What’s your favorite rally car and why? In the second of a new series, we ask some of rallying and rallycross world’s leading figures about the car which started the passion, what made it so memorable and why it deserves the recognition it got (or not!).
One car? One? DirtFish’s features guru Stephen Brunsdon is an optimistic fella. He wants me to choose my favorite rally car ever.
Little does he know, I change my mind regularly. Sometimes by the minute. Last week it was, naturally, all about Subaru’s Impreza 555. But, I’ll be honest – and this is something of an admission – if I was pushed, I’d had to admit I actually preferred the Legacy RS. Possibly in Richard Burns’ British Rally Championship-winning Elonex decals. Or Maybe a Rothmans car. But curiously my preference was the 1991 RAC livery which Markku Alén and Ari Vatanen ran – remember the one with BP on the front corners?
Actually, forget all of that. Let’s go with the one on my desk: the original white, green, blue and pink Legacy used in 1991. Even with the occasional addition of a Denim aftershave sticker down the flanks, it still looked the business. As did the drivers in their white overalls.
But then I realised this Subaru thing was just a passing phase.
If we’re going Group A, it has to be a 1994 Ford Escort RS Cosworth. The factory car with the wavey blue livery and side exhaust. Oh yeah. But what about a Q8 Sierra Cosworth RS 4×4? Have beige OZ Racing wheels ever looked so cool? No. Precisely. So the seven-speed Sapphire then?
Don’t be silly.
Haven’t you heard of Group B?
Enough of this. It’s the MG Metro 6R4. Computervision. 1985. RAC. Tony Pond.
At least, it was this morning. And into a bit of the afternoon. Not now though.
Not now I’m sitting typing this staring at a model of the #6 car on that same event.
No, seriously sticking with this one. Mr Brunsdon, I have an answer for you. Quickly, write it down before I change my mind.
It’s the Lancia Delta S4.
Of course it is. Has to be.
What springs to mind when you think of the Lancia Delta S4?
More pertinently, my cold feet. Having marched mile after mile through some woods or other, I was standing beside a tree when I saw a Lancia Delta S4 for the first time. Or I saw it through a load of other legs and torsos. We only arrived an hour early, so we were row 10 in a 10-deep line of stage-side fans.
And my feet were bloody freezing in my wellington boots. How I should have listened to my father’s advice about a third pair of socks.
The other thing that springs to mind is Henri Toivonen and what an absolute legend he was. Naturally, an extension of the mind-spring is the tragedy of the Tour de Corse in 1986, when Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto were killed.
What is it you appreciate the most about the car?
The noise and the absolute sheer brute power which came from a unique approach to Group B which included the turbocharging and supercharging of a four-cylinder 1.8-liter engine. Just saying those words: a Volumex compressor, KKK blower and Weber injection… makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. And hearing the hiss, woosh and growl remains music to my ears.
But the combination of those three engine components generated 450bhp for the 1985 RAC. And the rest… the power just kept on climbing.
The start of 1986 was truly the beginning of the Group B arms race; the start of Formula 1 in the forests.
Admiration of the car has to be balanced with admiration for the likes of Toivonen and Alén. The S4 was a beast of a thing to drive. Talk to Alén about his time behind the wheel of one of those rocketships and you can see the colour drain from his face. Even to this day.
Don’t forget, Lancia drivers had come from the beautifully balanced 037, a car which they caressed through corners. A car which was universally loved and lived long in the memory. And they’d come to this which, insanely, weighed 100 kilos less and generated so much longitudinal g-force, drivers forgot to blink when they went off the line. It. Was. Nuts.
So, the drivers who grabbed this thing and felt the overwhelming desire to show it who was the boss between the trees are, for me, the ones genuinely worthy of the admiration.
They were the heroes. But the S4 made them what they were.
What’s your lasting memory of the Lancia Delta S4?
The Martini livery, the Torino number plate and the huge big-eared air intakes at the rear. The thing looked like a beautifully crafted, Italian designed space rocket.
Latterly, I’ve had the chance to ride in some of these cars and take a really close look behind the wheel and that’s just added to the mystique. The driver got nothing but a rev counter to look at. Nothing new there, but placing it behind that dished two-spoke Momo wheel… well, it just looked very, very special.
If I had to go with just one lasting memory, it would be of that 1985 RAC. Of a very tired-looking Toivonen arriving at the traffic lights in some town somewhere up or down Britain. Mingling with Austin Montegos and Ford Orions, the Delta S4 provided the world with a spectacular view of what our sport was all about. Sitting still, this thing looked like it was doing a million miles per hour.
And, with his balaclava pulled up on the top of his head, and a blue nomex gloved hand on top of the wheel, Toivonen was just about the coolest fella in the world. Just about… until Alén arrived three minutes later. All of the above, just with the obligatory Ray-ban Aviators on.