Retrospective: Group A.

Group B’s younger sister deserves some time to shine.

As a car enthusiast, I’m used to people glorifying the days of Group B in rallying.

For those of you who don’t know, “Group B” was a category of rally racing in the 1980s, and consisted of some of the most insane rally cars in history.

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Cars like the Audi Quattro and severely lax crowd controls meant Group B will always remain in the history books.

The speed was high and crowd control was low – spend some time on YouTube and you’ll see just how batshit insane Group B rallying was. Footage of Lancia 037s and Audi Quattros flying through crowds of spectators literally inches away is not hard to find – in fact, it’s commonplace. Group B has practically become a household name, and will forever be kept fondly in the hearts of motorsport enthusiasts the world over.

Almost as fast as the cars themselves, by 1986 Group B rally was gone, after only four years of existence. Two fatalities of drivers and too many meetings of cars and crowds meant that the class was simply just too dangerous to continue. The FIA decided a replacement was in order – enter Group A.

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Group A also created one of the longest running rivalries in the car world – Mitsubishi and Subaru.

Group A rules applied to both rallying and circuit racing – however, for this I’ll be revolving mainly around rallying, since I’m comparing it to Group B. Apples and Oranges, and all that.

For the most part, Group A rally cars were based on turbocharged, four wheel drive road cars. And this is why, personally, I think Group A is more interesting than Group B. This article isn’t to inform you of what Group A is about – no, that’s something that’s been covered a million times over. This is about why I personally prefer Group A to Group B, which is an opinion that is likely to be in the minority. Allow me to explain.

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See? Looks just like the 306 you see parked on the street, right? Source.

Group A’s restrictions on cars were much more strict than they were on Group B. Well, that’s a given, since they didn’t really want casualties on their hands again. Restrictions on body kits, on power, and on the amount of cars that had to built meant that it made more sense for manufacturers to base their rally cars on their average run-of-the-mill cars that they sell to the masses every day.

This meant that your mum’s Renault Clio or your dad’s Escort suddenly became a hell of a lot cooler.

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Suddenly every Mk5 Escort in the country donned a “whale tail” as everyone wanted in on the Group A action. Source.

Watching footage of the Megané Maxi racing around tarmac roads in Corsica gave everybody from the local hairdresser to the budding racing driver’s car some credibility. When you hopped behind the wheel of your car, you became Didier Auriol. Carving up roads pretending you were the next McRae, it gave us hope.

Group B cars were based on cars that were still out of reach for the common man. Not everybody could afford an Audi Quattro. Hell, Ford purposely made the RS200 specifically for rallying and then decided, hey, we could make a road car out of this. Where’s the fun in that? Group A made the road car into a rally car. A lot of road cars.

 

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Mk2 Golf Group A rally car – looks just the same as my own Mk2s. Source.

Stricter rules meant reduced costs. Reduced costs meant everybody decided to have a go at rallying. It wasn’t just for the high class anymore – Proton, Volkswagen, Subaru – any manufacturer worth their salt decided that rallying was a good marketing plan.  This also meant special editions of cars were in order. Escort Cosworth. Clio Williams. Impreza WRX STI. Cult classics, and cars that are now sky rocketing in value as people come to appreciate Group A more and more.

I’m not saying that you have to think that Group A is better than Group B – that’s completely down to personal opinion. But if you want extremely competitive racing with cars that you can see driving down the street every day, give Group A a try.

I promise, you’ll never look at your 90s Corolla the same again. It’s no longer a cheap runaround – it’s a fully fledged rally beast.

 

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