“What’s your favorite car?” When I am confronted by the local-news paparazzi on Power Tour or any other major event, that is the most asked question. My answer? “Camaro.” The real answer is any Group B rally car from the mid-1980s. Here’s why.
Before Formula D, Ken Block, Roadkill, or four-wheel-drive yellow/blue WRXs, there was the World Rally Championship (WRC). Started in 1973, the WRC brought together rallies from all over the world under one sanctioning body. As is the case with all popular forms of racing, WRC quickly evolved from grassroots fun in the snow and mud to an international battleground for manufacturers to prove their equipment’s mettle. By the 1980s, battleships like the Audi Quattro showed the WRC that four-wheel drive and unlimited boost was both a good way to get through the forest and immensely entertaining to the crowds, despite the dangers to both themselves and the drivers. Group B was born in 1982 as the top class for manufacturers to build lethal vehicles with spurious lineage and 500–600 hp. Four years later, the cars were banned from racing.
Group B is everything I like about cars. It had hero drivers like Michèle Mouton, a grim, no-nonsense shoe for Audi Sport, who shocked the male-dominated WRC by winning three events and placing second in the championship. An unflinching badass behind the wheel, she raced, won, then dropped the mic and retired with the Group B cars in 1986.
The class had insane vehicles. The howling, five-cylinder Audi engine was designed to stay in the boost at all times, igniting the mixture in the pipes during full-throttle shifts for gigantic shotgun blasts of flame at 8,000 rpm. The Group B cars also ushered in dog-ring, inline, and sequential gearbox experiments to the sport. Anything to leave the throttle on the floor and maintain momentum.
Outside of steely eyed drivers wearing lipstick and on-fire powerplants, Group B had conspiracy-theory corporate politics and buckets of money thrown at racing for the sake of ego and hubris. Group A was for selling people movers to parents who live where it might snow. Group B was for speed junkies and hard-line enthusiasts. WRC’s leader at the time was the legendary Jean-Marie Balestre, a rules-driven French auto-racing executive who would later become famous for his driver-meeting showdowns with Ayrton Senna in Formula 1. He ran the rally’s sanctioning body at the dawn of FISA in 1970–1971 then in the Group B years and finally as FIA 1985. He was often seen with Bernie Eccelstone and Enzo Ferrari, representing the wealth and power of the European elite.
Finally, Group B humbles everyone by proving your cars are slow, your nerves are aluminum instead of steel, and there is no way you could drive a Group B car. Many have tried. It’s safer to just watch them on the internet.
Watch and learn!
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