Saturday, 22 January 2011


When you create a legend you'd better not break strings attached to it if fearing oblivion.

Recent car magazines feature the Lancia Stratos and the Audi Quattro prototypes on their cover. Impressive, massively famed racecars from the past now becoming reality again if it correlates with God's will.

I asked myself a question in a previous post, what if this is the beginning of an end? What if this marks the end of the petrol engine? Moving on in my philosophical brainstorming I started thinking about the next possible legends to be revived. The Stratos was one legendary Group 4 car in rallying. the Quattro was another in Group B. The question was obvious. What are the legendary cars worth to revive in Group A, WRC and maybe S2000?

I believe we still have to stick rallying since track racing for these categories are too much overshadowed by higher classes of racing e.g. Formula 1, Le Mans, GT series, etc. and most of the time these are purpose-built competition cars or converted higly priced supercars that people don't even see in reality most of the time. And while WTCC is extremely exciting, there is an unconscious thought somewhere in the back of your brain: some cars could do this much faster.

So, rallying, WRC to be precise. Group A is considered to be the silver age of rallying. After Group B was banned, it was up to this class to stand up for competition in fame against F1 mainly. While the hardly gained attention to rallying started declining, the races were almost as exciting.

Fact is, the choice is quite obvious for the ultimate Group A legend, which at the same time is the ultimate rallying winner. The Lancia Delta Integrale. Winning 6 (SIX!) titles on the trot, it is definitely one legendary machine in every aspects. As a road car as well. It is highly sought after even today, selling for prices as new, rally-spec. cars.

Eventhough we have the third-generation Delta on the market, it matches no resemblance to the old car. It is a stilish, luxury hatchback, very desireable indeed. But it lacks the DNA for racing. Lancia says 'delta' science stands for change and that's what they were following.

I can see that.

And it's wrong.

The old car has been so highly famed that we tend to forget other contestant, though there were many of them and some of them made quite a legacy as well. This I would call the Japanese invasion.

While Lancia was the all-time favourite and most successful car, it was probably the Ford Escort RS Cosworth only that could make a name in the sport. It needed to be an Escort, a former legend, and Cosworth, an all-time legend. Great car in every means, but it was no match for the Japanese newcomers.

The path for victory in fame was lain down to the Toyota Celica Turbo, the Subaru Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions. They were stretched on every kid's bedroom wall and everyone was cheering when one appeared in the streets. I turn my head when an Impreza or an EVO shows up. Their fame is still living strong but fading rapidly.

Toyota was caught on cheating manipulating the turbo air restrictor plates on the Celica, huge shame for any contestant, even bigger one for a Japanese. They pulled out of the race temporarily only to return later with the Corolla WRC collecting one title as a team. But the days of the Celica were numbered. A next generation of it appeared on the market with mild success, it was not the fire-breathing beast it used to be. How interesting is the evolution of it: starting as a RWD car, making a spinoff, more powerful version of it, named the Supra, going 4WD and ending up as an FWD little sportscar. And that was it.

Subaru and Mitsubishi did much better. There was no either-or, it was both of them. While Tomi Makinen was winning titles one after another, Subaru as a team were superior. They were battling for fortune and fame, too. Both of them amazing street machines, highly appreciated. The Delta's name was decaying and the new heroes were these cars. Blue or red and white. These were the colours to fall for.

And then World Rally Car happened...

WR Car was an attempt to grasp manufactuers' attention to enter WR Championship. WRC regulations don't need homologation cars to be probuced, now the subtitle said: tweak any of your cars you want commercially successful, here's the template, fit it into it. While it sounds like something NASCAR, in the beginning it was a great idea. Subaru and Mitsubishi were still in the game, Toyota was on the map again, but it was the fightback of the European manufactorers as the new decade, the new century and the new millenium was approaching.

PSA started to gain domintaion in the sport once again, rolling out the Peugeot 206, which is (attention, please) just one number higher than 205. And we all know what the 205 stands for, don't we? A legend was returning for scalps. Even Ford could ride the winds of change as they rolled out the Escort-successor Focus. PSA then quickly turned the wheel and went for its Citroen brand alongside with the now Peugeot 307s only to be concluded as a Citroen only representative. And it was all good, until...

Mitsubishi got completely off the map. They couldn't really fit into the new rules, their car was lagging behind like a giant turbo, and while their EVO reputation was still strong, it couldn't be kept up for long without acheivements. So they pulled out of the sport and tried making legends on the streets.

Subaru followed Mitsubishi soon with Richard Burns and Petter Solberg winning individual titles but there was no other grips to hang onto. Subaru was the no.3 car behind Ford and Citroen. So much, when the economy crisis set, they were ready to pull out completely.

So now we have Fords and Citroens. Which could make a rally legend? Could Mitsubishi and Subaru still do it in the first place?

Mitsubishi went on to be a film star in movies about street racing and outside Japan and the hardcore rally fans around the world had no other connection to this car  other than these movies. Tuners, ricers adopted the "EVO" abbreviation in a way that it became almost a pejorative term in more serious motorsport enthusiasts, Mitsubishi was dropped out of the serious competitors in the lack of racing background.

Subaru tried becoming more family friendly (only to be followed by Mitsubishi, too). The Impreza had a diesel FWD version as well for cheap, so everyone could buy it. The Lancer basically dropped the EVO nameplate and Lancer was pushed as a brand. It came in various bodies, all road and environment friendly with a bit of a hint of its past.

So back to Ford and Citroen. Looking at a Citroen, can you see the rally spirit? Because I can't. Citroen makes great cars these days, but none of the WRC variants or Loeb could convince me to buy any of those. Because they are just seperated at birth. Like twins that never met.

Now the Focus is something. The RS is possibly one of the best drivers' hatchback out there. Revolutionary designs under the body, great engine, awesome looks. It is destined to be a WRC legend.

Only it's not, since Ford dropped the Focus in favour of the Fiesta. Now they can build it up all over again and we'll see what it's capable of.

Fact is, time will tell whether the Focus or the Fiesta make legends.

However, new winds are coming.

MINI is ready to enter. In a way it is such a news as saying Ford is making a new Escort for WRC. Resurrecting one legend that could make further legends. That is one hope.

The other one is the Toyota/Subaru FT86 concept which is unlikely to enter any races outside tarmac due to its layout, it may be a successful attempt for both factories to regain some of their racing reputation. It's not a Subaru, not a Toyota, but both. In layout it is the legendary Toyota Corolla AE86 Group A Japanese touring car star and underground street racing and drifting emperor carrying the Subaru flat 4 not available anywhere else, bringing back some of the glory of the Impreza days.

These are the two cars that could make a name again the factories are frantically eager of.

These may be the last stand for resurrecting fading memories of the past and hope in the fans.

Frantic to see soe action?

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