The British blokes at the Austin Rover Group hadn’t so much as sneered at works rallying since they swept the sport clean in the ‘60s with the Mini Cooper. . . . That’s not true. Most people in the states just don’t recall the other rally cars the Austin Rover Group campaigned, like the Triumph TR7 V8 that proved both competitive and reliable in the ‘70s – on this side of the pond the words “Triumph TR7” bring to mind later-middle-aged men with a handlebar mustaches, polo shirts tucked into khakis, and brown leather driving gloves with holes for the knuckles to breathe through. The TR7 V8 was retired in 1980, a year after Group B was announced, and the Austin Rover Group began pushing ideas around for a new rally car to compete in this new class. Austin Rover’s “Very High Performance Division” (yes, I’m serious) decided a mid-engine, all-wheel drive version of their popular Metro econo-hatch would do quite nicely.
Austin Rover Group didn’t fool around with the development of the their new Metro rally car, which ended up being called the MG Metro 6R4, they turned chassis and drivetrain development over to the capable folks at Williams Formula 1 Racing. Furthermore they decided real world testing on the U.K. rally circuit would produce a much better WRC car than if they’d simply tested the thing on their own, off stage, and then callously threw it in the heavyweight WRC ring. In 1984 the first Metro 6R4 prototypes showed up to rallies in England – on its first go round at the York National Rally that year the 6R4 set the fastest stage times on eight stages, that is until it retired after an alternator fire, of all things. At the time the Metro 6R4 was motivated by an off the shelf Rover V8 with two cylinders lopped off – not ideal. The new 3 liter motor, dubbed the V64V (V6, four valves per cylinder) was developed by an ex-Cosworth engineer and was the first engine ever designed specifically for rallying. Williams continued to tweak the rest of the car and the final result was a seam welded tubular chassis with a mid-mounted, naturally aspirated V64V pumping out 410hp that was clad in a heavily aero’d glass reinforced plastic body shell.
The finalized MG Metro 6R4 made its WRC debut at the 1985 Lombard RAC Rally; it took third place on the podium, right behind two Lancia Delta S4s. That was a pretty good result for a first time out, considering the mind-bending performance of the Delta S4. This was the last time the Metro 6R4 was to place in a WRC rally, Austin Rover entered Metro 6R4s into the ‘86 season’s Monte Carlo Rally, the Swedish Rally, Rally Portugal, and Rally Corsica, but the cars failed to complete any of the events due to issues with the still very new V64V. Mid-way through the 1986 season, the FIA banned Group B from WRC for 1987 after a series of fatal accidents – the cars were deemed “too fast to race.” Thus, like many potentially great Group B rally cars, the MG Metro 6R4 never reached its full potential in World Rallying. At the end of the season Austin Rover pulled out of rallying and sold off all 6R4 parts and engines, those sold V64V engines later ended up in Jaguar’s XC220 supercar — with two turbos added on to help the car reach 220 mph. Like many other Group B cars, the 6R4 went on to become a popular and successful car in privateer Rallycross.
Next Friday: Citroën’s B4 XTC