group B rally cars. You should too.
The phenomenal era of unlimited speed with finite grip led to lusty homologation specials, heroic drivers, impossible horsepower, and sadly, a tragic finale.
I once asked German rally legend Walter Rörhl what it was like to drive two Group B legends: a Lancia 037 and Audi Sport Quattro. He said it was like wrestling bears blindfolded—whatever that meant. John Buffum, the most successful American rally driver to date, clued me into the blindfolded part almost a year later.
Buffum, who also drove the Audi Sport Quattro in Group B said the acceleration was so violent in those cars that drivers' eyes were pushed apart, and the chassis were so stiff that their pupils would bound. It was impossible to focus on the road ahead sometimes, Buffum said—taking corners at full speed was sometimes an act of faith alone.
It's no surprise that Group B wouldn't last forever. The series kicked off in 1982, but in 1986 a tragic crash in Portugal killed three spectators and injured dozens more, and Group B cars killed at least two drivers. The series was scrapped after the 1986 season, although the cars would appear in various other events such as the Paris-Dakar Rally and Pikes Peak Hillclimb.
Group S rally racing replaced Group B, with a power cap of less than half of the high, high horsepower found in Group B cars.
Now, Group B cars are gaining momentum among Gen X fans and older Millennials who remember the cars' heydays. Ken Block drives a Ford RS200 homogolation special, and every Porsche 959 on the street owes its existence to Group B standards as the German automaker planned to enter the series (but never did).
Which led me to ask: Could you build a Group B garage now? How much would it cost?
Buffum can smell out replicas like sprouted garlic. We can't, but we don't care. Here's a Group B dream garage.
1986 Audi Sport Quattro for sale
Audi Sport Quattro
Wrestle Rörhl's bear all on your own. Last year, a Sport Quattro hit the market and sold for an undisclosed amount. Canepa listed the car for sale last spring, one of 224, and said it had just over 34,000 miles. With a 2.1-liter inline-5 that makes more than 300 horsepower, it's tame by Group B standards—but still wild by modern standards. It weighs less than a wet sneeze and looks great.
Cost: About $100,000 per corner (that's $400,000 in case you can't do the math)—if you're lucky enough to find one for sale.
1981 BMW M1 IMSA Group 4 to race at the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion 2015
Yep, the BMW built in Italy that competed at Le Mans has a Group B pedigree too. BMW France prepped the M1 for Group B racing in the European Rally Championship in 1983 and privateers raced it in 1984. The M1 won a few rallies before the class was retired in 1987.
Cost: A recent Hemmings listing offers an M1 for $500,000.
1986 Ford RS200 Evolultion
Proof that the best Fords don't necessarily come from Dearborn, Michigan, the Ford RS200 was a mid-engine, four-wheel-drive rocket. The RS200's history is all over the map: the fiberglass body was built by Ghia, and the small car was assembled by Reliant. Two hundred homologation specials were made, and 24 evolution cars were built later. Ken Block owns one. You could own one, too.
Cost: Classic car auction site Bring A Trailer sold an RS200 for $280,000 last year.
Lancia 037 rally car
Loosely based on the Lancia Montecarlo (also sold as the Scorpion), the 037 has the distinction of not only being a champion in WRC but also the last rear-drive champion. Röhrl wrestled this one all the way to a WRC championship in 1983 with first-place finishes in Monte-Carlo, Greece, and New Zealand. The 037 was supercharged, unlike many turbocharged contemporaries, and its inline-4 was longitudinally mounted, because Lancia.
Cost: Auction house RM Sotheby's listed an 037 Stradale for sale in Monterey last year for $475,000 to $600,000. It's unclear if it sold.
1985 Paris-Dakar Porsche 959 to be sold at auction
Arguably the Group B car to have, the Porsche 959 didn't actually race in the series that partially inspired it. That's because the category folded before the cars were ready, although some 911s with the 959's all-wheel-drive system competed in Paris-Dakar Rally races. The 959 is famous for many reasons beyond Group B, and its Porsche crest somehow defies the laws of economics.
Cost: A 1988 Porsche 959 Komfort is listed for sale for $1.4 million in North Carolina.
1985 Renault R5 Turbo2 on Jay Leno's Garage
Renault 5 Turbo
The mid-engine Renualt 5 Turbo had a simple name—the 5 corresponded to the applicable tax category in France—but a legendary pedigree. The French car competed in Group B and won several WRC races, including two in France. The R5 was sold in the U.S. as "Le Car" because numbers apparently are hard.
Cost: A 1985 Renault 5 Turbo sold on BaT last year for $136,000.
MG Metro Group B rally car
MG Metro 6R4
With a name that sounds like a fax machine, the Metro 6R4 doesn't have quite the same crossover appeal as the 959 or Sport Quattro. Like the 959, the 6R4 came too late to enter a Group B race, although it's definitely of the era. Formula One super team Williams helped engineer the car, which was very loosely based on the workaday Metro.
Cost: A 7-mile example failed to sell last year at the Silverstone Auction. It was expected to fetch $250,000-$300,000.
Lancia Delta S4 rally car
Lancia Delta S4
The second Lancia on our list should be the first in our dream garage. That's because the Lancia Delta S4 was an evolution of the 037, but with all-wheel drive and a twincharged engine. The Delta Integrale came later and is comparatively easier to find, but the S4 is the original homologation special and still gets our hearts going. Sadly, the S4 is also linked with the demise of Group B; Finnish driver Henri Toivonen was killed when he missed a turn in his S4 and plunged into a ravine.
Cost: A road-going 1985 Lancia S4 Stradale sold last year for more than 1 million Euros.
1984 PEUGEOT 205 T16 pops up for sale
Peugeot 205 T16
The Peugeot 205 T16 is among the most overlooked Group B cars, but also one of the most successful. The 205 Turbo 16 won the 1985 and 1986 WRC campaigns. The 205 T16 homologation cars had nothing in common with the pedestrian 205 hatchbacks—a true special.