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Attack of the Killer Bs

Story by Johan Dillen • Photos by Dirk de Jager

Pinch us. Tell us that this is only a dream: Our convoy consists not only of the Audi Sport quattro but a Renault 5 Turbo, a Peugeot 205 T16 and a Lancia Delta S4 Stradale as well. Dream or not, we are definitely taking a trip through time with four of the most mythical cars of the ’80s: the street-legal homologation versions of four Group B rally giants. These are some of the wildest road cars ever produced.

Dinosaurs in a Ghost Town

These four cars originated out of Group B homologation regulations. If a manufacturer wanted to compete in the top rung of the World Rally Championship between 1982 and 1986, then they had to follow the Group B regulations. To tie the race cars to the street versions, FISA ruled that at least 200 production examples had to be made.

During the Group B era power climbed quickly, going from 300 horsepower to above 500-too much for the time. People died, and in 1986 FISA called time on Group B. With it, street-legal Stradales such as these were buried, heading into collections or museums.

But today, the dinosaurs are coming out to get some air. They’re getting collector attention, too, with Gooding & Company recently getting $440,000 for a Lancia Delta S4 Stradale. (If there’s any consolation, it didn’t quite meet estimate.)

The town where we have gathered the formidable four is a ghost town, waiting to be sacrificed for the expansion of one of Europe’s biggest ports. People have moved, and abandoned houses are waiting for the bulldozers to come.

It seems fitting then, that here is where these beasts have come out of hiding. They idle impatiently, desperate to rip the road to pieces. Kicking up gravel is in their DNA.

Renault Project 822

Let’s get to the Renault 5 Turbo first. In its civilian form in the U.S. it was known as Le Car-a simple front-drive econobox. But in Europe, some engineers saw more. They figured that the brand’s first small steps with turbocharged engines in Formula 1 could have some significance in rally as well.

After the glory days of the Alpine A110, Lancia had outsmarted Renault in 1974 with their Ferrari-engined Stratos. Payback was coming from France, and the seeds were planted in 1976 with a secret project given the number 822. (Group B was still some time away, with the rally-ready Renault 5 initially homologated under the previous Group 4 rules; later on it received Group B homologation.)

Renault took the 1.4-liter engine that existed in the Renault 5 Alpine and turbocharged it. For the body and chassis, Renault contracted Bertone and Marcello Gandini. All was changed: The engine was moved behind the driver, and power was sent to the rear wheels. Extra cooling demands led to wide rear-wheel arches. To lower the curb weight, aluminum was used for the roof panel, the doors and the deck lid.

In 1981 the creation was presented at the Brussels Motor Show, its 1.4-liter engine boosted to 160 horsepower in road-going trim. It looked exacdy as quick as it turned out to be, with a top speed of 210 kph and killing the 400 meters (quarter-mile) and 1000 meters in 15 seconds and 27.8 seconds, respectively.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

The Renault 5 Turbo delivers an angry bark when its ignition key is turned. At the same time, its driver is looking at some very dated French plastics screaming in red and blue, the only available colors at the time.

Once moving, the Renault demonstrates the most turbo lag of these four, but it also feels very authentic. Once the turbo is spinning, the Renault is actually huge fun. As you climb through the revs, the engine note becomes even more raw.

This pocket rocket generously distributes confidence, as long as the driver respects the physics of a short-wheelbase, mid-engined supermini. No lifting of the gas in fast corners if you want to keep your pants dry. Surprisingly it has a smooth gearbox, better than modern Renaults, even. Only the brakes are to be treated with caution.

The engine layout quickly warms up the cabin. The sweet aroma of warm motor oil follows it. Practical it is not; it could only fit a baguette behind the engine cover. However, maybe eight separate runs to the bakery for Sunday breakfast would actually not be such a bad idea in this car-especially in this one, No. 324 of the 1678 examples built between 1980 and 1982.

The Quattro Phenomenon

Renault may have stunned the competition by turning their modest 5 into a mean street fighter, but Audi was quick to point out that the French forgot one important innovation: four-wheel drive. After Jean Ragnotti won the 1982 Tour of Corsica in the Renault 5 Turbo, Audi took over with their quattro Coupe.

However, the quattro Coupe also had a large portion of the longitudinally placed, 2.1-liter, five-cylinder turbo hanging in front of the front axle. Cue a lot of pendulum moves on gravel and left-foot braking to kill the understeer.

Audi’s solution was to come up with a shortened wheelbase and wider track, for which XL-sized fenders were necessary. Meet the Sport quattro.

Despite Audi’s intentions, handling wasn’t dramatically improved. “I actually preferred the longer wheelbase quattro,” 1984 world champion Stig Blomqvist once said. In fact, he only switched to the short-wheelbase Sport quattro after he was certain that he had the championship in the bag. “The quattro Sport was a handful on gravel,” he also said. “Not because of the extra power, but the balance made it unpredictable.”

The Sport quattro also used Kevlar panels for the fenders and roof. Its 300 or so horsepower allowed it to reach 100 kilometers in 4.8 seconds—extremely quick, even by today’s standards.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

In this company, the Sport quattro certainly seems the most sedate. The interior feels roomy and well- finished. It even has a back seat and a sizable trunk.

This particular 1985 Sport quattro looks and feels brand new. It has just 47,000 kilometers, and the current owner bought it five years ago from the first one. It is unrestored and looks just stunning.

It is also the easiest to drive. It even has power steering connected to a very standard-looking Audi steering wheel. As long as you take it easy, it feels every bit like a regular road car-that is, until you decide to push it further.

For one, the Sport quattro beats the Renault for the award for best soundtrack. As it explores the rev range all the way to its 7200 rpm limit, it delivers a roar that would make any animal within earshot think a predator is on the prowl.

The engine is wildly addictive, begging for yet another shift through the gearbox. This, however, is the easy part. As you shift from the gas pedal to the brakes, the Sport quattro starts moving around on its suspension a bit.

It requires a delicate touch, especially when you start thinking about the fact that of the 224 Sport quattros that Audi produced, only 164 were sold to customers. The last thing we would want to do is lower the number of existing Sport quattros by another digit.

Peugeot Outsmarts Audi

Audi showed that their quattro technology held an advantage in Group B rally. Peugeot simply raised the bar with the 1983 showing of their four-wheel-drive 205 Turbo 16. It was wicked, it was wild- and it definitively bested Audi. Up until the Lancia Delta S4 appeared towards the end of 1985, Peugeot dominated the World Rally Championship.

The form of the standard 205, Europe’s most popular front-drive hatchback, is still recognizable and benefits from a steroids injection that has pumped up the wheel arches to unlikely muscular proportions. The 205 Turbo 16 looks almost as wide as it is long. Just as with the Renault 5 Turbo, it also surrenders the rear seats, with the engine positioned behind a fixed firewall.

However, Peugeot took the whole concept even further: The only things the Turbo 16s body has in common with a standard 205 are the headlights, radiator grille, windshield and the rear lights—oh, and the door handles. Where the Sport quattro still has a very normal bonnet up front, the whole rear section of the 205 Turbo 16 hinges upwards to reveal a tubular rear skeleton; it’s where the engine is awkwardly positioned behind the passenger seat.

Just as Renault did, Peugeot ordered the body parts from Heuliez, but assembly took place within Peugeot’s Poissy factory. All of the 201 examples were finished in grey with characteristic red striping.

For power, Peugeot took their 1.7-liter, four-cylinder engine and bolted on a big KKK turbo. In rally trim it easily pushed along 350 horsepower, but no such luck for the street version. Even though 200 horsepower was a respectable output in the early ’80s, a zero-to-100 kph time of 6.8 seconds is only a tenth quicker than the Renault.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Some of the 205 Turbo 16’s interior bits seem familiar, like the steering wheel that Peugeot nicked from the 205 GTi hot hatch. The gearshift knob is every bit like the one you will find in a modest 205 as well.

But the instruments definitely speak rally, sporting a big orange warning light that alerts you when things might become very expensive. In the middle you’ll also find a turbo boost gauge next to the tach that indicates a 7500 rpm redline.

When it’s time to move, this one is very reluctant to get going. This particular engine was just rebuilt, as this car spent more than 10 years in hiding in a French barn. Below 3000 rpm it is stubborn as a mule—and then the turbo kicks in.

The 205 Turbo 16 only makes power in a very limited part of the rev range, but fortunately you can count on a perfect gearbox to guide you along. But in the end, you can’t help feeling that the road version is not quite the same legend as the rally-Peugeot.

Then Lancia Goes Over the Top

Don’t be fooled by the Martini livery: This is still the street version. However, it’s the only one of the nearly 70 copies of the Delta S4 Stradale delivered in Monte Carlo rally trim–and as such it was displayed in an Austrian museum until it found a new home.

No matter what the livery, however, this is the car that represents all the lunacy that Group B displayed by the time we had reached 1985. It was the answer Lancia had been developing since 1983, with the rear-wheel drive Lancia 037 never being more than a stopgap– albeit a successful one during its 1982–’83 model run.

With the Delta S4 Stradale, Lancia wanted to trump all the others and went completely bonkers in a skunk works setup inside the Abart buildings in Turin. Not only did the Delta S4 get a turbo but also a mechanical supercharger for low-end torque. Legend says that 500 horsepower was easy; about 1000 was said to be possible.

Lancia employed four-wheel drive–the “normal” street Delta only received front- drive–but maintained very much a 70/30 rear-wheel drive bias. The chassis was a full-tube affair.

Then there was the Stradale, the homologated Group B street version, of which in the end only some 70 models were sold to private customers. It kept things relatively sane at 246 horsepower for 1270 kilos of bodyweight. It hit 100 kph in 6 seconds flat and worked itself to a top speed of 225 kph. In reality, it is not even in the same league as the rest.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

The Delta S4 Stradale actually has a beautifully finished interior with Alcantara seats. It’s a stylish destroyer. It is also the only one here with a dogleg-type, five-speed gearbox. As you start it, it turns out a lot of mechanical noises. On the go, it puffs and hisses like no other. And as you go looking for the 7500 rpm redline, it howls.

This is an old-school 4×4, so to get it off the line it needs plenty of gas. Through town, it bucks like a bronco that just caught a sniff of the prairie. It foregoes power steering so it is actually quite heavy in traffic. But find an open road, hit 4000 rpm, and the turbo sends you to the back of your seat. It does not do subtle. The more revs, the happier the Lancia becomes.

But come off the gas, and the Delta S4 darts left–or maybe to the right. You need to keep it in check at all times. Fortunately it power slides nicely. Shaving off speed actually requires quite a big effort on the brake pedal.

The Lancia turned out to be responsible for the undoing of Group B some 30 years ago. They are now even more out of place, but they have lost none of their attraction–and probably never will.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
fidelity101
fidelity101 SuperDork
10/5/17 12:46 p.m.

I need a towel...

SaltyDog
SaltyDog Reader
10/5/17 1:21 p.m.

I was expecting Mopar content......sad

Trackmouse
Trackmouse SuperDork
10/5/17 1:52 p.m.
SaltyDog said:

I was expecting Mopar content......sad

And they delivered so much more!

pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
10/5/17 4:02 p.m.

Where is the video?  I need to hear them.

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
10/5/17 7:21 p.m.

yes, if you talk about Group B, all you hear are the Audi fanboys screaming "Quattro!". While the Lancia was the last and biggest hurrah of the class.  I would still love to import a Lancia Delta Integrale, just so I could sit behind the wheel and think of those heady gasoline fueled daze

JFX001
JFX001 UberDork
10/5/17 8:28 p.m.

I need more RS200.

759NRNG
759NRNG Dork
10/5/17 9:43 p.m.

Why is this here as well as the Classic motorsports forum?

SkinnyG
SkinnyG SuperDork
10/5/17 10:08 p.m.

Not the Anthrax I was expecting....

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
10/6/17 8:38 a.m.
759NRNG said:

Why is this here as well as the Classic motorsports forum?

That's weird. I don't see it on the Classic forum.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/6/17 9:37 a.m.
SkinnyG said:

Not the Anthrax I was expecting....

Good album. 

759NRNG
759NRNG Dork
10/6/17 10:27 a.m.
Ed Higginbotham said:
759NRNG said:

Why is this here as well as the Classic motorsports forum?

That's weird. I don't see it on the Classic forum.

'who here also likes killer B's'.....was the other tag line and my bad it was started here not classic wink

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