Well, if you'd headed to the forests at any time during the 1980's, you might not have found a family of bears enjoying an al fresco lunch but you may have come across monsters of the automotive variety.

In motorsport history, it's hard to think of another genre of car which made quite the same impact or generated innovation in a relatively short lifespan as the rally cars of this period. Lockton's Tom Hester chose our next icon article – so we'll let him explain why.

“I was nine months old when in 1986, Group B's demise occurred, as it was just too dangerous. Three competitors lost their lives in just four years, and over thirty spectators were severely injured. It was a period that the "Motorsport is Dangerous" catchphrase on the ticket meant something. So why does it have such a cult following and why am I obsessed with that period of rally? Two things… Firstly, it produced some of the most incredible homologation specials, including the Renault R5 Turbo and the Lancia Delta Integrale. Secondly the pure speed in cars that wouldn't be in this day and age allowed even near a scrutineering bay. As motorsport goes, I don't think there has ever been a more exciting time.”

Renault 5 Turbo Maxi – courtesy of Silverstone Auctions

So, Group B – the rally cars which ultimately gave us a heady blend of the sound of turbocharged 4 cylinder engines and the almost surreal sight of cars which faintly resembled showroom models being driven at speeds that defied the laws of physics. That's before we mention the flame spitting exhausts or crowds of spectators standing within a few inches of the cars as they passed.

The story starts in 1982 with the launch of a new category of rally cars. As with many of the iconic cars we've written about already (and those to come too), homologation plays its part and for Group B, the FIA deemed that 200 road cars had to be produced in order for the model to be approved for motorsport use.

The same rules allowed manufacturers to throw huge amounts of engineering expertise and technology into creating their version of the ultimate rally machine and areas such as weight saving through the use of composite materials, turbocharging taken to extremes and fuels which at times came close to the limits of the rules. Sadly, some of these factors also contributed not only to the advancement of the cars but also their untimely demise.

It's hard to pick any one car that stands out without showing a personal bias but it's also a reflection of these incredible machines that choosing a favourite is actually a very difficult task. All enjoyed success during the era, piloted by drivers whose names are now firmly etched into the memory of anyone with a drop of petrol in their bloodstream.

Audi Quattro – courtesy of Bonhams

We'll therefore begin with the early cars. Audi's Quattro was actually conceived as a Group 4 car during the previous regulations but its success, coupled with the revolutionary inclusion of four wheel drive, was already evident by the time its third evolution gave Hannu Mikkola the 1983's driver's title.

Sadly, we've had to edit this article following the news of Mikkola's recent passing. Following retirement, he made occasional appearances behind the wheel of classic rally cars and his Audi Sport liveried car was one of many of the period that passed into automotive folklore. It's fair to say that he was one of an illustrious line of 'Flying Finns' who amazed spectators with their skill, particularly in icy conditions and won 14 driver's titles – second only to French drivers.

Audi Quattro auction tracker

Lancia Rally 037 sold by Artcurial €548,320 – © Peter Singhof

It can therefore be successfully argued that the first true Group B car to achieve success was the car that won the manufacturer's title in 1983. The crown that season headed to Italy and Lancia. They had followed the hugely successful (not to mention beautiful) Stratos with the brutal but no less wonderful 037. This car was mid-engined and rear wheel drive and was the last RWD car to win the championship. This gave parent company Fiat an almost unbroken run of titles, with the Stratos winning in 1974, 75 & 76 and its Fiat successor, the 313, claiming victory in 1977, 78 and 80.

It used supercharging rather than a turbo to produce 205bhp in roadgoing format, with competition versions producing over 320bhp in their ultimate form. Lancia also explored supercharging in their other roadgoing cars, with versions of the Beta using supercharging to create higher performance variants of coupe, estate and the wonderfully named Trevi saloon.

The 037 was light too, although construction was from steel and alloy and Lancia's decision not to equip it with 4WD made for a devastatingly effective machine on tarmac events in particular.

Lancia Rally 037 auction tracker

The rationale behind Group B's reduced limit of 200 road cars was to attract more manufacturers to enter as the cost to produce would be lower and therefore more financially viable. It seems strange 40 years later to think of such restraint during times of excess but the method worked and the 037 started a chain reaction of homologation specials lasting for an all to brief 3 years.

Audi dominated the 1984 season. Its Quattro developments were coupled with a driver line-up including defending champion Mikkola, Walter Rohrl, Stig Blomqvist and Michele Mouton (who remains the only woman to have won a world rally event) and they finished the year as both manufacture and drivers' champions, this time with Blomqvist.

The 037 managed a single win on the tarmac of the San Remo event but it was the French who gave Audi a bloody nose towards the end of the season with their own Group B entrant and a team headed by a man who went onto mastermind another team's dominance over a decade later.

Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 sold by Silverstone Auctions £336,600

Peugeot's take on Group B came in the form of its by-then highly popular 205 model. The Turbo 16 (or T16 as it became widely known) resembled the regular road car broadly but moved the engine to the rear, added 4WD and the fast-becoming-obligatory widened wheel arches to accommodate upgraded suspension. The roadgoing car left it at this but the rally variant added spoilers front and rear.

The project was headed by a newly formed division with the company, Peugeot Talbot Sport (PTS) and was headed by a gentleman named Jean Todt. In later years, he would of course be indelibly linked to the resurgence of the Ferrari Formula One team and a run of driver and team titles and this somewhat overshadowed the rally team he managed whilst with Peugeot.

Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Evolution 2 sold by Artcurial €977,440 – © Peter Singhof

The 205 won 3 of the last 4 rounds of the 1984 championship and repeated the success again for the remaining 2 years of the Group B era, with its 1986 E2 model, by this time producing over 500bhp and boasting improved aero aids and suspension.

Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 auction tracker

On the face of it, that could be where the story ends. This would do the Group B story no justice at all as despite the French company's success, they didn't simply run away with the titles – even if they dominated in 1985.

If we left the story here, we'd miss the rest of the Group B cars. We'd also be unable to recount why Group B ended prematurely. We can't leave a tale only partly told either and despite the ending being under a cloud, it needs to be recounted.

Audi Sport Quattro S1 sold by Artcurial €2,016,600 – © Peter Singhof

But firstly, the other cars. Whilst the original Quattro was a forerunner to Group B, its replacement arguably epitomised the wild image of the era. Its response to other cars was to shorten the Quattro by 320mm, mostly in its wheelbase. The reason Audi did not produce an all-new model was simple – its board were concerned that replacement of the rally car might have an adverse impact on road car sales. This was a solid argument, given the success the “standard” Quattro was enjoying as a high performance (and at that point unique) sports coupe.

The Sport Quattro was designed to handle as effectively as the newer cars but the engineers were unable to alter the car's inherent weight imbalance as the engine was set forward of the front axle (in this respect the Sport was identical to the original). This made the Sport understeer in much the same way as its predecessor but the shortened wheelbase made the car less stable – hence why many are seen being driven sideways more than in a straight line in period footage.

A power delivery at high revs also gave drivers a challenge and later evolutions made use of an early version of Porsche's PDK transmission – extremely useful where an increased rate of gearchanges were required on most rally stages.

The first Sport produced around 450bhp and the last E2 version, complete with enormous front and rear spoilers, a scarcely believable 590bhp and around 500kgs of downforce courtesy of said spoilers; whilst the Sport Quattro was never able to mount a decisive challenge to the 205, many would argue that the sight and sound of the E2 on a rally stage “was” Group B.

Audi Sport Quattro auction tracker

Not to be outdone, Lancia set about creating its own challenger. It took the Delta hatchback as its starting point but the end result was possibly one of the most extreme as the Delta S4 bore little resemblance to the 5-door family hatchback.

Lancia Delta S4 sold by RM Sotheby's £764,375 – Diana Varga ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

Launched in late 1985, the aim was simple – to knock the 205 from its podium the following season and it was entered the last round of the 1985 campaign where it promptly scored a 1-2 finish, underlining its potential for success.

Mechanically, the S4 took the level of technology being used in Group B to new levels, combining supercharging and a turbocharger (twincharging) to produce a frankly mind boggling power output of up to around 880bhp – the McLaren MP4/2B which won the 1985 Formula One title produced around 850….

Regular competition cars produced somewhere around 550 with overall weight hovering around the 1000kg mark, producing a power to weight ratio greater than that of a Bugatti Veyron (we had to double check that one too!). Some cars weighed as little as 890 but proved too fragile for the rigours of rally use. Lancia used composite materials extensively throughout the body and the chassis was made lighter by the use of thinner metal – a factor which undoubtedly led to the end of the Group B era the following year.

Lancia Delta S4 auction tracker

Austin Rover had enjoyed much rallying success in previous decades. The Mini was one of the giant killing and iconic rally cars of the 1960's and the TR7 V8 and Rover V8 had enjoyed solid, if less spectacular success through the 70's. That's before we mention Austin Healey's many victories in the 1950's and 60's.

MG Metro 6R4 – courtesy of Silverstone Auctions

Its Group B contender was based on the Austin Metro – the car designed to replace the Mini, a job it didn't quite manage as the Mini outlived the Metro ultimately. It did however produce what must be the most startling transformation as out of all the contenders, the Metro's image was not as sporting as the 205 or Quattro and neither was it a car having little in common with its roadgoing sibling like the Delta S4 or Ford's own effort (more on that one in a moment).

It was simply a Metro, similar to the one your Grandparents drove, but with the usual box wheelarches, huge rear wing plus a V6 engine where the back seats would usually be found.

The car first appeared in 1984 in UK rally events and despite some mechanical hiccups, it was proved to be very fast and clearly had potential to challenge the front runners.

Throughout 1985, the car was developed – much of the delay was due to the engine being improved, from the original which was a Rover V8 with 2 cylinders removed (yes, really) to a 3 litre 24 valve unit designed by an ex-Cosworth engineer. A different route to the 4 cylinder turbocharged units used by other manufacturers, the car produced just over 400bhp in competition specification.

The car debuted at the 1985 Lombard RAC event – a perfect setting for the British contender. It finished third, behind the new Delta S4 pairing.

MG Metro 6R4 auction tracker

Sadly, the car was plagued by mechanical issues during the 1986 season and was unable to improve on this performance. It achieved greater success during life after Group B but more on this towards the end of our story.

Ford RS200 sold by Bonhams £264,583

We mentioned Ford and their RS200 was developed specifically for Group B; its only links to any roadgoing Ford were Sierra rear lights, switchgear and trim inside. The engine was carried over from Ford's Escort RS1700T – the car originally designed as their Group B entry and based around the familiar Escort platform (with the associated marketing that this would bring) but abandoned when it became clear that a turbocharged 4WD platform would be the only way to challenge the competition.

Ford RS200 auction tracker

The car was not launched until the start of what would be the last season in 1986 and despite F1 derived technology via its design team, it failed to win an event although many felt that as a car designed from the outset as a rally machine, it had greater potential for development than any of its rivals.

Citroën BX 4TC sold by Artcurial €63,798 – © Peter Singhof

The final Group B car we look at comes from another French car maker – this time Citroen and after the Metro its BX4TC might be the next quirkiest car on our list. The BX was Citroen's mid-sized hatchback which in roadgoing form was seen by many as the company's first step towards the conventional after many years of innovative design.

Sadly for Citroen, the car launched again into the final season of the era and the car was seen as underdeveloped as unlike its Peugeot cousin, it was more conservative in concept and as a result hampered by simply being nowhere near as competitive as intended.

Citroën BX 4TC auction tracker

There is a rather gloomy sense of where the story heads to next.

The 1985 season had already proved what many had been saying – that the cars were getting too fast, the risks increasing to an unacceptable level. In May that year, Italian Attilio Bettega lost his life during the Corsica event at the wheel of a 037.

Competition between the rivals at the front of the pack was intense; allegations of rule bending were commonplace, even as far as one team alleging that a badly damaged car was switched for a course car to enable it to finish by another team. Tales of cars being lightened illegally were equally rife.

The cars were getting more powerful, lighter and massively faster, the crowds ever bigger as the spectacle became ever more exciting and 1986 saw two accidents which left the FIA with little option but to cancel Group B at the end of the season.

In March, a Ford RS200 lost control and hit a crowd of spectators, killing 3 and injuring over 30 and less than 2 months later a crash claimed the lives of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresta in a Delta S4; the former being one of the sport's undoubted superstars and, much like the late Gilles Villeneuve, a driver almost certain to have otherwise become a world champion.

So the era of the monstrous Group B rally car ended before it had really begun; all we have now are videos of the cars, the noise, the flames and the drivers.

The period was also a gold mine for the marketing divisions, with adverts regularly pairing the Group B model with its closest roadgoing relative and the excitement surrounding the rally cars without doubt helped sell cars such as the Delta HF and 205 GTi.

It didn't mean the end of rallying but the cars became more conventional, certainly slower and the crowds were kept at a safer distance.

Lancia developed their regular Delta into one of the most successful rally cars, claiming six consecutive titles from 1987.

Peugeot, Ford, Citroen and Austin Rover all but disappeared as front runners in the immediate aftermath but continued to enter teams or develop cars for customer entry.

Peugeot turned its attention to events such as the Pikes Peak hillclimb, with the last evolution of the 205 and it claimed 2nd/3rd/4th places at the 1987 event, winning it the two following years with the evolved 405 T16 – another monstrous rally machine.

Long distance rallying also saw Peugeot success, again with both an evolved 205 and latterly 405 between 1987 and 1990.

The early 1990's saw the onslaught of the Japanese manufacturers, with Toyota, Mitsubishi and Subaru claiming the championship between 1993 and 1999 before European car makers reclaimed the crown, including Sebastian's Loeb's record breaking 9 consecutive titles with Citroen – plus a world record time set at Pikes Peak driving a specially developed Peugeot 208.

The cars that followed did eventually become faster, the drivers no less heroic. Who can forget the emotion of watching our own Colin McRae and Richard Burns claiming WRC championships or indeed Loeb's incredible run of skill and consistency?

None have managed to be quite as spectacular, as fearsome or as iconic as the Group B monsters and many of the cars lived on. Most were homologated to produce the required 200 road cars (although some were made as the rules became more relaxed – only around 150 Delta S4 road cars were made for example).

Many lived on as privateer rally cars and latterly rallycross, where power outputs climbed higher and for several years after the demise of Group B, the 205 T16 and Metro 6R4 in particular achieved European Rallycross championship titles.

Nowadays, many ex works cars reside in museums and private collections and are used sparingly for demonstrations. Some are used for competitive events but rarely, and values of all Group B cars have remained strong in recent years.

Whenever Group B cars are offered for sale or auction, interest is high and sale results strong – it seems that whilst tinged with sadness, these incredible machines remain close to the heart of many motoring enthusiasts.

Where preservation of value is important and an understanding of the importance of any Group B car is vital, you need an insurance broker who can deliver. If you are fortunate enough to own one (or indeed more) of these cars, then talk to us today.

Top 10 Group B auction results Result Auction House Location Date
Audi Sport Quattro S1 € 2,016,600 Artcurial Paris 05.02.21
Lancia Delta S4 Stradale € 1,040,000 RM Sotheby's Germany 11.04.19
Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Evolution 2 € 977,440 Artcurial Paris 05.02.21
Lancia Delta S4 £764,375 RM Sotheby's London 24.10.19
Lancia Delta S4 € 810,560 Artcurial Paris 05.02.21
Lancia Delta S4 € 770,000 RM Sotheby's Online 22.07.20
Lancia Rally 037 Stradale € 770,000 RM Sotheby's Germany 11.04.19
Renault 5 Turbo Maxi € 667,520 Artcurial Paris 05.02.21
Lancia Rally 037 Stradale ¥70,400,000 BH Auction Japan 07.09.19
Lancia Rally 037 € 548,320 Artcurial Paris 05.02.21