Motorsport in general has always attracted the thrill-seekers amongst us. The tight and unforgiving turns of an F1 circuit, the speed and tenacity of NASCAR racing. However, above all else, it is perhaps rally car racing that provides the true edge of your seat experience. The brushes with danger that sparks our intrigue, sense of adventure and hidden daredevil sensibilities. Watching a beautifully made rally car tear through snow, gravel and similar unforgiving terrain is up there amongst the best spectator sports experiences to exist. As always in motorsport, some cars will stand out more than others. This week at Rear View Prints for our car culture edition, we’re going to examine some of the best rally cars ever made. Some will be famous for unorthodox design and subsequent influence on the sport, others just for pure glory and accolades. We’re going to round them all up and give them the marvel and praise they deserve.
Widely regarded as the best looking rally car of all time, with the Stratos it’s fair to say there is more than immediately meets the eye. Powered by the Ferrari Dino V6, the car was made in Italy and went on to win the World Rally Championship an impressive three times in a row from 1974 to 1976. The legend of the Stratos remains so big it’s commonly referred to as the rally world’s version of a supercar. Its influence in pop culture can be felt far and wide, perhaps most comically appearing in cult cartoon Transformers in the form of Wheeljack, who transformed himself into a 1976 Group 5 Stratos Turbo done up in an Alitalia livery. When it comes to the best rally cars ever made, few have as much strong and lasting influence as the Stratos.
Driven by Colin McRae to its peak potential, and famously as his last ride before his untimely death. The Ford Focus has become a staple over the years for its tough grit and endurance, taking on flips, rolls and catastrophic damage and still making it out on the other side and finishing the race. Despite the first generation of this iconic model not winning the World Rally Championship, it still managed to outpace it’s competition in more than a few races during its debut year, setting the tone for success further down the line. It enjoys a lasting legacy in modern racing, easily positioning itself into the discussion for best rally car ever made.
A cult favourite and a staple for younger fans of rally racing, the Blue Scooby is perhaps the perfect definition of a modern day rally car. Driven by a wide range of legendary names including Colin McRae and Richard Burns, the Subaru World Rally team was able to capture World Rally Championship glory in three consecutive years of 1995, 1996 and 1997. The car’s signature blue and yellow livery became synonymous with success during the 1990s, collecting 155 rally titles over various iterations. The Subaru Impreza truly became a household name in motorsport, with even non rally fans recognising the blue silhouette from a mile off. Perhaps that’s not enough to crown it the best rally cars ever made, but it certainly deserves a mentions amongst the greats.
By DeFacto – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52893289
Winning more than 25 races to date, not many people expected this cult peoples car to turn out to be so perfectly suited for rally racing. During the 1960s going up against the big boys of Renault and Ford, this spitfire of a vehicle won the legendary Monte Carlo rally three separate times in 1964, 65 and 67’. The Mini Cooper was most notable for its ability to gracefully take tight corners that its competitors had to very slowly drift through, providing a real advantage and characterising the vehicles bulldog style pep. The cars cult status was also enhanced in pop culture due to its iconic appearance in Michael Caine’s car film blockbuster The Italian Job.
Before we wax lyrical about what the Audi Quattro was, let’s talk about what it wasn’t. A particularly successful rally car. You might think that is strange in an article about the best rally cars ever made, but let us explain. The vehicle only took home first overall in both the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ categories twice (each) in the World Rally Championship. Hardly a long list of accolades. So why is it on this list? Simple; it’s probably the most influential rally car ever made. We don’t want to overstate it’s engineering excellence, but the Audi Quattro essentially made the Lancia Stratos obsolete overnight. This was due to its iconic version of the all wheel drive system. This car already packed a punch with its unbelievable power, but the key is it was now able to utilise that more efficiently with its four powered wheels, instead of the usual two. You can celebrate the power and brilliance of the Audi Quattro along with other Group B stars in our Tribute to Group B Rally poster print.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
From influential engineering triumphs to straight up successful and legendary cars. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution will go down as one of the prosperous rally vehicles of all time and undoubtedly deserving of a spot on a list of the best rally cars ever made. Featuring an all-wheel drive and turbocharged 2.0 litre engine, this red beast was driven to four consecutive World Rally Championships from 1996 to 1999 by iconic finn racer Tommi Mäkinen. Its impression on pop culture was also felt through popular racing video-game sim Gran Turismo on the Sony Playstation, in which it featured heavily as one of the most popular cars to drive. The vehicle still enjoys being rallied today in some Group N events.
Suzuki Pikes Peak Escudo
Speaking of video game vehicles, you won’t find many more recognisable as a Gran Turismo fan than the Suzuki Pikes Peak Escudo. Featuring an absurdly overpowered 981-horsepower V-6 engine, the car quickly gained cult status and nickname “King of the Hill” for its course shortened victory at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1995. Driven by the hands of the fittingly nicknamed “Monster”, Nobuhiro Tajima. The car enjoyed further enduring cult status through the Gran Turismo video game franchise, in which it featured as one of the most powerful and most difficult cars to drive.
Peugeot 205 T16
Another Group B legend and arguably the best of the lot; the Peugeot 205 T16 set the standard for mind-blowing speed. Juha Kankunen and Timo Salonen took the car to World Rally Championship glory in 1985 and 86’ respectively. The T16 went on to find life after the Group B era in a modified state; competing in Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and winning the Paris Dakar Rally twice. Its reputation and influence is also credited with the rise of the hot hatch in Europe. It honestly possesses the type of wide range of qualities you’d look for in one of the best rally cars ever made. You can grab a version of this speed-demon for your very own in our Tribute to Group B Rally poster print.
Fiat Abarth 131
One of the last great rear drive rally cars, the Fiat 131 started life as a humble family car from Italy. Not exactly the type of contender you’d consider for the best rally car ever made. However, that is until it was transformed a homologized motorsport edition called the Abarth that went onto rule rally racing well into the late 70s. Acquiring three world championships for Fiat in 1977, 1978 and 1980, it’s reign was only stopped short by Audi’s bombshell that changed the sport of rally racing forever, and it can hardly be blamed for that!
Ford Escort RS1600
A welcome North American interruption to a European dominated sport, the Ford Escort RS1600 was one of the premier rally cars to beat in the 1960s and 70s. This staple of driving excellence gained the respect of the motorsport world being driven by Hannu Mikola during the famous London to Mexico race, better known as the World Cup of Rally in 1970. This model is still looked back upon fondly by racing fans, and almost certainly paved the way for Ford’s modern success with the Fiesta and Focus.
Renault Alpine A110
The Renault Alpine A110 makes the list of best rally cars ever made for various reasons. First and foremost, it was the winner of the inaugural World Rally Championship in 1973, bringing home the Manufacturers’ title, with the Drivers not being available until 1977. Initially operating as an independent brand just called Alpine, they were bought out by Renault due to the fantastic success they had building a purpose built rally car from a various mixture of Renault parts. It competed well from 1961 to 1977 but was ultimately outdone by the car it inspired itself, the Lancia Stratos. The A110 still enjoys lasting adoration today, with Renault recently reviving it with a new version at the 2018 Geneva Auto Show.
We couldn’t make it through a list of some of the best rally cars ever made without mentioning a Citroën model. Some will disagree with the mention of the Xsara over the C4 WRC, but that’s what opinions are all about, right? The Xsara was one of the most successful cars ever to compete in the World Rally Championship, driven to perfection by french legend Sebastian Loeb, notching up 28 wins and three impressive consecutive driver’s titles from 2004 to 2006. Citroën in general have dominated the rally scene, sharing success between the Xsara, C4 and DS3 and grabbing eight manufacturer championships in the process.
Toyota Celica GT-Four
The Toyota Celica GT-Four makes the list for a simple reason. It broke up European dominance and was the first time a Japanese manufacturer had entered the WRC with an all-wheel drive turbocharged car and managed to win trophies and take titles. It opened doors for later iconic Japanese rally cars the Subaru Legacy and Impreza, as well as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and Gallant VR-4. Although Toyota eventually left to focus efforts on F1 success, they did make a return last year in 2017 with the Yaris. They are one manufacturer all fans of the sport will enjoy seeing on the circuits.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through rally car history and run down of the best rally cars ever made, either as a long time fan or newcomer looking to gain some further insight into one of motorsports most exciting games. We’d love to hear your opinions on the subject, either in the comments section or by reaching out on social media via our twitter, facebook or instagram channels.
Remember, you can find some of the vehicles mentioned in this article in our poster and print section, so don’t forget to check that out. If you don’t see your favs, you can request a unique commission here. You’ll only be one step away from celebrating some of your favourite motors of all time!
We’ll be back for another car culture edition in a few weeks examining some of the best Ford automobiles of all time. So if you’re a fan of the red-blooded American manufacturer, make sure you don’t miss out on that.
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