The Ford RS200 is part of class B rallying cars; cars for motorsports almost as old as automobiles. When cars were still relatively new, it was mostly the upper class who owned them. Rallies were considered sporting events for the elite. In 1911, Raylle Monte Carlo started. Drivers were required to obey traffic laws because these events took place on public roadways. The sport evolved in the 1960s, when drivers competed on closed streets, allowing them to go as fast as possible. As the sport grew, many car manufacturers capitalized on its popularity and began designing cars specifically for the sport. The 1960s started the time known as the "golden age" of rallying. The Lancia was the first rally car, and it was manufactured from 1974 to 1976. During this time, another vehicle, the Renault, set high standards for future rallying cars. As the 1980s began, so did another class of rallying cars, Class B.
The Class B standards differed significantly from those of Group 4 like the Lancia and Renault. The regulations were designed to encourage more manufacturers to produce this type of car because they could do so more quickly without relying on a current production model. There are very few titles that have the same historical weight as Group B. The legendary, overpowered rally series of the 1980s launched some of the fastest, most powerful, and most capable race cars ever built, thanks to the wonders of homologation. These street-legal production versions can only be described as personal rally machines. The Audi Quatro, Peugeot 205 T16, and Lancia Delta all used parts from other vehicles which had already cleared the assembly line. The Ford RS200, on the other hand, was designed from bumper to windshield with elements never seen before on a Ford and never duplicated on another vehicle. The drive train was one of the craziest things about the Ford RS200. According to MSN, "It was if the Romans took gladiators, put them in 550-hp chariots and set them loose in the woods with a million spectators." Although this sounds like mayhem, the only thing more daring were the people who drove The Ford RS200.
History of the Ford RS200
According to classic cars, the Ford RS200's engine was a Cosworth 1.8 turbocharged inline mounted in the middle. The gearbox was near the front axel. The vehicle's power went back to a central differential with the rear to front torque split. Filpo Sano designed the Ford RS200 at Ghia. It had a fiberglass body created by Reliant. Tony Southgate and John Wheeler, who had backgrounds in Formula One development, designed the chassis. It had a mid-mounted engine in the rear and all-wheel drive. For better weight distribution, the Ford RS200's transmission was located behind the front axle. Brian Hart designed the custom aluminum block. He created it so the turbo system upgrades would support more boost. Of all the Class B Rally vehicles, the Ford RS200 is the most notable since it was not built from any of the company's existing street cars.
Failing the class
Unfortunately, the goal of these vehicles was simple, to meet FIA homologation regulations, so the car had a short production time, only three years. The primary reason for this was a high number of accidents and fatalities. The worst accident occurred during the Rallye de Portugal. Midway down the SS1, Joaquim Santos lost control of the vehicle, resulting in a severe crash. Thirty people were injured. Sadly, three people were killed instantly, and a fourth died later in the hospital. There are conflicting reports about the crash. Santos and his co-driver Miguel Olivera weren't sure if the spectators or the machine resulted in the fatal accident, Santos's first race with the Ford RS200. Many people believed that his lack of experience with the vehicle, and his desire to impress the crowd, were the real causes.
In the wake of everything that happened, the factory team drivers withdrew from the rally. They felt it was the spectators who caused the crash. FISA threatened them with sanctions if they did not return to the rally. One of the things they wanted to do was change regulations to prevent these accidents from happening again. Unfortunately, in 1986 another fatal accident happened in the Ford RS200. Michel Wyder, Marc Surer's co-driver, was killed. Surer was in a coma for three weeks after the crash. Like Santos, this was his first time in the Ford RS200.
The Fall of Group B
Although the Group B rally vehicles turned street racing into a spectator sport, it also led to hazardous conditions. The speed of these vehicles created dangerous situations for the spectators and the drivers. According to rally group shrine, one of the most profound examples was in Portugal. During one race, almost half a million people liked to dodge the cars for fun. Additionally, having this many people made crowd control impossible. The large crowds also created another issue. As they walked around, sand and dirt went onto the stage, leading to slick surfaces that led to a loss of control.
Even though the "golden age" of rallying ended in 1987, the Group B designs influenced car designers. Many people who build cars have replicated the models as a tribute to the sport. Some Group B models are still used in vintage racing, rallycross, and hill climb events. The Ford RS200 wasn't highly regarded during its short production. According to Road and Track, RM Sotheby reported the last car to be made didn't sell until 1994, eight years after production ended. Car enthusiasts who know the history of the vehicle see it as a legend and a dismal failure. However, these cars are still highly prized. Chris Harris said, "But too many people, me included, it still kind of defines Group B, a form of motorsport that captured the imagination so profoundly, that companies like Ford felt compelled to drop millions developing a car that didn't offer tangible marketing crossover into a production car."
Written by Dominique Scappucci
Read more posts by Dominique Scappucci