The legend the WRC almost created

The World Rally Championship has made icons of a number of automotive brands, and it came close to making one more.

Girardo Overlay [White]

It’s unlikely that any manufacturer has gained more brand awareness from the World Rally Championship than Subaru. The 1990s’ Subaru Impreza remains revered to this day.

There’s no doubt that Colin McRae, and his eponymous video game, played a big part in that. But so did the iconic electric blue and florescent yellow livery.

Another manufacturer, competing in the WRC at the same time, might have been on the path towards emulating that success if it had stuck around longer.

Seat was turning itself into a popular, sporty brand in the 1990s, and central to that was its rallying program. For electric blue, read bright yellow. For Impreza, read – initially – Ibiza.

The two-wheel-drive ‘Formula 2’ Ibiza Kit Car won the World 2-Litre Championship for Makes three years running between 1996 and ’98. Then it was time to step up to a full-blown, four-wheel-drive World Rally Car program with the larger Cordoba – still bedecked in yellow, of course.

Debuted in Finland, 1998, the Cordoba even used a transmission system supplied by Prodrive – builder of the Impreza. But, other than the fact it looked great, the similarity pretty much stopped there.

Rally New Zealand Auckland (NZ) 15-18 07 1999

In this terrific shot from the Girardo & Co. Archive, Harri Rovanperä – father of Kalle, no less – is piloting his Cordoba through the sweeping turns of Rally New Zealand in 1999. He ran eighth overall before the car succumbed to an oil-pressure problem.

Team-mate Toni Gardemeister brought his home in third – the car’s first WRC podium. But that would be as good as it got. Rovanperä matched the result on Rally GB later that year, and one-time world champion Didier Auriol did likewise on the Safari in 2000.

At the height of manufacturer involvement in the modern era, results were tough to come by and Seat withdrew from the championship after only two-and-a-half years at the top level.

Perhaps, like Peugeot did with its 206 – Seat should have found an inventive way of making the hot-hatch Ibiza reach the WRC’s minimum length requirements. Then maybe it might just have become as iconic as the Subaru Impreza.