A most unlikely rallying hero

V8 rally cars are not a common site in Europe, but this one had all the ingredients to stir the soul

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What self-respecting gearhead doesn’t love the rumble of a V8 engine?

It’s not something most of us get to hear very often in the world of rallying though. The American Rally Association is a modern exception, with its liberal ruleset meaning almost anything goes. V8-powered beasts are not an uncommon sight on stages Stateside.

In Europe and FIA competitions, that is not the case.

But it wasn’t always so. Two rounds of the World Rally Championship have been won by V8s: the Mercedes-Benz 450SLC, and its 500SLC variant, triumphed on the Ivory Coast in 1979 and 1980, driven by Hannu Mikkola and Björn Waldegård.

The big Merc even helped Waldegård win the inaugural WRC drivers’ title in ’79, as his second place in Africa was crucial to pipping team-mate Mikkola by a single point after both had spent most of the year in Ford Escorts.

Around the same time, the British-built Triumph TR7 V8 was making waves on European asphalt, with Tony Pond taking two wins apiece at Ypres and on the Manx International.

When that was discontinued, along came the Rover SD1, using the same 3.5-litre aluminum block. It may not have been nimble, but big power and big torque – along with styling akin to the Ferrari Daytona – made it a spectacular sight.

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This week’s delve into the Girardo & Co. Archive captures Belgian all-rounder Marc Duez hurling his example through a tight right-hander on his home round of the European championship in 1985, with Pond’s regular co-driver Rob Arthur on the notes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, their challenge was halted by broken steering – it certainly took a hammering.

The big Group A car played second fiddle to Austin Rover’s Group B weapon, the MG Metro 6R4. But Pond took it to some decent results, including winning Group A on the Hunsrück and Manx ERC counters in 1984.

The SD1’s only WRC start came later that year, in Pond’s hands on the RAC – where he wrapped it round a tree on the opening stage.

A mere footnote in the annals of rallying, but one still capable of stirring emotion for those with fuel running through their veins.