Group B Friday: The Roar of the French Lion

Peugeot's 205 T16

A number of manufacturers built cars specifically for Group B rallying; most of them capable of truly maniacal performance, but Audi, Lancia, and Peugeot were in a class of their own nabbing podium after podium and title after title in the truly epic and competitive later years of Group B.

Audi’s introduction of all-wheel drive netted them a gravy spot in the history of rallying, and Lancia’s iconic, fiercely competitive entries made them the most successful WRC manufacturer of all time, a title Lancia retains today despite discontinuing their rally program in ‘93. But in the pissing match of motorsport history no one can best Peugeot, they invented motorsport.

Peugeot built bicycles before they dipped into cars in 1890 (they still build bikes, in fact). In 1891 Peugeot sent two of their newfangled ‘car’ thing-a-ma-jigs to a bicycle race from Paris to Brest, France for team support. The public press in France was astounded that those horseless carriages could make that trip. Three years later the same folks that organized the bike race in 1891 put together the “Rallye Paris-Rouen,” the first motorsport competition event ever and, judging by the name and the style of racing, the first rally ever. Peugeot dipped in and out of success in rallying over the years, but the Group B era of the 1980s saw them at the top of their game.

Peugeot's 305 V6 prototype

The motorsport engineers at Peugeot were developing a beefed up, V6 powered version of their rear-wheel-drive 305 sedan for competition release in 1983, but the incredible performance of Audi’s all-wheel-drive Quattro and Lancia’s mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive 037 motivated them to abandon the project and start over. The result was the 205 T16, a mid-engine, all-wheel drive, space frame hooligan in a widened, spoiler clad 205 hatch costume. The car moved via a twin-cam, turbocharged four-cylinder pushing 450hp and debuted in 1984 at the Tour De Corse rally with Ari Vatanen behind the wheel. The 205 T16 performed admirably, dominating the first two days of the rally, but on the third day Vatanen lost control of his car in a puddle and crashed out. Peugeot foreshadowed its manhandling of the 1985 season at the end of ’84 taking first place at the 1000 Lakes rally, the Rallye Sanremo, and the Lombard RAC rally. Audi and Lancia were no longer the sole serious contenders in WRC.

Peugeot proved just how fierce the lion on its logo could be in 1985, the first full rally season for the 205 T16. With the help of some talented wheelmen, most notably Vatanen and Timo Salonen, Peugeot captured nine podium spots and seven outright victories out of the 12 rallies that year, this earned Peugeot the manufacturer’s title and the driver’s title.

205 T16 at Rallye Sanremo

In the final year of Group B, Peugeot faced a worthy new opponent, Lancia’s own mid-engine, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive killer, the Delta S4. The big fight in ‘86 was between these two similar cars. In all but three of that season’s 13 rallies a 205 or Delta won outright. In the end Peugeot captured both the manufacturer’s and driver’s titles once more, the last time until the 2000 WRC season in which they also captured both titles.

Peugeot cancelled their WRC program at the end of the disastrous 1986 season after the FIA abolished Group B due to safety concerns. Peugeot didn’t return to WRC until the end of the 1999 season when they unveiled the 206 WRC, an incredibly successful rally car in its own right.

Next Friday: Ford and the RS200

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